Air Check By Diana Marszalek

Stations, Networks Break News Together

More and more, when big news breaks, networks turn to affiliates for local expertise. And the stations benefit from network tech resources as well as reporting that includes national and federal news sources.
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When a five-year-old boy in Midland City, Ala., was kidnapped off a school bus in January, ABC News turned to WDHN, the network’s affiliate in nearby Dothan, for the lowdown on the story, which was quickly gaining national interest.

That set the stage for the collaboration between ABC and WDHN news during the week the child was held hostage in an underground bunker. WDHN did its part by working its cache of local sources. Network correspondent Pierre Thomas reciprocated by sharing with the affiliate what he learned through his federal connections.

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The story exemplifies what some broadcasters say is a new spirit of cooperation between networks and their affiliates on local stories of national interest.

Al Prieto, VP of ABC NewsOne, the network’s affiliate news service, says it's an important alliance to nurture.

“We know a lot, but the local stations are on the ground; they are covering their cities,” he says. “When the value of that relationship kicks in, it pays off.”

Despite the mutual benefits, cooperation has not always been a given.

Brand Connections

“It used to be that networks would sort of parachute into our backyards and we wouldn’t even know they were there,” says Mike St. Peter, the news director at NBC-owned WVIT Hartford-New Haven, Conn. (DMA 30), which won a Peabody for its coverage of the Newtown shootings late last year.

“The networks didn’t always let the local stations know what they were doing and they didn’t seem to care what we were doing,” he says.

But such attitudes seem to be fading. “I think the networks are respecting and acknowledging that there is value to the folks who are in the field, who have that local knowledge,” says Lana Durban Scott, Scripps’ director of news strategy and operations.

Bill Hoffman, president of Cox Media Group, says that he finds the networks are even open to feedback from the affiliates once breaking news events wind down.

“There is not one of them that minds critiquing,” Hoffman says. “They welcome the two-way interaction. It’s healthy and it makes for better breaking news the next time it happens.”

Broadcasters and industry watchers say a range of factors is transforming these relationships. Stiffer competition is one, primarily because broadcasters need to have more information faster than ever before to stay relevant. The networks don’t have the luxury of waiting until they arrive at the site of the story to post reports and video on their websites. Another is technology that has made sharing easier.

Close collaboration has been evident in the coverage of recent big events.

Dennis Kinney, the news director at KXXV, Drewry’s ABC affiliate in Waco-Temple-Bryan, Texas (DMA 88), says his station was among the first on the scene of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, in April.

KXXV sent video over the Internet to ABC News, with which the station was in continual contact that night, according to Kinney. Meanwhile, he says, KXXV benefited by being able to use aerial footage of the scene, shot by helicopter crews sent by affiliates in Texas’s big markets and made available through the network’s affiliate services.

“We don’t even have satellite trucks, let alone choppers,” Kinney says.

ABC and Scripps' WEWS Cleveland (DMA 18) worked side-by-side in May on the kidnapping story in which three women who had been missing for years were discovered in a Cleveland home. When a source leaked a police report detailing the conditions under which the captive women lived to a WEWS reporter, the station and network together vetted and confirmed the information, Scott says. When the story was ready to go, ABC News and WEWS both aired it.

An interview with a WEWS reporter was featured on a special 20/20 report.

When a bridge north of Seattle collapsed in May, CBS’s This Morning and the Evening News aired stories featuring a reporter and video from KIRO, the network’s affiliate in the country’s 12 largest market. But it was a CBS News producer in New York who wrote them, says New Director Bob Jordan.

Working at an O&O, WVIT’s St. Peter has an especially close working relationship with NBC News. As the first broadcaster in Newtown, Conn., the morning of the Sandy Hook shootings, WVIT provided the network and other stations the first images from the site.

The NBC News crew that arrived later that day brought different assets to the job, St. Peter says. Correspondent Pete Williams, for example, was able to obtain information through federal sources that WVIT reporters didn't have, he says. Likewise, WVIT shared developments gotten from local sources as the story progressed, too.

“It’s not a competitive thing; we are truly sharing that information,” he says.

Over the last few weeks, KOCO, Hearst’s ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City (DMA 41), has had ABC News personalities on air as part of its coverage of the deadly tornados that hit the area.

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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 22, 2016
  • 1.
    4.0/14
  • 2.
    1.7/6
  • 3.
    1.3/5
  • 4.
    0.9/3
  • 5.
    0.6/2
  • 6.
    0.3/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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