Fox on the Run

During its first week on the air, Channel 31's news demonstrates a little substance and a lot of style.

Other stories masqueraded as news but provided little. Jones's day-in-the-life look at Denver police chief Gerry Whitman was purely promotional, and Turner's night-in-an-emergency-room feature was about as exciting as watching soil erode. Worst of all were the daily "You're in the Spotlight" segments, in which everyday folks commented on banal topics in banal ways. Such time-wasters wouldn't be so aggravating if national news hadn't consistently been given short shrift. But most nights, stories from outside Colorado (excluding sports and weather) were given only about a minute of airtime, with the treatment many of them received demonstrating some questionable news judgment. On July 19, for example, a quick update of the Middle East peace talks followed footage of a worker being rescued from a silo. If it had been a little girl in a well, it probably would have led the newscast.

Gimme gimmickry: Channel 31's musical stings, which interpolate parts of the 20th Century Fox movie theme, were grabby; the main-set backdrop, with faux spotlight beams also suggestive of the film studio, was clever; and the graphics were first-rate: Especially useful were teases that told viewers that a story could be seen "before 9:30" or "before 9:45," so they'd know how long they needed to stick around. But there were also innovations that were much less helpful, such as interrupting the weather forecast with a commercial break, thereby forcing the audience to sit through several spots before they could find out how hot it would be the next day. The results may have pleased advertisers, but it reminded this observer of a certain scene from A Clockwork Orange. What's next -- pinning my eyes open to make sure I'm watching Dealin' Doug?

The week saw a handful of glitches that might have made folks yearn to look away, some of which were beyond Channel 31's control (the audio for Zappolo's interview with Roy Romer was blotted out by a flash-flood warning that ran on most cable systems), and some that weren't (during part of the July 21 weather report, a temperature map bled through the blue dress worn by second-string weather forecaster Karen Eden, making it look as if the temperature in Gunnison was tattooed across her abdomen). But with the exception of night one, which ran one hour and three minutes long (couldn't they have cut at least one of the promos?), the newscasts were every bit as good as those offered up by its competitors.

Talk about damning them with faint praise...

Even more Tom for sale: The same week Tom Martino made his Channel 31 bow, he announced that his radio show, heard on KHOW from noon to three weekdays, is to be syndicated nationally by Westwood One. According to Robin Bertolucci, director of AM programming for the Denver branch of Clear Channel, which owns KHOW, the switchover will take place in mid-August -- meaning that callers from Westminster with consumer problems will have to fight for airtime with folks from, say, Hackensack, New Jersey. (He's been heard Saturday mornings on WABC in New York for several weeks.) She predicts, though, that this shift in focus won't lessen the program's appeal locally. "It's because of Tom's incredible personality and the entertaining nature of what he does that all of these things are happening," she says, "and those things aren't going to change."

Fans of KHOW newsman Steve Alexander aren't so lucky: The newscasts he's helmed with so much aplomb over the years have been deep-sixed in favor of satellite updates from CBS. Bertolucci insists that Alexander, who is currently working on a top-secret Internet project due for introduction next month, remains an important part of the station, adding that the CBS component adds "variety" to the Clear Channel talk lineup. But what this modification really does is dramatically lower the profile of an interesting broadcaster while simultaneously making KHOW less local -- something the Martino move is likely to do as well. It'll probably save money, though. And isn't that the only thing that matters?


Paint by numbers: The folks at the Rocky Mountain News still seem shell-shocked by the power shift that's taken place since the announcement of a proposed joint operating agreement between the News and the Denver Post -- but many of them have retained at least some of the feistiness they exhibited during the city's Pyrrhic newspaper war. For instance, News staffers maintain a so-called "Post of Shame," where they exhibit layouts from the Post that deliver "valuable lessons on how not to design your pages."

A recent display concentrated on "Who Protects the Children?," the first chapter in a five-part foster care series that ran on the cover of the Post's Sunday, May 21, edition, is a case in point. The article was honored not because it was ugly, but because it nearly duplicates the look of a Seattle Times/ Post-Intelligencer front page reproduced in the nineteenth edition of Best of News Design, a book that's in the library of pretty much every art director in the country. Both efforts feature the same soft edges around photographs, the same cameo of a tot mated with a poignant headline, and boxed borders that are similarly dark and blurry -- although perhaps not quite as blurry as the line between inspiration and pilfering.

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