Good For Business, Bad For News

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - August 26, 2009
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I guess the main three, unanswered questions about that “merger” of KGMB-9 and KHNL-13 are:

Which 68 people will lose their jobs?

Will the co-produced newscasts get any better?

And would KITV-4 and KHON-2 consider a similar arrangement?

We’ve seen newspapers and TV stations sharing some of their news-gathering resources for many years. This TV deal goes well beyond the former meld of the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin, in which advertising and production facilities were shared but there were two dueling newsrooms with no mutual love.


Anything that lessens competition - in this case two stations putting out newscasts together - is a downer for the consumer. It’s better to have four sets of reporters sniffing around government instead of three. But my honest observation is that neither KGMB nor KHNL have talented sniffers anyway.

KHNL was barely in the news ratings race. It’s been down there in 3 and 4 Nielsen points forever, meaning only 3 or 4 percent of all homes with a television set watch its primary newscasts. I’ve wondered how it manages to keep doing news on those dreary numbers! It demoted anchor Howard Dashefsky to the morning news but that didn’t help the 6 and 10 newscasts one iota.

It certainly is shake-up time in local TV news. KGMB has been steadily advancing in the ratings. KITV has been pooping out as low No. 3. Longtime favorite Joe Moore at Channel 2 has been steadily declining and is now No. 2 at 10 p.m., and a shadow of his onetime numbers at 6 p.m. KGMB was rated favorite newscast in the most recent Honolulu Weekly survey of readers. So KHON’s owners have to be thinking of a new personality for the years ahead. Moore’s getting old, has agonizingly slow delivery, and viewers know he’s not a journalist - just a reader of prepared news scripts.

Our TV news has some bedrock problems. First, today’s operators are not focused on the old hierarchies of news: what you must know, what you should know, what’s nice to know, and then light features and sports if time permits.

Local TV news has become a salable commodity, period. It’s a show, just like American Idol or Dancing With The Stars. So you market yourself as The Severe Weather Station (we don’t have much of it in Hawaii) or lead your newscasts with court trials and car crashes. No boring stuff such as hearings on taxes, healthcare or UH. The farther you stay away from the Legislature and City Council, and the closer to Circuit Court and HPD, the better.

KITV is operating without a news director. What’s that tell you? Tod Pritchard was fired after too many years of troubling viewer numbers and just as Hearst Television bought out Hearst-Argyle and recalled all its BBB-minus (near default) bonds. Watch for changes at KITV.

What you, the viewer, don’t know about local TV news will hurt you.

Too many reporters are too young and inexperienced in the nuances veterans acquire to deal with politicians. The “shows” (that’s what newscasts are called) are now mostly run by hires too young and inexperienced to be reporters, so they are hired as producers. Producers put the “show” together, decide what goes first, second, third, etc. A producer is an editor. On a newspaper, you earn your way up to editor. On Honolulu TV, it’s where you start in journalism. Why? Because you’re a cheap hire. Much cheaper than a reporter.

One last troubling development, and I expect to see lots of this in that KGMBKHNL merger: single-person, reporter-videographer hires. It’s happening all over America. Why hire an expensive reporter and an expensive videographer to cover a story? Teach the reporter to shoot video or the videographer to report.

It doesn’t work, dear readers. Believe me, it doesn’t work - except to save money for the station owners.

A good reporter must be free to sniff, not shoot. A good videographer must concentrate on the visual, not the story details. Viewers get diminished reporting and diminished visuals.

It’s already been happening here, the report-and-shoot syndrome, and it’s not been good for journalism. It’s been very good for business.

Good for business. Three words with growing influence in America.

three star

Here we go again.

Motorcycle-car non-fatal crash on Farrington Highway in Waianae at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m. the Yamaha motorcycle still lay in the two westbound lanes. At 6:20 p.m., the highway reopens.

It’s an only-with-the-HPD thing.

Maybe they can pull in one of those blue-and-whites that park most days from noon or 12:30 until 2:30 or 3 p.m. at Kahanamoku Beach by the Hilton Hawaiian Village, engine running, A/C on. Must be investigating an illegal something or other, yeah?

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