Two Major Stories Stretch Tampa TV Outlets
They knew the RNC was coming, but not so much Isaac
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/27/2012 3:58:53 PM
"It was a very interesting weekend," says Richard Pegram, vice president and general manager of WFTS Tampa. "We had a great plan on track, then all the sudden Isaac comes along, and presents new challenges."
The worst of the storm appears to be over for Tampa, but DMA No. 14 is hardly in the clear. Three tornado warnings were flying about as of Monday afternoon, with more heavy rain in the near term forecast.
Due to the weather, the RNC trimmed Monday's events from the agenda, and will kick off in earnest Tuesday, Aug. 28. RNC leaders are keeping an eye on the storm for another reason: to see how its severity affects the message and tone coming out of the party's presentations to the nation this week. "They're figuring out what the message will be," says John Hoffman, news director at WTVT, "based on what happens in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast."
Several Tampa stations were live as of 4 a.m. Monday morning, following numerous cut-ins with weather updates over the weekend. Helping the stations deploy is the fact that they are fully staffed, with no staffers on vacation, for the RNC to begin with. They're getting major assists from both inside and outside their companies.
Bright House Networks' Bay News 9 is getting help from Bright House siblings News 13 in Orlando and its sports networks, along with reporters in town for RNC from Time Warner Cable's news channels. WFTS got at least 15 people, along with vehicles and equipment, in from sister Scripps stations as far flung as Denver, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
"Quite frankly, it enabled us to get through it," says Pegram. "Our company spared no resources in getting people down here."
WFLA has three or four sister Media General stations represented in its massive Tampa news operation, along with a handful of stations from outside its group paying a modest fee to plug in at the station.
"We're in better shape than some because we already had a boatload of people set up," says Brad Moses, vice president and general manager of WFLA. "We cover what goes on in Tampa during the convention, and Isaac is just one of those things going on."
Both politics and weather play to a 24/7 cable news channel's strengths, and Elliott Wiser, vice president of news and local programming at Bright House, says Bay News 9 is staffed to cover weather around the clock anyway. "We spent a year planning for the RNC," he says. "In a perfect world, you'd prefer not to have them together. But news channels are built for times like this."
Some Tampa news staffers will return the favor for station siblings in the Gulf Coast as the storm tracks west, and may be upgraded to a hurricane.
A mere two-tenths of a household ratings point separate Tampa's Big Four broadcast stations in total day ratings in May. News departments are hungry to burnish their breaking news credentials at times like this.
Management at Fox-owned WTVT says the focus shifted Monday from the RNC to Isaac. "This morning, we intended to be live at the Forum," says Jeff Maloney, vice president and general manager. "But the story changed and became a local weather story."
Weather leads WTVT's 5 p.m. news Monday, with RNC protests second in the lineup.
With Isaac seemingly downgraded from major news story in Tampa to merely a news story, the local TV staffers can increasingly focus on the story they've been prepping for over the past year. News professionals may not have gotten the rest they anticipated leading up to the RNC, but the mood in the newsrooms -- chasing breaking news, breaking bread and swapping war stories with friends from sister stations -- is upbeat.
"This is what they live and breathe for," says Moses. "The big news stories."
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