Tag Archives: St. Louis TV coverage

The ‘best’ and ‘worst’ of KTVI Tim Horton’s coverage

St. Louis television viewers watching KTVI Channel 2 were recently given two sharply different versions of the opening of the area’s first full-sized Tim Horton’s in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood.

Covering the opening of the first location of the chain is appropriate, but in terms of good journalism, Channel 2 provided “the best of times” and the “worst of times” with its coverage.

Horton’s is a Canadian chain that sells coffee and pastries and other food items. Staking a St. Louis area foothold with its first store at 7468 Manchester Road in Maplewood was a legitimate news story.

On the night of June 22, during the 9 p.m. newscast, Channel 2 anchor Mandy Murphey did a solid story on the event. She asked questions about Horton’s business strategy and how the company planned to compete against organizations like the St. Louis Bread Company. Murphey offered a thorough report.

But a day later, Channel 2’s Lisa Hart offered what seemed to be a commercial for Horton’s during the 11 a.m. newscast. Her first question to the Tim Horton’s representative Tina Bryan was “What makes Tim Horton’s so great?” Journalism?  No. There are many people who don’t think it is such a great brand at all. But the softball question let Bryan do a full-blown commercial.

Bryan took advantage of Hart’s questions with lines like: “There are a lot of things that make Tim Horton’s special,” and “We have such a wide breadth of menu items.”

At one point, Hart said that she loved the donut she was eating. Hart acted more like a Tim Horton’s cheerleader than a reporter. She said at another point, “You’ve got everything. It’s so great.”

While she did ask about Horton’s future plans (opening 40 stores in the St. Louis area), she failed to follow up with any questions of depth or corporate strategy such as “Why St. Louis?” or “Why 40 locations?” There were no questions posed about other competition in the marketplace from outlets like Dunkin Donuts or Starbuck’s.

Hart could have asked questions about obesity and the calorie-heavy ingredients contained in Horton’s products, but she didn’t.

While covering the Horton’s opening was newsworthy, what Hart did was not “news.” Her report appeared during what’s supposed to be a news show. But it was more appropriate for a program filled with feature content like “Show Me St. Louis,” the weekday, 10 a.m. offering on Channel 5. People often pay for their stories on “Show Me St. Louis,” and that fact is disclosed in a general way at the end of each show. “Show Me St. Louis” is a feature program not a newscast.

Channel 2 news managers have an opportunity for improvement among their reporters by comparing the two stories. Murphey showed how to do it right as a journalist. Hart showed how to do it wrong, making a commercial pitch during what’s supposed to be a newscast.

The good, the bad and the ugly of St. Louis TV news

Media guru Tripp Frohlichstein dreams of delivering a “State of the 2014 Local News” address to St. Louis’ three TV stations (he considers Channels 2 and 11 one station as they share facilities and people). This is his dream address:

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to discuss the state of local news. There are times when the local media perform well and serve viewers in a meaningful way.  Unfortunately, there are too many times when the opposite is true.  So today, let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly of local news in St. Louis.

Before we do, it is critical to remind you of the importance of what you do.  Despite the rise of the Internet as a source of news, Pew Research studies show people still rely on local television news more than any other source of information.  A study released on June 17 by the GfK market research group for Hearst Television finds, and I quote, “viewers have a high level of engagement and trust with local television news.”

Even young people cite the importance of local TV news.  Now, many of those people may not watch the news in the traditional way.  Instead of sitting down in front of the television at 6 o’clock and watching for a half-hour, they may pick and choose the stories they want by going to your station’s website or Facebook page.

Please keep this in mind during this presentation.  More importantly, remember this responsibility as you make your day to day decisions on what to cover, how to cover it, how you write it, who you hire and so on.  If you keep your audience’s reliance on your integrity and skills in mind perhaps, just perhaps, you can improve the product you deliver.

Let’s begin with some of the good when it comes to how you serve the viewers of the region. All of the local news stations have the ability to perform well when major news, affecting many people, is breaking.  Of particular note is bad weather.  Sure, some viewers get upset when you interrupt their favorite shows, but when lives may be on the line, it’s the right thing to do.  Moving the actual programs to one of your alternative digital channels is a good idea and should become standard practice.

One of the highlights of last year was the intense and challenging coverage required after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson.  All of the stations performed extremely well, though some of the Gannett reporters from out of town used by Channel 5 had problems as they were not as familiar as local reporters with the area.  The violence required reporters to put themselves in danger at times.  However, local viewers benefitted in the end with accurate information (a lot more so than many of the national networks) looking at the many different angles of the story ranging from the actual shooting, the grand jury verdict, the violence, the peaceful protestors and their attempts to stem the violence, the impact on surrounding communities as well as the city itself, and how the national media coverage portrayed us.  Despite some mistakes and not always being where they needed to be, most of the time, our local stations excelled as they covered those events.

