ABC: We dropped ball on Columbia coverage

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The network that won a DuPont Award, a Peabody Award and an Emmy Award for its spot coverage of Sept. 11 was caught unprepared for the Saturday-morning shuttle Columbia disaster
and admitted as much last Thursday in a conference call with unhappy affiliate
news directors.

Already the only major cable or broadcast news network without a Saturday-morning news presence, ABC suffered further from the absence of a fiber optic
line connecting it with its own Dallas affiliate, WFAA-TV.

The line is an expensive proposition, network insiders said, but Cable News Network was able
to use its line to take WFAA's historic video of the shuttle breakup long before
ABC.

And many ABC affiliates carried CNN over ABC.

The network itself called the conference following complaints from affiliates
and ABC-owned stations, collectively trounced in that Saturday's ratings even by
cable network CNN. ABC News president David Westin, who called the meeting, admitted
his own frustration with Saturday's coverage and vowed more funding, better
staffing and better training for weekend coverage.

KETV(TV) Omaha, Neb., news director Rose Ann Shannon, who chairs ABC's affiliate-news-advisory board, said she came away from the conference encouraged.

"I felt ABC acted quickly to address the problems," she said.

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