Saturday, March 6, 2010

Another casualty - TV news

Well, we discovered that Bend can barely support one TV news station, let alone two.

Poor ratings and a weak advertising climate took out the local news portion of the ABC affiliate Friday in Bend, a little over two years after beginning it. Yes, they'll have a few 3-minute segments throughout the day for weather updates, but by and large, it's the end of KOHD news.

Too bad, because it was more professional looking than KTVZ, a low-budget operation that has changed hands multiple times over the past three decades. Of course, all small-market TV stations are low budget with few employees compared to the local daily newspaper. Although, that too is now changing with the collapse of newspaper subscriberships.

KTVZ, an NBC affiliate, is owned by Missouri-based News-Press & Gazette, which took over the local Fox affiliate in 2007 and runs the same news on both channels.

KOHD, owned by Eugene-based Chamber Communications (KEZI), couldn't compete with the established broadcaster in KTVZ much as another daily has no shot against the long-time daily newspaper. Even a free weekly publication labors against the daily. Also, the added clout of offering advertisers good rates on two channels squeezed out KOHD.

The TV advertising pie is only so big in Bend.

Also, what is critical for local news is to have great lead-ins to their news. KTVZ has "Oprah" in the afternoon and better prime-time shows than ABC. Also, Fox has better lead-ins, particularly when "American Idol" is running. And, the national NBC news is superior to anything on ABC or CBS.

But KOHD's news product wasn't worse than KTVZ's despite its pathetic ratings. In many ways it was superior, particularly in sports. Its weather was better because it relied on The Weather Channel whereas KTVZ/Fox uses Accuweather, which is not as accurate as The Weather Channel in Central Oregon.

KTVZ always hypes the weather far beyond what is called for. If the temperature is going to drop a couple of degrees they always say a "cold front" is coming. Bob Shaw, though, tones down the weather hyperbole a tad in the morning.

As for news, there wasn't much to distinguish between KOHD and KTVZ/Fox. They both chased the same fires, accidents and crimes. KOHD tried some long-form work in its "Direct Connect" segments, but since the interviewers knew little about the issues or Central Oregon, it just came off as another P.R. piece.

The problem of community ignorance is endemic to all news. Faces come and go so often, or, in the case of the daily newspaper, bylines come and go so frequently, that background knowledge suffers the most.

The region won't be ill-served by having just one TV news station because the bar is so low for local TV news, it doesn't really matter. Most of the on-air personalities devote far more time to how they look and dress than they ever devote to the stories they're working on. (Do they whiten their teeth twice a day, too?) And that's the way it has to be. How someone looks on TV is more important than what he or she does on TV. It's what viewers talk about.

With newspapers withering too, former reporters are showing up more on local TV and that's helped KTVZ.

Without any direct competition, KTVZ will get more ads, but it is struggling, too, during this "Great Recession." Furloughs and pay cuts are common across the news business, particularly at the local daily newspaper.

Maybe it will finally dawn on the local TV news folks, though, that a half-hour of local news is plenty. A full hour is brutal. They simply don't have the resources to pull it off. Also, KTVZ's habit of running the same local stories for days does not help. Cut back. KTVZ/Fox finally restored its weekend sports, which is one of the only reasons to ever tune in on the weekends during the school year. And please, enough of the self-promotion, especially during your own news programs. Yikes!

In the end, the overall quality of the news will diminish as the Internet gains more clout. People can find out what they want through the same websites that the news people use. That may not be a great economic model, but that's democracy.

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