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Archived Weekly Features
This View by Nancy LeMay
Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at
Dennis Swanson and Local News:
The Times They Are A ‘Changin’

The New York Times of July 16 ran a story that’s of great interest to everyone in broadcasting- the reasons for and the reaction to GM Dennis
Swanson’s departure from WNBC in New York. Bill Carter’s piece ran in both
the Metropolitan and the National editions of the Times in a column called
"The Media Business", and it was chock full of comments from anonymous NBC

"It’s inconceivable that they could allow this to happen…," said one of them.
"…a huge, huge loss…" "…disaster…" "Mishandling Dennis is one of the most inept jobs of management I’ve ever been around." A senior NBC executive is being quoted here.

Swanson, 64, not only parted on unhappy terms with WNBC- a station he managed
with great success- but he was immediately hired to run the CBS Viacom
stations group. This has made the NBC stations very nervous. "He is a
passionate guy and now he’s got real incentive to go after NBC’s stations.
And he knows our whole playbook", observes one of the anonymous NBC execs.

Just what is Swanson’s "real incentive"? What prompted a man who could retire
next year to walk out on a great success and jump over to his rival’s
troubled TV stations division? Look to an important part of the backstory for
an answer to this question.

I got phone calls and e-mails from friends at both KNBC and WNBC right before
the Swanson move became public. These are people I’d worked with in news
graphics; they’d just returned from station meetings where they were told
that NBC would proceed with it’s plan to centralize, or ‘hub’, all the
O&O’s graphics. This idea has been in the works for a long time, but only
recently had the details been worked out. The Dallas Fort Worth station would
handle the job, raising the likelihood that graphics jobs in all the other
stations would be eliminated. The NY Times piece cites this decision as a
point of conflict between Dennis Swanson and Jay Ireland, head of NBC’s
stations division, something that workers at WNBC repeated as fact days
before the Times article ran.

Swanson, it appears, ‘went to the mattresses’ over the issue of hubbing, a
trend that’s been advancing through the industry for the last few years. This
centralization of processes and information has been used with mixed results
for master control and playback functions. With the aid of computers,
high-speed cabling and switching, these jobs, seem as largely ‘mechanical’,
have moved out of individual stations and into ‘regions’. But having Dallas
do graphics for New York, Los Angeles, and every other market that NBC
stations reach represents a significant change in the service that local news
offers viewers. I suspect that Dennis Swanson observes what we observe:
there are already fewer graphics in many local news shows because the people
who put them on the air- artists, Chyron operators, graphics producers, have
already been let go as part of station budget cutbacks. Maps, charts, graphs
and chyron boards are made, often on very short deadline, because journalists
know that graphics help tell the story. And consider this as well: the five
artists of WNBC’s graphics department have amassed among them more than 100
years’ working experience. Just what is that worth in today’s newsrooms?

Once it has been standardized, formularized and homogenized, the ‘one style
fits all’ graphics package will not reflect the life, mood, character and
texture of the communities in which it will be seen. It will be journalism’s
equivalent of McDonald’s- ubiquitous, nice looking and empty of real value.
If Mr. Swanson said goodbye to NBC because he values the contribution of the
artists who make news graphics, then bravo, Dennis- go get ‘em.