I also admire some of the investigative work done by the local stations. Elliott Davis (2) continues to crank out example after example of government waste. Craig Cheatham (4) often has well researched, well thought-out investigative pieces.

You also boast some fine veteran anchors who do a quality job of presenting the news.  In local news, you not only want credibility but personality.  Mike Bush (5), Kelly Jackson (5), Kay Quinn (5), Steve Savard (4), Robin Smith (4), Mandy Murphey (2), Tom O’Neill (2), Dan Gray (2) and John Pertzborn (2) are some who immediately come to mind.  They have different styles but do their jobs well. After all, morning anchors need even more of a lighter touch than the (supposedly) more serious evening anchors.

There are some good reporters out there too, mostly veterans.  You have to admire Betsey Bruce, the venerable Channel 2 reporter who has been relegated to not exactly prime time yet continues to turn out solid, old-school journalism, covering stories fairly and professionally.  There are many other solid reporters such as Russel Kinsaul (4), Matt Sczesny (4), Roche Madden (2), Paul Shankman (2) and Andy Banker (2).  But there are not enough high quality reporters and we’ll get to that in the bad section.

Perhaps the greatest strength of local news in St. Louis is its weathercasters.  While most of the best reporters are veterans, there is a good mix of young and old when it comes to meteorological talent.  Dave Murray (2) and Cindy Preszler (5) have ruled the roost for a long time.  But also showing considerable talent are the entire Channel 5 and Channel 2 weather teams. At Channel 4, Kent Ehrhardt, Matt Chambers and Kristen Cornett all stand out.

Finally, in sports, it is again the veterans who stand out.  Perhaps the most unsung hero of the sports genre is Frank Cusumano, who consistently produces interesting pieces that go beyond the typical sports highlights and interviews. Renee Knott (5) has also established himself as has his colleague Katie Felts (5).  Doug Vaughn (4) and Maurice Drummond (4) are also solid sports contributors.

From the good, we turn to the bad.  Part of this is dictated by budget cuts that result in understaffed newsrooms and overworked, often rookie, reporters.

Gone are the days when a reporter was always accompanied by a camera person and sometimes even a sound technician.  Today’s reporters are so often what you call a “one man band.” Interviewees often complain reporters no longer spend much time preparing for their interviews.  And, because reporters often are rushed, mistakes seem more frequent.  Part of this may also be due to the younger less experienced reporter. St. Louis is often a reporter’s first job.  The result is viewers often get misinformation, as the mistakes reporters used to make learning their trade in smaller cities now happen here.  Be comfortable with corrections. Corrections make you look good.  It tells viewers we want to get it right. Instead of avoiding admitting a mistake, own up to it.  Your audience will appreciate it.

Our discussion of the bad must also include a disturbing penchant of self-promotion of station programming.  If “Great Day St. Louis” or “Show Me St. Louis” wants to feature these “features,” good for them.  But the half-hour and hour evening newscasts should be devoted to real local news, not interviewing the star of a show that airs on the station’s network.

Today, for the most part, the “beat reporter” in television is a thing of the past.  The real loser in this is the viewer who now gets less analysis of a variety of issues.  Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, if a station were to take a true, in-depth look at the battle between county executive Charlie Dooley and the challenger for his job in the Democratic primary, Steve Stenger. It would be great if stations did in-depth interviews with both men, as well as those around them, to really understand what appears to be their deep-seated dislike of one another. Why not do in-depth reporting to examine the validity of each man’s claims?

Instead, we have too many short-form, easy-to-cover stories.  It is easy and efficient to cover fires, murders and meetings.  It is hard to cover government stories or the background leading to the meeting being covered.  But which of those has more impact on the largest number of people in the community?

Another thing to think about is how you use a live shot.  If something happened 8 hours ago, there is absolutely no need for a reporter to be standing in front of a building with nothing going on, to tell us it happened “here.”

Finally, the weather sometimes is not as dangerous and yet still gets over-covered.  Severe thunderstorms are part of living in St. Louis.  When tornadoes are spawned, cover them.  Otherwise, information at the bottom of the screen is all we need.

Finally, the ugly.  All the stations are guilty of trying to be first with a story. You folks at the stations think being first is important.  Maybe it is to you.  But to viewers, not so much.  So think about what viewers care about, not what you care about next time there is a major breaking story.

