Attention, GMs, news directors and sales managers. Go directly to http://www.rtnda.org/. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 from an advertiser. Click on "ethics," then on "RTNDA code of ethics." Read it. Post it. Follow it.
Last week, a red-faced WBBH-TV Fort Myers, Fla., had to explain a flier sent to advertisers offering "a news story on you or your family and how they have impacted Southwest Florida, which will air in the Monday-Friday 5 p.m.-6 p.m. newscast." The price: $5,000. The explanation: Oops. Show of hands now. Who doesn't recognize that as an ethical breach wide enough to drive your ENG van through? Not KOLO-TV Reno, Nev., apparently, which floated a similar flier with, coincidentally, a similar $5,000 price tag.
Less egregious, but also instructive, was WSTM-TV Syracuse, N.Y.'s, submission of a top-10 list along with its proposal for a three-year contract to air New York State Lottery drawings. No. 2 on the list: "Positive special-events news coverage of lottery events." Just a joke, said station management. Try just an embarrassing front-page story in the local newspaper driven by competitor's criticism. We would advise leaving the jokes to Letterman.
Back when a Chattanooga station tried selling news time (and prompted our song parody, "Pardon Me, Boss, I Sold the Chattanooga News Crew"), we took aim at what we thought was an isolated incident. It seemed so obviously to stink like a shipful of dead squid on Fear Factor. Apparently, it wasn't so obvious.
Darts, then laurels
Forget The Osbournes; our favorite dysfunctional TV family is ABC News, a rich source of gossip and speculation for papers and trades. There was that business about replacing Ted Koppel with Letterman and cutting Peter Jennings' salary. Even The New York Times
can't resist the Barbara Walters-Diane Sawyer bickering. Then, the always infallible conventional wisdom insists news has no real future at ABC because it lacks a complementary cable outlet.
So it was a bit surprising to see ABC News President David Westin on stage at the Waldorf-Astoria last Monday to accept a Peabody Award for the network's coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks. Every news organization was at its best that week. But, according to the Peabody folks—we know of no better jury—ABC was the best of the best. It was no fluke. Two years ago, ABC News won a Peabody for its Jennings-anchored millennium coverage, again against tough competition. (Then-CNN honcho Rick Kaplan was apoplectic over the loss.) Also picking up a Peabody last week was Koppel for his long-running Nightline. The added prestige should help ward off the suits who see his 11:30 time slot as an underperforming asset.
With so many egos at ABC and fiscal stress unlikely to abate, we wouldn't be surprised by more dirty laundry. Nor would we be surprised to see Westin on that stage again next year.