Green-Light Specials

If the FCC loosens its rules, will media giants go on a radio-and-TV shopping spree? Absolutely.

By today's standards, McGraw-Hill's broadcasting division is small, containing just four stations: Channel 7, plus fellow ABC affiliates in Indianapolis, San Diego and Bakersfield, California. A media behemoth wouldn't need much of an appetite to gobble them up. As a bonus, the stations have what a corporation looking to pad its acquisition roster might see as attractive extras -- although Quinn mentions these add-ons to demonstrate why McGraw-Hill would like to keep them.

For one thing, the outlets are highly automated, thanks to a system called Parkervision, which lets a handful of behind-the-scenes personnel do jobs that previously required many more bodies ("Robo News," November 29, 2001). In addition, a master-control center in Indianapolis switches between national and local programming for all four stations, saving even more moolah. Finally, the McGraw-Hill stations outside of Denver all have news channels on the analog system rather than its digital counterpart. In an exceedingly lame, balance-free article in the December 30 Rocky Mountain News, Channel 9 president Roger Ogden sniffed at this concept -- a dubious stance, since Gannett is putting together a variation of it that would shuffle through local news broadcasts from across the country. But Quinn has done well with this model in Southern California. "The San Diego cable channel has been up and running since 1992, and it delivers more audience than CNN, Fox, MSNBC and CNBC in the San Diego market. It's been very profitable for the cable company and the TV station." The Indianapolis channel, formed just over a year ago, and the one in Bakersfield, which is a little over six months old, aren't nearly as lucrative, but Quinn is confident that eventually they will be.

Channel 7 failed to convince AT&T to fork over an analog channel, and since its digital equivalent will reach around 60 percent fewer viewers, the station may have a tougher time cashing in. But Velasquez, the station's vice president, sees other benefits, like letting more viewers discover that Channel 7 has a credible news product. The outlet finished last in a survey of over fifty stations made public by the Project for Excellence in Journalism last November, and the ratings for its 10 p.m. newscast continue to lag far behind those at channels 9 and 4, even after the return last year of Denver news vet Mike Landess. But Velasquez is encouraged that the 10 p.m. numbers didn't fall last year despite what she calls "lackluster" lead-ins courtesy of ABC, and she boasts that newscasts at 5 and 6 p.m. are either in second place or tied for second behind Channel 9 in key demographic categories. As a result, Channel 7 is bringing in more advertising revenue than many would expect.

"The station's profitability has increased substantially in my time here, and we're very happy about our progress," Velasquez says. "We're going where we want to go."

There's no way of knowing if these remarks will dissuade potential TV-station buyers. But a slew of them are undoubtedly window-shopping at this very moment.

Permission granted: Since the Denver Post updated and expanded its approach to acknowledging errors ("Internet Interruption," November 11, 2002), some of its correction sections have seemed practically as long as Master of the Senate. But as of January 21, the paper had not yet caught the botch that turned up in "Immigrant Honors Student Seems Safe From Deportation For Now," an offering written by Washington bureau reporter Mike Soraghan for the January 16 edition. The first paragraph identified Jesus Apodaca, a Mexico-born teen who was at the center of well over twenty articles, editorials and columns published by the Post last year, as "Jose Apodaca." To anyone who thinks Hispanic-sounding names that start with "J" are interchangeable, I respond, "Jose Christ!"

Technically, "Successes, Sorrows Trail Jeffco Sheriff," a January 13 effort by reporter Kieran Nicholson, didn't require a correction. In many ways, though, the article demanded an apology far more than did the comparatively benign Apodaca goof.

The Nicholson piece featured controversial Jefferson County sheriff John Stone on his last full day in office. The quotes Stone offered weren't particularly revelatory, but a line about the reporting of the item certainly was: "Stone, who consented to be interviewed for this story only if his critics were not contacted..." In other words, the Post not only allowed the outgoing sheriff, whose actions following the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School made him one of the most divisive figures in the state, to determine under what conditions he would speak to the paper while he was still a public official, but it also let him affect how the article was assembled.

Post editor Greg Moore concedes that he didn't know about this arrangement ahead of time. But he defends it, in a manner of speaking. "Obviously, this is not something we want to do even infrequently," Moore says. "We don't like news sources to dictate terms for interviews. But there are some special cases."

As Moore accurately points out, Nicholson's article wasn't devoid of criticism. For instance, it allowed that Stone's office had argued against releasing thousands of Columbine documents such as those that were made public earlier this year, and alluded to detractors who suspect that still more essential paperwork remains squirreled away. But with Stone on his way out, Moore says, the Post felt it would have difficulty pinning him down in the future. "After this latest document dump, we were trying to tie together some loose ends. We wanted to close the book on his tenure from his perspective," he elaborates. "And I think it was the right thing to do, the ethical thing to do, to tell our readers under what conditions we did the interview."

Whether the arrangement itself was right and ethical is another question.

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