Related to this self-promotion is some of the overly dramatic writing and delivery by some of our anchors.  Channel 4’s Sharon Reed is at the top of the list, but by no means the only offender.  It sounds really important when you hear an anchor say “News Four has learned…”  But so has every other station because it was in a press release.  It’s not right to fool viewers.

Then there’s this one:  “Our investigation uncovered several lawsuits.”  Well, that’s not true.  You didn’t uncover them because lawsuits are not hidden.  You just found out about them.

Some of the promotion is also almost tasteless.  I wrote in the Gateway Journalism Review about Channel 4 running a promo around 6:20 in the evening warning people not to eat meat until they heard a story promised for 10 o’clock [Editor’s note: the author’s post ran on gatewayjr.org on March 14, 2014]. At dinnertime you are telling me to wait till 10 o’clock?  If it is that important, tell me now.  And when the story did air, it was a vague, very short 17 second story about a recall from the previous month.  This is not the way to treat viewers: in the interests of increasing your own ratings.  The same goes for a station promising to keep viewers updated on a story.  But you never hear another word.

Finally, the number of misspellings of on-air graphics has increased substantially.  How am I supposed to trust you if you can’t spell a name right or misspell basic words on a regular basis?  Either use your spell checkers or have someone proof those graphics before they are posted.

“The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” ended with the Good winning, the Bad dead and the Ugly out of the picture.  I hope that happens here.  As I said at the beginning, people rely on what you do.  So as you go forward, please make your decisions less with “self” in mind and more with your viewers at heart.  I would argue that if you truly try to work that way, it will mean more trust, more viewers and, therefore, more advertising dollars.

Thank you.

Good investigative reports aired on St. Louis TV stations

Elliott Davis brought viewers an effective “You Paid For It” this past week as he produced a story (http://fox2now.com/2013/11/13/expensive-deal-costing-st-charles-county-taxpayers-millions/) on what appears to be an inconsistency in how St. Charles County does business.  He pointed out that a recent $5 million plus project had only one bid submitted.

Davis went after St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann to ask him why the county did not put the bid out again hoping for more bids to potentially lower the cost.  Ehlmann responded that it fell within the expected cost range.  Then it was clear that Davis did his homework.

He asked Ehlmann why it was okay this time but not last year, when only one bid came in to buy new voting equipment. Ehlmann did not answer the question, instead saying the County Council okayed it.

Davis did a good job of showing contradictory behavior on the part of a politician.  It would have been nice for Davis to dig further on what was behind the difference.  Did the company that won the bid make significant campaign contributions to Ehlmann or did the company bidding on the voting equipment not contribute?

He also might have been more direct with questions about why he supported the one bid this time and not last time, and not let Ehlmann shift blame to the council.

 

Channel 5’s Leisa Zigman did a relatively good job on a story Wednesday, Nov. 13 (http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2013/11/14/normandy-school-district-secret/3521871/), about secret settlements made by the unaccredited, financially-strapped Normandy school district after students were hurt by security guards at the school.

She pointed out that in one previously secret settlement in which the district paid $1,785,000 to a victim, it still denied the security guard did anything wrong.

The story noted this wasn’t the only settlement involving the same guard.  Yet the guard is still employed at the district. Her narration leading into the first part of her interview with Superintendent Ty McNichols noted he “stands by his guards.” But viewers never heard anything specifically about this, especially concerning the guard involved in two incidents and why he was still working there.

Instead, after the guard-related introduction, we hear her ask on camera, “People have said there was a culture of secrecy here.  Do you feel that culture still exists?”  McNichols response was, “I think the fact that I’ve been more open to the media in the last four months reflects that we’re not trying to hide anything.”

He went on to say he wanted to return Normandy to its position of being a premier district in the region. She should have asked directly why the guard involved in two separate settlements made by Normandy was still working.  She didn’t.

Zigman also missed the mark on secrecy.  After asking if there were more settlements besides the one she knew about, she said McNichols said “no.”  That was not true as Zigman pointed out she discovered more settlements.  But she never confronted McNichols directly as to why, given his talk about openness, he was not being open and did not tell her about the other cases.

In both cases, the stories were good but could have been even better with some more direct questions.

Here is a reminder to reporters:

Sunday morning’s KMOX radio weekly “Wall Street Wrap,” was confusing.  The spokesman from Stifel used a lot of jargon average people won’t understand.  For example, he talked about “top line growth.” But he is not solely to blame. Interviewer Carol Daniel has to represent her listeners.  After he talked about “top line growth” as well as some of the other terms, it is incumbent on her to ask him what he means.