Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Goodnight and Good Luck

WCCO-TV Anchorman Don Shelby is retiring soon and was the subject of near hagiographic tributes in both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press this weekend. I think it's fair to say we'll not see his like again. Thanks to the communications revolution blowing up the entrenched media oligopoly, news consumers now have hundreds of options for information at 10PM. The era of the local TV anchorman getting a 40 share and becoming an enduring, wise, benevolent father figure by default for an entire community is mercifully over.

Shelby took on this role with glee and, as the articles testify, his arrogance became legendary among those in the business. Chad the Elder took note of this leaking into his broadcasts as well, from a post on the TV coverage of the I-35W bridge collapse in 2007:

The man's self-importance knows no limits and it was on display for all to see this evening. At a time when the news coverage should have focused solely on rescue and recovery efforts, Shelby almost immediately launched into discussions about the possible causes of the collapse and where blame could be assigned. He was obviously getting all his information on bridge structures and engineering from other sources, but he rarely if ever mentioned them, giving the viewer the impression that HE DON SHELBY knew all about such matters and was able and willing to start drawing conclusions while the rubble was still settling. It was a disgusting display of arrogance with an almost total absence of wisdom.

Shelby's comments on why he's retiring reflect this same pattern:

He says he decided to leave the station when his contract ended this year because he felt it was time to give up his post, not because he was pushed out.

"I have determined that I can be of no further help to WCCO," he said. "My kind of journalism is passé — the long-form, investigative pieces that hold the powerful accountable."

A self-serving kick to the teeth of his employer on the way out the door. Is that anyway to treat the people who paid him millions over his career?

More to the point, the idea that he was regularly grilling the "powerful" from behind his desk and teleprompter is laughable. I suppose 30 years ago when he started he may have been holding powerful people's feet to the fire.

These days, the man who became known as "DFL Don" is more likely to be holding powerful people like Minneapols Mayor RT Rybak not accountable, but sweetly in his arms while laughing and performing at a fundraiser for a liberal news web site.

As I said previously, we'll not see the likes of a Don Shelby again in this town. And that's a good thing.