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OPEN MIKE

10/08/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

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Editor: The contents of Av Westin's new broadcasting book ("Eye," Sept. 11) come as no surprise to people of color. It is just unfortunate that these are news people he is discussing.

Each year the NATPE presents one or two sessions on the minority perspective of TV production. These panels usually feature such notables as Sheryl Lee Ralph or Montel Williams. None of the "suits" ever attends these sessions. They should. They would learn much more about the audiences they serve.-Paul Evans, New York

TV Already Gives

Editor: Many of Mr. Hundt's comments in "For-free airtime" in the Sept. 25 issue are frequently heard and all too often unchallenged.

First, political commercials are hardly a means for candidates to "conceal the real choices presented by the two parties." Annenberg School for Communications Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson has cited political television spots as among the best-documented and most informative forms of political communication.

Second, Mr. Hundt glosses over the significant voluntary commitment broadcasters Granite, Belo and many others have already made to free political airtime, over and above the massive amount of political news coverage they provide. The incremental revenue from political advertising is a tiny fraction of most stations' news budgets-and barely offsets the enormous incremental cost of political coverage each cycle.

Finally, Mr. Hundt's comparison between commercial broadcasters who "received their licenses for free from the government" and mobile communications licensees who paid for the spectrum is specious. When was the last time a mobile communications company provided its services free to the end consumer?

Broadcasters are already doing their "legal duty" by providing an unmatched combination of high-quality local and national news, entertainment and sports (including the Olympics) at no direct cost to their audience. No other product or service-food, water, housing, telephone service-is offered on that basis. Unfortunately, the broadcast-bashers in Washington may not realize what a bargain we have until it's too late.-Lee Spieckerman, TV consultant, Dallas

Web polls, Bad Science

Editor: I wanted to drop a quick note to say thank you for Russell Shaw's excellent piece on the roll of Web-site polls in the Sept. 18 issue ("Common Ground"). I hope that the broadcasters who read it will stop and think about what they are doing when they contemplate placing a poll on their Web sites. During this season of increased exposure (and scrutiny) for election polls, the more that we can do to help educate the American populace on the science of polling and the role of polling the better.

Hopefully, one day, when penetration rates of the Internet and even Internet-enabled phones reach that of the wired telephone, we can give more people the opportunity to voice their opinions in a scientific and representative level.-Eric Nielsen, senior director, media strategies, The Gallup Poll

GreedyTV.or not

Editor: One week your editor (Harry A. Jessell, "GreedyTV: Do as I say," Sept. 25) praises the networks for airing presidential debates; the next week your editorial (Oct. 2) praises the networks for refusing to air them. Fellas, which is it?

If your response is what I suspect-both-here's the problem. By choosing profits over presidential debates, NBC and FOX have guaranteed that millions fewer Americans will see and hear the candidates discuss issues this year, and made it less likely in 2004 that the debates will be available on any broadcast network at all. Let 'em eat cable.

If this is what comes from voluntary commitments to serve the public interest, then the television industry is making a persuasive case for a mandate.-Paul Taylor, executive director, Alliance for Better Campaigns

Editor: The folks at GreedyTV.com are missing the point entirely when it comes to political reporting on a local level (Harry A. Jessell, Sept. 25). Their singular focus is shortsighted and unfairly leaves stations that have made such a heavy commitment to covering the campaign off their list of "Good Guys." WFLA-TV has a strong history of aggressive political coverage and leads its local competitors in both ratings and the amount of time it dedicates to election coverage. Despite our track record, we do not merit a Greedytv.com "Good Guy" rating.

WFLA-TV is not letting politicians and spin doctors control the news of the 2000 election season. News Channel 8 encourages viewers to sound off on issues and platforms that are important to the Bay area. News Channel 8 uses phone banks, the Internet and other feedback mechanisms to find out what issues viewers want our political candidates to talk about. These issues are then the focus of interviews and stories we do with the candidates. We keep the focus on the agenda our viewers are concerned about, not the agenda of the pols and spin doctors.

We were the only local broadcast station to cover the national political conventions with local analysts and reporters. Working with our newspaper partner, The Tampa Tribune, and our political analyst, University of South Florida's Dr. Susan McManus, we carried live reports every evening during the conventions.

We were the only local news operation to provide candidates with the opportunity to speak on the air free of charge for the September primary. During August, the station extended invitations to candidates running for the U.S. Senate, Education Commission and Insurance Commission. Each had three minutes of airtime to state [his/her] key positions. The station will extend the offer again for the general election, and will include candidates for House as well.

In another component of our "Voice of the Voter" coverage, we invited candidates for U.S. Senate to debate on Oct. 23. The debate will be produced in the News Center studios with NBC's Tim Russert as moderator and broadcast by NBC affiliates throughout the state.

Working with the Political Science Department at the University of South Florida, and with the help of a grant from the Pew Foundation, we are carefully monitoring the ads that are being broadcast in the presidential and U.S. Senate races. The goal is to help our viewers understand how the politicians attempt to manipulate them.

We do all of this because it is the right thing to do, not because we are being forced or pressured to do it. I am not certain what GreedyTV's criteria [are] for being labeled a "Good Guy," but I really must question [them]. There is so much more to good political reporting than providing candidates with yet one more platform to flap their lips. As journalists and responsible broadcasters, we have an obligation to seek and publish the truth, not just merely provide politicians time to repeat the same message they have been stumping on for the entire campaign.-Dan Bradley, VP/ news director,wfla-tv, Tampa, Fla. Editor: Well said! Harry Jessell's arguments against GreedyTV are similar to letters I have written in response to those groups asking (demanding) that I give candidates free time. We almost never get credit for the time and coverage we devote to campaign issues.-Bill Evans, VP, news and operations,wpsd-tv, Paducah, Ky.

The New Look

Editor: I have been a loyal subscriber of the magazine since 1975. I really like the new design and feel of the magazine. It is great-the best I have ever seen.

For the past few years in January you have published tabloid issues during the NATPE convention. I wish that for these issues, you would stick to the regular magazine format as you did years ago. These oversized tabloid issues are hard to carry around and take up too much storage space. I hope you will stick to the new format for those two weeks in January 2001.-Mike Hon,wele(am) Ormond Beach, Fla.

Editor: I didn't need any encouragement to let you know what I think about your evolution. I think it was my favorite professor at Centre College, Danville, Ky., who said, "Change for the sake of change is not evolution!"

I was so accustomed to the different departments of your magazine that it was relatively easy to open it up and find just what I was looking for. As a broadcaster, I used your magazine for a number of projects, depending on what job I was doing at the time. Now you've gone and ruined it!

My apologies to the redesign team. I'm sorry, I just like it the way it was.-Ray A. Hooper, general manager,wavs(am)Davie, Fla.

Reality TV Going Too Far

Editor: In light of the Kursk submarine debacle, I wonder if the future Survivor contest to the Mir space station will be canceled. Anyone in [his/her] right mind would stay as far away as possible from that idea.

How would the Russian style of "delay and deny" play on American TV as Joe Blow runs out of air in that tin can? Even U.S. astronauts don't want to be in that thing.-Pete Barnham, freelance producer, Nashville, Tenn.

We Like Letters

Broadcasting & Cable welcomes your letters about our coverage, or media issues in general. You can mail them to Broadcasting & Cable, Open Mike, 245 W. 17th Street, New York, NY, 10011 or e-mail them to pbednarski@cahners.com. Please include a daytime phone number. We won't publish unsigned letters, and we have the right to edit them for space and clarity.

 

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