It was one of the biggest stories of the new year: NBC was shifting Jay Leno from 10 p.m. back to 11:30, displacing Conan O'Brien's "Tonight Show" in the process. And the scoop came not from a major paper or TV network in New York or Los Angeles, but from a one-man website run from a spare bedroom in Florida.
In what may be one of the best examples yet of the power of individual online journalism, Scott Jones broke the Leno story last week on FTVLive.com, the site he runs from his home in suburban Jacksonville.
Jones' site focuses on TV industry insider info, and he draws on the dozens of sources he's cultivated from years of working in television news. He'd gotten nice scoops before, such as the news that Meredith Viera would replace Katie Couric on the "Today" show.
But nothing quite prepared him for the magnitude of the Leno story.
"I knew it was a good story," Jones said in a phone interview. "I had no idea that it would ever get as big as it did."
Jones broke the story Jan. 7. In the week since, he estimates he's done 400 radio interviews. Normally, his site gets 10,000 to 20,000 hits a day. Since Leno? Around 100,000, he says.
"Joe Public may not care about the news director in Kansas City being fired, but when it's Jay Leno it certainly has wider appeal," he said.
A Background in Television News
Jones had 20-plus years of experience in TV news, working as a reporter and then news director at local stations across the country, from Sacramento to St. Louis.
But a bad experience at a station in Buffalo in the 1990s left him looking for new opportunities, and the Internet, then just emerging from the primordial ooze, beckoned.
"In the mid 1990s I was saying there's got to be something you can do on the Internet," he said. "But working in TV news at the time, my only real dealings with it were surfing the web while at work."
So after quitting his job, Jones and a friend started a website focusing on news from the Buffalo suburb where he was living. But with his wide network of TV contacts, Jones in 2000 decided to launch a niche site focused on industry news.
The site's original url was a tongue-in-cheek expletive - f**ktv.com - "and I originally started it just as a place for my friends to go to for industry stuff," Jones recalled.
As pageviews grew it quickly became apparent there was a real audience for such information. Jones changed the url to FTVLive, made it a subscriber-only site, and was in business.
"At the time there weren't many other subscription sites, other than porn," he said. "But it took off, and it's been my source of income for the past 10 years."
Indeed, with its $8.99 monthly fee the site has enabled Jones to move to Florida to pursue his other love: golf. He hopes to eventually compete in the PGA Champions Tour.
These days Jones starts work on the site at 4:30 a.m. At 8:30 he takes a break for breakfast, errands, and of course golf. Later in the afternoon he works on the site a bit more and is in bed by 9.
"A lot of friends say it's the dream job," Jones said.
The Genesis of the Leno Scoop
Jones actually first reported in mid-December that NBC was thinking of moving Leno's show, but at the time the story didn't make waves.
"Then last Thursday my sources told me NBC, at the highest level, had decided to pull Leno off the 10 p.m. slot," Jones recalled.
He posted the story, and within 15 minutes he was being interviewed by KNX radio in Los Angeles. "Leno said that's how he found out about it. He was listening to me on the radio while he was driving in his car," Jones said.
Jones said the site is successful because, in addition to his network of contacts, he focuses on doing solid reporting.
"I look at my site with a journalist's eye," he said. "I don't throw up rumors and hope they stick. People realize I have good information and have never burned a source."
Too many bloggers, Jones says, aren't responsible about getting their facts right.
"Lots of bloggers try to jump in and go with the most salacious story and hope that will generate hits," he said. "If you nail a big story you'll get traffic, but if you swing for the fences and miss, the people who came to your site won't come back."
"Start small, build your sources," he added. "Keep plugging away."