By Paul Lane
NORTH TONAWANDA —
When people want the latest big news about the goings-on in the world of television, they generally turn to the New York Times, Variety and other major media outlets.
When the reporters at those outlets want to get informed, they have been known to turn to a one-man operation that operates out of a small Florida bedroom.
Town of Tonawanda native Scott Jones is the man behind FTVLive.com, a pay website devoted to delivering up-to-the-minute news on TV personalities, executives and newsrooms. Now operating out of his apartment near Jacksonville, Jones founded his website — which has broken some of the biggest TV news stories of the past few years — while he still lived in Western New York.
A Kenmore East High School graduate, Jones got an early introduction to the world of television. His mother worked during the auctions on WNED, and he would tag along to help, sometimes logging some playtime behind the camera, as well.
“My first interest in TV news — at Colvin and Eggert, there was a Twin Fair there,” he said in a phone interview. “It caught on fire, and I lived right near there, so I rode my bike to the fire and saw all the TV crews there. That’s when I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”
Jones parlayed that early work into a job stringing Niagara County-based stories for WKBW before beginning a 15-year jaunt around the nation’s TV newsrooms. He was employed by stations in Sacramento, Calif., St. Louis, Tucson, Ariz., and Chicago before moving back to Western New York in 1999 to take a job as the executive producer of the WKBW newsroom.
A conflict over coverage with station management led to his layoff in October 2000, but even before that Jones had started tinkering with the idea of starting a news website. A disagreement over news versus advertising was the final straw in his tenure at Channel 7, but he’d grown distasteful of his chosen profession as the years progressed.
“TV news just wasn’t what it was when I got into it ... Back in the ’80s and even the ’90s, you would just tell a story and be as truthful as possible,” he said. “There was too much opining later on.”
So, with Stefan Mychajliw (then working as a local TV reporter), he founded the website realamherst.com.
“He made the pitch, and I said, ‘Wow. He’s on to something,’ ” said Mychajliw, who now heads the Ken-Ton School District’s public relations office after stints at WKBW and WGRZ. “We were basically a community resource online. Town board, school board — if it happened in Amherst, we were there.”
In addition to offering straight news stories, realamherst.com was among the first “hyperlocal” websites to stream live video and broadcast radio shows via the Internet.
“It was far ahead of its time as far as maximizing technology and the Internet was concerned,” Mychajliw said. “I think we were far ahead of the curve. It was exciting to launch, quite frankly ... I earned about a billion dollars in life experience with the site.”
While Mychajliw returned to TV news about a year later, Jones decided to cash in his many TV contacts and start a website specifically to inform TV insiders about other TV insiders. He founded FTVLive.com in 2000 and switched to a subscription format in November 2001, and the site has been his main source of income ever since.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Jones said. “I made thousands of dollars that first day, and I thought, ‘I guess I’ve got something here.’ ”
For months, he was lucky to get a few hundred hits per month to his site. Over the next few years, that grew to around 10,000 hits per day. Then, when Jones broke the news early this year that Jay Leno’s NBC show was returning to its 11:35 p.m. timeslot, that number grew 10 times.
“My site was mentioned in about 16,000 publications after that,” said Jones, who’s also broken the news that Kathy Lee Gifford was taking a job on NBC’s “Today Show” and that Meredith Viera would replace Katie Couric on the same show. “It just went crazy.”
To gather such big scoops, Jones generally wakes up around 4:45 a.m. to begin cultivating his sources. After publishing stories at 8:30 a.m., he gets some breakfast and plays a round of golf (he moved to Florida in 2006 to hone his golf game and wants to play on the Champions Tour for older golfers) before putting in a few more hours of work and going to bed about 9 p.m.
Jones stressed that he abides by journalistic rules (getting confirmation on stories rather than relying on conjecture) in gathering his news, which is why he said that his stories have a higher accuracy rate than those published by other insider sites. He declined to reveal the number of subscribers to FTVLive.com but said it’s in the thousands.
Jones can’t say for certain that FTVLive.com will be his last paying gig, but he’s enjoying the ride as far as it will take him.
“I think the great thing of it even though I’ve now been out of television for 10 years, I still talk to (TV workers) every day and I still fell like I’m in a newsroom. I am my own boss,” he said. “My site proves if you give good content, you can get people to pay.”