Zoning

Do tape delays slow the 24-hour news cycle?

Appearances aside, many national news programs seen in these parts are less live than Memorex. Network morning shows and evening newscasts originating in the East Coast air in the Mountain time zone on a two-hour tape-delay basis unless developing news forces a change -- and a recent glitch involving Channel 9 and the Today show demonstrates that systems in place to deal with such contingencies are far from foolproof.

Things got complicated on October 3 thanks to President George W. Bush, who revealed that he'd chosen Harriet Miers to serve on the United States Supreme Court at just past 8 a.m. Eastern (6 a.m. Mountain) time. Because Channel 9 screened the Bush-Miers event in real time, it couldn't run the hour of Today originally shown at 7 a.m. back East, because that segment would have been filled with reports anticipating an announcement that had already happened. So the network advised Mountain-zone stations to take the 9 a.m. Eastern slice of Today -- the program's third hour, which is generally its puffiest. That certainly was the case on October 3: The block opened with a live performance by musicians Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint and contained few details about Miers or her nomination. TV-watchers wanting to know more about that had to surf elsewhere -- and while CNN and other cable-news channels use tape delay as well, especially in prime time, they're live in the mornings and so were up to date on Miers.

Channel 9 news director Patti Dennis was annoyed by this error, which she describes as a "miscommunication. I don't think anyone in their right mind would have done that on purpose." And while Today spokeswoman Lauren Kapp doesn't cop to a mistake -- the approach was "the cleanest solution to make sure your market didn't get dated news," she says -- the results were hardly ideal.

Christopher Smith

Incidents like this one can be even more embarrassing for stations on the West Coast, where the tape delay is an hour longer than it is in Colorado. In late September, according to an insider, a Southern California signal had to run a network newscast whose report about fast-moving wildfires near Los Angeles was three hours less timely than those the local outlet transmitted before and afterward.

For the most part, Dennis and fellow news directors Tim Wieland and Byron Grandy (with channels 4 and 7, respectively) believe their networks do a fine job of time-zone juggling. Still, inconsistencies crop up on a fairly regular basis, and those considered to be minor are allowed to stand. For instance, Channel 4 routinely discloses Oscar nominations live during its local newscast before throwing to the tape-delayed Early Show, during which anchors hype the supposedly upcoming picks. Bigger stories can't be shrugged off, though, and they're usually not. "Especially recently, with hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the Supreme Court nominations, the networks have been producing a live morning show for all time zones," Wieland notes. "Could I see a time when they do that every day? Absolutely."

Such moves could have drawbacks, says Grandy, whose station is home to Good Morning America: "With GMA, they're going to produce the best two hours they possibly can, and the best ones may not be hours four and five." Interviews with celebrities and newsmakers could be recorded during the initial sequences and inserted into later hours, but that method "wouldn't be much different from what we've got now," he maintains. Yet Grandy concedes that live is infinitely better when it comes to breaking news: "The Saturday that Rita hit, GMA gave us six hours live -- 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. -- and, holy cow, I loved that. It did big numbers, too, because it was happening right then."

This approach is expensive, but sending viewers west of the Mississippi the message that network affiliates deliver older news than their cable competitors may cost more in the long run. "If your news isn't up to the minute, you risk losing credibility," Wieland says. "The networks that recognize that and do the best job of adapting will win."

They made a deal: The three-sided conflict involving consumer advocate Tom Martino, contractor Steve Nickels and homeowners Tony and Debbie Marquette that was detailed here in March is officially over. Nickels and the Marquettes confirm they've reached a settlement that precludes them from discussing the accord. Predictably, Martino didn't make such a pledge, and his e-mail account of the resolution is clearly slanted in favor of Nickels, whose firm is once again listed on Troubleshooter.com, a Martino-owned website that requires businesses to pay thousands annually for his recommendation. The ensuing contradictions suggest that, in this instance at least, Martino's oft-declared tough standards aren't quite as important to him as cash.

In 2004, the Marquettes chose Nickels from the Troubleshooter.com register to put in new kitchen flooring and upgrade other portions of their aging home. When they weren't satisfied with his efforts, they complained to representatives of Martino's Troubleshooter Network, who couldn't resolve the increasingly ugly dispute. At one point, Nickels even had an associate imply that he was a Martino employee in order to videotape portions of the Marquette home. Such subterfuge should have been enough to get Nickels kicked off Troubleshooter.com permanently, but no; he was restored to the roster twice following brief suspensions. Finally, after an analysis determined that Nickels had tackled plumbing and electrical tasks without pulling proper permits, Martino de-listed him for a third time.

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