I was shocked, saddened and disappointed to learn of last week’s sudden termination of “Full Focus” and the immediate layoff of much of its staff. Having appeared on the show numerous times, I’ve gotten to know the Full Focus crew fairly well over the years. They are consummate professionals, each and every one. This was reflected in the quality of FF‘s coverage and the detail they could bring to the local stories they covered, details that could be found in no other local broadcast media.
Losing Full Focus from the airwaves will leave a huge gap in San Diego’s news coverage–one that many of the powers-that-be often caught in the FF headlamps probably won’t miss. Of course, most of San Diego won’t miss the show either, what with it’s purported 13,000 average viewers –though I think, in this TiVo/DVR age, that number is actually underreported. Still, what the powers-that-be at KPBS seemed to overlook were who those 13,000 viewers were. Full Focus was must-watch viewing for the San Diego political and business establishment – the local power elite. And as such it had an impact on the life of San Diego’s body politic disproportionate to its ratings numbers. (And, by the way, since when has KPBS become so ratings obsessed? This is public broadcasting, for cryin’ out loud.)
Sure, Full Focus was sometimes a bit, shall we say, esoteric. Like last week’s piece on “Surf Divas” or last spring’s report on the Folk Music Channel helping cancer survivors. I have to admit, when the topics veered far from politics my attention tended to veer as well. But even these pieces had more real news nutrition than the usual infotainment pablum that is served up by the commercial broadcast news each and every night. Full Focus provided the only forum in town where the movers and shakers in San Diego were regularly put on the interview hot seat. It provided the most in depth analysis of critical issues, from pension crises to Sunroad. Those in San Diego who didn’t like having their private antics brought into public focus are probably resting a whole lot more comfortably now.
One of the real delights about appearing on Full Focus was that the format allowed real time to address any particular topic. I’ve done hundreds of sound bite interviews for local media in which in depth coverage meant a six second blurb or two from me and maybe another expert or man in the street sandwiched into a minute or two piece high on sugary glib and glimmer but low on real news and analysis protein. On FF you used to get twenty minutes or so to talk about the issue (before they cut their segments down to five or ten minutes in an apparently vein attempt to capture more of our apparently increasingly A-D-D public). Even at that we would often only be able to dive a little under the surface of the issue. But it was diving deeper than any of the other broadcast media in town could typically go.
It would have been nice if KPBS management had thought to give the Full Focus crew a little heads up to the looming headsman’s axe. Indeed, whole business of canceling the show so abruptly is a tad suspicious to we conspiratorially-minded types. Could some external pressure have been brought to bear on this decision? This would be an excellent topic for a Full Focus report. Oh, wait! There ain’t no more Full Focus, is there. Be that as it may, wouldn’t it have been nice to give the Full Focus crew a chance to rally their viewers to their support – to have beaten the money bushes for a little additional cash to keep the show afloat?
I would suggest KPBS management give serious consideration to a reconsideration of Full Focus’ termination. At least keep the show on as a once a week, San Diego-in-review sort of program. They can air it Sundays amidst all the other network talking heads, when it can be DVR’d to the public’s content for latter viewing.
Meanwhile, I’ll miss Full Focus, whose departure is going to leave a bigger hole in the San Diego infosphere than KPBS management realizes. Special kudos to producer Pat Finn, show editor Grace Sevilla and, of course, the face of the show and San Diego institution, Gloria Penner. They managed to put on a professional production on a high school budget. One wonders just how things might have turned out if KPBS had thought to put more money into the show earlier on.