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Show & Sell

Local newscasts have plenty of style, but where’s the substance?

That technology makes possible the latest fad in graphics, shared by all four of Denver's stations: logos flying into the screen against a backdrop of anthemic musical themes. Channel 2's opening and the transitions modeled on it (described in the story on page 30) certainly fit that bill; they look like something out of a Fifties 3-D movie. Channel 7's open goes for an artsier feel, with multiple dissolves of local landmarks (DIA, mountains, city at night) underpinning a mammoth 7 that hovers ominously over everything. Channel 4 features two separate introductions -- one with a big 4 that winds up at the center of a spinning CBS eye, and a second with oversized glamour shots of Bill Stuart, Aimee Sporer, weatherman Larry Green and sportscaster Marc Soicher, that arrives about a third of the way into the show.

But the most intricate graphics belong to front-runner Channel 9. Its open comes at the viewer in a wave of red and blue stripes accompanied by the NBC logo, which is used subliminally over and over again; photos of newsmakers or visuals of written statements appear on a blue background with a subtly stylized peacock lurking in the lower right-hand corner, silently injecting itself into the watcher's cranium. (Better loyalty through science.) Channel 9 also offers an abundance of background graphics that flash and flicker: a squib that keeps the time, temperature and, most important, the station's logo in sight at all times, and elegantly curved factoid boxes -- the ones that hover over anchors' shoulders as they speak to the camera -- that are far more pleasing than the sharp-edged and blandly geometrical shapes used by other stations. The eye candy has nothing to do with the news, but it sure is sweet.

image The Gifts That Keep on Giving
Some philanthropists like to keep their charitable activities quiet -- but that's not the way it works in Denver television. Here, good works are no good unless they give something in return. Airtime, for example. Although many TV types involved with charities no doubt have noble motives, the happy side effect for station execs is the ability to generate favorable publicity. And if promoting and reporting on such manufactured events lessens the amount of time that can be given to actual news, well, it's all for a good cause: Ratings.

Channel 9 sets the standard for self-congratulation; every show during the week under analysis included at least one plug for an upcoming station-sponsored happening. As part of "Digital Divide," a co-promote with the Denver Post, 9 sponsored free Internet training each Monday in November -- a month not chosen at random. Also on the agenda were items about "Buddy Check 9," the station's program promoting monthly breast exams (and making conspicuous use of its female on-air talent's up-front talents); the upcoming "9News Leader of the Year" contest; and, most prominently, "9 Cares, Colorado Shares," a food-and-clothing drive that took place on November 20, after a blanket of promotional spots and on-air solicitations. Not to be outdone, Channel 7 relentlessly plugged "Operation Warmup," a November coat drive that took place on November 13, and Channel 4 let people know about its program to help underprivileged families pay their utility bills this winter; a "Share the Spirit" campaign done in conjunction with the Boy Scouts; and the Adoption Exchange, promoted in a public-service announcement that paired Bill Stuart with Wendy's founder Dave Thomas.

Of all the local stations, only Channel 2 largely stayed off the charity-go-round -- maybe because it was so busy lining up advertisers to pay for its other attractions.

Let's Make a Deal
On Denver newscasts, the advertisements don't end when each block of commercials fades to black. Stations also sell sponsorships for portions of programs, giving companies five- to ten-second graphic lead-ins to segments ("This portion of News 4 is sponsored by...") in addition to placement of their spot in the opening slot of the next group of ads. Channel 2 may be the most ardent deal-maker, but the other stations played much the same game, with Channel 4 capping its November 14 "Colorado Millennium 2000" report with valentines to photographer John Fielder (including info about where to buy his latest book) and "Millennium" sponsors such as Public Service Company of Colorado, and all but endorsing participants in its "Companies 4 Colorado" promotion. The implication was that anyone who doesn't patronize these businesses is being unfaithful to the state. Similar subterfuge was at the heart of the relationships between two stations, Channel 9 and Channel 4, and, respectively, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. Both outlets presented nightly items about what would appear in these newspapers the next morning, but because the stories were merely hinted at, not reported in any tangible way, the segments were essentially commercials masquerading as news. Predictably, the graphics for these regular features were spiffy; unfortunately, they didn't include the word "Advertisement" flashing across the bottom of the screen.

Got the Puff, Daddy?
On Channel 2, soft news -- local or national lifestyle stories, oddball items intended merely to produce a smile -- was given slightly more room than the harder local stuff. That ranking was reversed at the other stations, but each devoted plenty of time to ultra-squishy feature material: 15 percent at Channel 4, 13 percent at Channel 7 and 9 percent at Channel 9.

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