Scathing Goodbye Email: PBS Station Management Is 'Comically Grotesque'

In your maddened Monday media column: fewer reporters are on the news-free White House travel beat, John Stossel demands unpaid interns, George Rush may take a buyout, and a Channel 13 employee's epic email on his way out the door.

  • Because of budget cutbacks at news organizations, fewer and fewer reporters are traveling along with President Obama on his trips, where they will be herded into a small, tightly-controlled news-free area and fed a steady diet of platitudes and calorie-heavy foodstuffs. Is this the end of journalism?


  • Mustachioed television presence John Stossel is totally pissed that government types are trying to crack down on unpaid internships in the media. "I built my career on unpaid interns! My staff is almost all former interns. What ever happened to two adults entering an agreement together?" We happen to agree with you, John. Of course, Gawker Media and John Stossel are numbers one and two on the "Worst Media Internships" list, which is posted in Katie Couric's office, where all her interns hang out and eat all the free lasagna they want, which Katie makes for them just because.


  • FishbowlNY reports that longtime NY Daily New gossip man George Rush is taking a buyout, but his wife and fellow gossipmonger Joanna Molloy is not.


  • The following farewell email went out last Friday to the staff of Channel 13, New York's PBS station. It's a scorcher.

    From Sam Topperoff:

    Farewell Address May 21, 2010

    Farewells are inevitable. This is mine.

    I've been here, mostly at WLIW but a bit at WNET as a producer, writer, director for twenty-one years, even though most of you wouldn't know who I am. I'm the tall old man who ambles through the halls usually deep in thought, or trying to seem so. During two decades at PBS I've done some good work and, like most of us I suspect, some stuff I'd like to have a chance to do over.

    During the past two years, many, too many, farewell e-mails have come to me in this building. Their tone has bothered me: It was invariably polite, cheerful, brave and tentatively hopeful. Since they were from people who had been fired, young and even middle-aged professionals, it would have been foolish for them to reveal their anger or their pain, and certainly not in their interests to burn any professional bridges when they said goodbye here. I'm free to do exactly that. I'm very old and have put aside enough money while I unburdened amble out the door to 33rd Street . So let me light a small fire in my bridge-burning farewell.

    What's happened at Channels 13 and 21 under the new management has been simply awful, comically grotesque, if indeed so many lives hadn't been affected. It is the painful result of equal parts ineptitude, insensitivity, and arrogance of gross proportions. If the previous Emperor was a patrician windbag, this ambitious Emperor and his Ministers are bereft of any clothes. They are clever, and that's about it. The suspenders hold up nothing, certainly not a hopeful future for our public television stations in New York . Many of us, of course, know this, but it feels wonderful to actually hear myself say it aloud.

    Who among us could not have "saved" the company through extreme austerity and taking away the jobs of so many good and loyal workers? True leadership would have led us through hard times and transformed the company at the same time. It is one thing to "spin" a web on the stage at Loew's and then get bailed out by wealthy board members, quite another to come up with brilliant and humane solutions to very difficult problems, but that is what remarkable people with true vision do in institutions under siege. Notice, of all the cut-backs that were offered, none was for reduction of executive compensation to save a few jobs. Do I expect too much? Probably, but forgive me, I'm old and may be slipping.

    The fact is I'm worried about the future of the stations to which I've devoted my last twenty years; certainly there's no reason for confidence based on recent management decisions. I remember being stunned at a Trustees Meeting a while ago when Mr. Shapiro compared the NET.ORG he envisioned to the New York Yankees, and 450 W33rd Street to Yankee Stadium, "Home of Champions." Really. You can't make this stuff up. (Does that make the Upper West Studio our new, very expensive Yankee Stadium? And where does that leave Mets fans?) Staying with the sports metaphor, he began a recent memo, "Television is a team sport…." Well, if so, on what team does a manager not know the names of each and every one of his fellow team members, or have to hire an outside consulting firm to find out what his teammates really think. Leadership? Really? I guess this is teamwork in the ultra-contemporary sense, and as I said, I'm aged and hopelessly old-school.

    The most galling offense and the saddest part of the story is how bleak the future looks for truly "Public" television in this city. On my commutes to work on the E and F lines and occasionally on the Number 7 train, I'd ask people if they watched PBS. Almost no one does. They said there was very little on the air that spoke to their lives. The New York public is not merely the "Upper" East and West sides. It is these "Others" too, millions of them. And during those rare times we do program for this other New York , we do it embarrassingly, in stilted, patronizing "other" fashion. In spite of my left-wing bona fides and my high falutin' Doctoral degree, I see our general programming for the wider public as elitist and offensive in the extreme. (Not many of us, you realize, can afford those good seats at "The Home of Champions.") But of course, when stations run on very rich people's and Corporate money, how could it be otherwise? And when the corporation is directed by those very clever and very ambitious fellows whose careers will float them to good places no matter what, what else could we reasonably expect?

    But there is a second station here-Channel 21. How easy it would have been to grow a vast, truly public audience with it. And how inexpensively. Unless of course, we don't see or care about that audience; unless the "Public" mission is directed by guys who take limos and cabs and never ride on the subway like most New Yorkers. Public television indeed.

    So as I walk away I look back over my shoulder at some good work, some wonderful times, and some very fine colleagues. But also in the darkness behind me I see a fire lighting the sky. A bridge is burning. It looks beautiful. There is great contentment in knowing truth…and even greater contentment in saying truth.

    See you on YouTube.

    Good night and good luck,

    Sam Toperoff

[Pic: Shutterstock]