Editor: Because Carol Marin's "back-to-basics" news approach at WBBM-TV in Chicago didn't succeed (see story, page 28), it would be wrong to think that the idea of quality news coverage does not, nor will not, lead to ratings success and long-term market dominance.
First, I have not seen any of Marin's newscasts, but even her supporters criticized their look and production values. It would be a shame if they failed because they were boring or someone forgot to be visual.
Second, I know personally of several stations where quality journalism has always been the rule. WWL-TV New Orleans and WINK-TV Fort Myers, Fla., have a long history of ratings dominance. For a recent example of how the strategy of quality journalism can fare, look to Orlando, Fla. In 1997, wesh, the wnbc affiliate there, publicly pledged to cover news responsibly, to be more issue-driven, more balanced and relevant to viewers. Back then, many parents wouldn't let their kids watch local news. That's how crime-driven, graphic, scary, sexy and sensationalistic news coverage was in Orlando at the time.
Since 1997, wesh-tv's GM, Bill Bauman, his news director, Russ Kilgore, and their staff have been doing what the local paper called "journalism, not nonsense." They've endured weak lead-in programming to their early-evening newscasts and a corporate-ownership change in the process. Their efforts have been praised by the
Sunday New York Times Magazine,
TV Guide, and
NBC News, to name a few. But the most satisfying response came from viewers, who deluged the station with letters, e-mails and phone calls; some stopped Bauman and other news staff on the street to offer encouragement and compliments.
So how is WESH-TV doing today? It won the 11 p.m. newscast in May of '99. In the early-evening newscasts, wesh-tv's numbers are growing slowly and steadily. I think they're in the right place to contend for local news leadership in Orlando.
So is wesh-tv's agenda of quality news coverage working? We all know how hard news-viewing habits are to change, and, considering the grip that the No. 1 station had on the market for 20 years, I'd say all signs are pointing to success in time.
-Paul Greeley, former creative services director,