Candid Cameras

Denver's latest TV news director brought plenty of flash to Oklahoma City. But she didn't bomb in the ratings.

Faculty members at the University of Oklahoma journalism school are split over Melissa Klinzing's decision to leave an Oklahoma City television station to accept a post as news director for KMGH/Channel 7 in Denver. Assistant professor Bill Loving says that some of his colleagues were delighted to hear that Klinzing--who brought tabloid-style TV news to Oklahoma, and to Miami before that--had gone. But to him, Klinzing's departure means he may have to dig a lot deeper to find mate-rial for the classes he teaches on media law, ethics and investigative reporting. After all, says Loving, much of his food for thought was provided by KFOR-TV's "flash-and-trash" journalism, such as the "news" story on the latest bikinis and the "Jungle Love" piece about sexy, pouty mail-order brides from South America.

And then there's the matter of the libel suit Klinzing is in the process of defending. In that case, KFOR inflamed Oklahoma City's Muslim community by identifying an Iraqi immigrant as Timothy McVeigh's pal and the infamous John Doe No. 2.

But while the critics hated what Klinzing did at KFOR, the public loved it. After just four years in Oklahoma City, Klinzing managed to propel her station to the top of the ratings. And when John Proffitt, general manager of KMGH in Denver, began searching for someone take the helm of his No. 3-rated station, he turned to Klinzing. She started work in Denver April 1.

Media watchers are curious as to whether Klinzing will try to work her peculiar kind of magic in Colorado. "What you bring to a station is an effort to reflect the community and its values," says Klinzing. And what about the flash, violence and T&A she brought to Miami news? "Those, frankly, are Miami values," she says. "What that station did--and I was a part of it--reflects the culture around you. It depends on what the community will bear and what life is like in that community.

"You could look at an Oklahoma newscast and a Miami newscast, and you'll see that they're completely different."

It's true that under Klinzing, Oklahoma City got a tamer television version of the news than she'd delivered in Miami. So what about Denver and Channel 7? "Watch out for KMGH now," says George Lang, who reports on the media for the Oklahoma Gazette. "It's going to be interesting."

The 42-year-old Klinzing, a Tulsa native, arrived back home in Oklahoma in early 1992 via a roundabout route that took her from Washington, D.C. (where she was a Carter White House staffer), to Berkeley (where she was a graduate student in journalism) to Salt Lake City (where she was a producer at a local television station) and to Miami (where she became assistant news director of WSVN-TV, the station "people love to hate").

In Miami, Klinzing and her mentor, Mark Toney, turned what was once considered one of the finest news organizations in the country into what is now referred to as a "slash 'n' trash" station, albeit a ratings winner. They accomplished that with the use of slick graphics, hand-held cameras, a new set and an emphasis on blood and guts. Although critics vilified it for its combination of "news, hype and gore," the chair of the Fox network declared WSVN's style "the future of television," and other newscasts around the country quickly began imitating it.

Toney's style was so closely identified with the news-as-entertainment style that he left the Miami station in early 1990 to take a job producing the show Personalities for Fox. And when Toney went back to his roots two years later and hired on as news director at KFOR in Oklahoma City, he brought Klinzing with him. Toney stayed one year, after which Klinzing succeeded him as news director.

The duo's slash-and-burn mentality quickly became apparent. KFOR became "a lot more sensational," says Lang. The reporters became confrontational. And "they've done a lot of 'stunts'--that's what Melissa calls them."

During one notable sweeps period, Lang says, KFOR ran a series called "Jungle Love," about a video service that sets up Oklahoma bachelors with women from South America. The series was replete with clips of "women lying languidly in front of waterfalls and dancing in sweaty clubs in Uruguay," says Lang.

Then there was the one called "Fat Like Me," based on an article that had appeared in a women's magazine. The premise was that a shapely woman reporter would experience bias when clad in a padded "fat suit."

"KFOR took a lot of grief for that," Lang says. "It really didn't prove anything. The woman looked ridiculous in the fat suit. And the morning drive-time radio DJs had a field day with it."

Other media watchdogs found humor in a story KFOR ran in which the newscasters claimed to have uncovered the "last" photo of the federal building before the explosion. (Some competitors believe the photo was actually years old.)

Klinzing blames much of that criticism on two factors: one, many of her critics are "print" people, as opposed to "television" people; and two, change is often viewed with trepidation.

"Each art form evolves," she says. "Newspapers have evolved, as well. But television doesn't bother to criticize newspapers, because it doesn't work on TV--it's boring."

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