KVLY Fargo: Backlash to Immigrant Story Due to Station Rivalry

Execs say in-market competition driving criticism of segment on rising tuberculosis rate
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KVLY Fargo, N.D. execs say backlash following a story linking immigrants to rising tuberculosis rates stems from “bad blood” between the station and rival WDAY and not shoddy reporting.

“With all the editorials and stories claiming that our stories are false not once, not in any one situation, have they pointed to any of our facts being incorrect,” said Ike Walker, the Gray-owned NBC affiliate’s news director.

At issue is a KLVY report that aired Monday which, using statistics from agencies including the CDC and Minnesota health department, found an influx of refugees to the area could be linked to the first rise in tuberculosis cases in 20 years.

Before the story even ran, however, a promo for the story on KVLY’s Facebook page received roughly 150 negative comments—not one of which came from the Fargo market, according to Jim Wareham, the station’s GM. Wareham called it a case of “astroturfing” in which an organized political campaign tries to appear grassroots.

Soon after the story aired, The Forum newspaper, whose owner, Forum Communications, owns WDAY as well, ran a story disputing the original report, as well as an editorial calling the story “an outrage.”

Neither The Forum nor WDAY returned calls for comment.

Wareham and Walker, however, said this week’s to-do is in keeping with a bitter battle that has been underway for the last five years or so since KVLY unseated WDAY as the longtime No. 1 news station in key demos. That was a big blow for Forum, which, with the TV station, the newspaper and WDAY-AM had a lock on Fargo, they said.

“This is a very competitive market,” Wareham said. “You have some people here who are angry and not used to getting beat on stories.”

Fargo-Valley City is the 115th largest market in the country, a third of which is in Minnesota. In addition to KVLY and WDAY the market is served by Major Market Broadcasting’s CBS affiliate KXJB and Red River Broadcasting’s Fox affiliate, KVRR.