Problem-Solving in Western Michigan

Recent news coverage includes Kalamazoo shootings, Flint water crisis

MARKET EYE
GRAND RAPIDS-KALAMAZOO-BATTLE CREEK, MICH.

RECENT NEWS STORIES: Shootings in Kalamazoo on Feb. 20; water crisis in nearby Flint; unemployment fraud within the state last spring; tornado in Portland, a town 40 miles east of Grand Rapids.

LOWDOWN: The Western Michigan market covers Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and the Lake Michigan shore—14 counties in total. Three of the four main stations are in Grand Rapids, which is more than 50 miles north of the other main cities. That spread poses a challenge, says Diane Kniowski, WOOD president/ GM. “We go where stories are, where news is. It’s not a decision that one county is more important.”

0301_LocalTV_chart.jpgSTATIONS (OWNER/AFFILIATION): WOOD Grand Rapids (Media General/NBC), WWMT Kalamazoo (Sinclair/CBS), WZZM Grand Rapids (Tegna/ABC), WXMI Grand Rapids (Tribune/Fox)

OWNER/AFFILIATION CHANGES: Media General, which owns NBC affiliate WOOD, was recently acquired by Nexstar.

WOOD GRAND RAPIDS (MEDIA GENERAL/NBC)

WHAT’S NEW: WOOD upgraded its weather app, enhancing information and navigation, and expanded its weekend news, which now airs 5-8 a.m. The station also added a new sofa, anchor and monitors to morning show Daybreak.

DID YOU KNOW? The water crisis in nearby Flint triggered investigations into lead, not just in water but also in paint on walls, as some family homes are 75-100 years old, Kniowski says. WOOD did a story 17 years ago about two families whose children’s rooms had paint that young boys were breathing, picking off the paint chips off the windowsill and even eating. The station did a follow-up story recently, and both children, now grown, have “major brain capacity problems,” Kniowski says. “[Flint] opened up a whole side of investigating lead. It’s reared its head again. We all have old pipes. It’s a big, big story for the entire state. It made us look at our own backyard.”

WWMT KALAMAZOO (SINCLAIR/CBS)

DID YOU KNOW? While the other three major affiliate stations are in Grand Rapids, WWMT is based in Kalamazoo, giving it a head start on stories in that city, such as the recent shootings. The station concentrates a lot of its coverage on the southern part of the marketplace, also home to Battle Creek.

LIVE COVERAGE: When WWMT got word of shootings in Kalamazoo Feb. 20, it stayed on the air from 11 p.m. until 2:35 a.m. It went back on at 5 a.m. for four hours, then provided break-ins until 5:30 p.m., when it moved CBS’ Sunday golf tournament to its CW channel and aired a 90-minute special. The next night, the station produced another special, “turning the story from tragedy to healing and the community coming together,” says James Lutton, VP/GM. Throughout the course of the weekend, WWMT’s main anchor reported from the field, while other staffers came to the station that weekend without even being asked.

WZZM GRAND RAPIDS (TEGNA/ABC)

WHAT’S NEW: With half-hour-longer morning and noon newscasts, as well as a new 30-minute 5 p.m. newscast, WZZM has expanded news by 8.5 hours per week, bringing in more staff to handle the increase. WHO THEY ARE: WZZM aims to create change through its investigative team. The unit recently helped a family receive benefits from a member’s death initially deemed 15 minutes too late to be considered a death on the job. It has also examined problems at veterans’ homes, with its investigation leading to the termination of Michigan’s veterans affairs agency director, according to Janet Mason, WZZM president/GM.

DID YOU KNOW? The Tegna station recently raised truckloads of bottled water for Flint. It also aired a distracted driver campaign after a child was killed in a car accident and each year raises awareness for breast cancer.

WXMI GRAND RAPIDS (TRIBUNE/FOX)

WHAT’S NEW: WXMI has added a midday show from 11-12, an hour-long show at 4 p.m. and a half-hour 11 p.m. newscast. The station also reconfigured its news app and launched a mobile weather app. Last year it completed building its new newsroom weather set.

DID YOU KNOW? WXMI launched its Fox 17 road trip project last year in an effort to cover the smaller, often underserved cities and communities in between the three major metropolitan areas of the DMA. The station sends its anchors out to these towns, usually using a local festival as a backdrop. “People are impressed we’re covering the town without there being some sort of tragedy,” says Brooks Blanton, news director.

SPOTLIGHT

Nearly two years ago, WXMI took a significant step toward defining and branding its news reporting. The station’s investigative work, says news director Brooks Blanton, had a vague identity. The story of the day would merely get a “Fox Investigates” label. Moreover, the other three stations in the DMA had big investigative units.

The Tribune station decided to solve problems. It receives phone calls and emails from viewers who need help getting various issues resolved.

Thus the unit was christened “Fox 17 Problem Solvers.” The team of three reporters and two photographers commit to a story only if it is directly helping people find solutions to problems. The unit did a big story on unemployment fraud, with the state mistakenly flagging and fining people who never collected any unemployment checks. One viewer initially contacted them about it, and “then the floodgates opened,” Blanton says. “The Problem Solvers has become the advocacy of people contacting us. It’s become a recognizable thing in the market.”

Another story involved a woman who made a deposit to buy a car on Craigslist, but the seller ran off with the money. WXMI tracked him down, and he eventually showed up at the station with the reimbursement. “We really stand out in market for that,” says Travis Henkaline, marketing director. “People like to see someone step in and help people being slighted.”