A colleague in the U.S. told me last press tour he no longer reads the Poynter Online "Romenesko" media site because it is too depressing. "It's like reading the obituaries," he said.
Case in point: the email over the weekend from my friend Eric Kohanik, editor of TVTimes.
Until Friday, that is. Kohanik (left, at last July's press tour with Global publicity head Deborah Lewis) was told this week his services were no longer needed by his bosses at Canwest Editorial services. TVTimes, one of the more handsome weekend TV supplements, has been deemed dispensable in this age of high newsprint costs, declining ad revenues and on-screen TV listings. At one time it appeared in 33 newspapers across the country as part of the Southam and later Canwest chains. Like the print edition of TV Guide in Canada, it is being phased out of circulation, reduced to mere listings without editorial content.
The handwriting was on the wall. TVTimes had already disappeared in big market cities such as Ottawa and Montreal. I wrote dozens of cover stories for it over the years, especially ten years ago between gigs for TV Guide and the Toronto Sun.
That's when my buddy Kohanik stepped up when I was between jobs and said he would take as many stories as I could sell him. I've known Kohanik since the mid-'80s when both of us started attending the semi-annual TV press tours in Los Angeles. We've had a lot of laughs over the years at press events in both Canada and the U.S. and hooked up the odd time on television on shows like Hamilton, Ont.'s CH Live @ 5:30 and even the TVTropolis gamer Inside the Box. Like David Kines, who ankled last week at MuchMusic, he is one of the good guys in this wacky business.
Eric weathered some stormy years as president of the Television Critics Association, the only Canadian to have ever held that post. He dragged what can often be a cantankerous organization (hey, we're critics) into the 21st century, spearheading on-line initiatives and building bridges between the U.S. networks and the Los Angeles hotel community. Every TCA president since has relied on him to help finesse the extremely favorable hotel deals our dwindling group continues to enjoy. It is not hard to see why he is so effective in these situations. Smart and sociable, he is as effective in person as he is in print.
The demise of TVTimes also leaves another veteran TV columnist, Alison Cunningham, looking for a new place to pitch. Cunningham has supplied lively and insightful cover stories and other features for TVTimes for almost a decade. She brings a compelling woman's perspective to a beat that has taken a beating across Canada in recent years. Dana Gee no longer covers TV for the Vancouver Province. Lee-Anne Goodman just took over as the Washington correspondent for The Canadian Press.
For those of us who still manage to find a way down to press tours, it sucks to see this posse disappear at their peak. As ravaged as press folk are generally these days, TV beat writers have taken a particularly hard hit. This all started well before the economy went south. Smaller market voices were lost first as media convergence led to consolidation and rationalization. Cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Halifax once sent reps to press tour. Those days are long gone. Now even Toronto and Vancouver are barely represented.
Attending a press tour without Kohanik seems almost unimaginable. Who will get me drinks? The dude plays that scene like Sinatra at the Sands.
Then again, as distressing as it is to lose a job, the challenge facing our colleague Brad Oswald in Winnipeg puts it all in perspective. The Free Press TV columnist (bottom right, next to Kohanik at the 2007 press tour) is battling cancer and is currently undergoing treatment. His return to full health will be toasted by all of us, even if we have to hold our own press tour to raise a few glasses.
Kohanik has worked the TV racket since 1981 and his weekly "Watcher" column (which will continue for three more weeks) is an industry favorite. Most of us just figured he'd be the last man standing in this vanishing biz. His adios email to friends and colleagues suggests he'll take some time to recharge the batteries before rushing into his next career. That is a good plan and I hope he sticks with it. Hopefully, before too long, he'll get back to being the savvy watcher and commentator that he is.