Network News Blankets Southern California

Big Three, Cable News Networks Send Anchors to Cover Malibu Wildfires

News divisions mobilized to cover the wildfires engulfing Malibu, Calif., locale of sprawling multimillion-dollar mansions but also of plenty of middle-class residences and Pepperdine University’s main campus.

Southern California wildfires

NBC’s Brian Williams, ABC’s Charlie Gibson and CBS’ Katie Couric all left Monday night. Gibson will anchor a live edition of 20/20 Tuesday at 10 p.m. (EST). Williams has been providing live updates throughout the day on MSNBC.

Morning-show personnel in the region for live reports Wednesday morning include Good Morning America’s Chris Cuomo and Sam Champion, The Early Show’s Harry Smith and Today’s Matt Lauer. American Morning anchors John Roberts and Kiran Chetry are there for CNN, along with Anderson Cooper and Rick Sanchez. Fox News Channel has Geraldo Rivera and Trace Gallagher there.

With the fires still raging out of control, most anchors are expected to remain in the area through Wednesday-evening broadcasts.

The wildfires, with possible global-warming underpinnings and dramatic pictures of burning mansions, are perfectly suited for television news, as evidenced by the overwhelming amount of TV-news personnel in the area. But the story once again raises the question: What is the value of sending an anchor and numerous correspondents to an area already saturated by TV crews?

“It’s definitely a gut thing,” said Alex Wallace, executive producer of NBC’s Nightly News. “I think when a story becomes the conversation -- when it’s not just a story, but the story -- It’s what we do.”

At least one news division has not been able to secure the number of satellite paths it would like in order to amortize the considerable costs of sending personnel.

“When a story is big enough, the broadcast goes, not just Brian. I do think the viewer gets added value by having Brian there,” Wallace said, adding, “I would not want to be sitting here with Brian and look up and see the other two there.”