Real Life. Real News. Real Bad.

Get real: If Channel 7 had given it some thought--a commodity as rare as a newscast without a promotional puff piece--the station wouldn't have mentioned that "pitbull" tag so proudly worn by its new mascot, Natalie Pujo.

After all, the last time a local television reporter tangled with pitbulls, she became the story--and a subsequent trial took a bite out of both Wendy Bergen and Channel 4's reputation. Bergen is now off the air.

Enter Natalie Pujo.
If Channel 7 had given it some thought, the station certainly wouldn't have made Pujo's supposed dog-eat-dog tenacity the focus of a cover story in 7NewsTimes, a quasi-newspaper hyping the station's quasi-news that's appeared in mailboxes around town. Before it breathlessly offers up anchor/reporter Mitch Jelniker's opinion on Richard Matsch ("He's no Judge Ito"), reporter Anne Trujillo's recipe for Easy Banana Bread, the obligatory happy birthday wishes for Klondike and Snow, a 7News wind-chill chart and a "Color the turkeys and win!" contest (isn't the ten o'clock news already in color?), the paper informs us that the new 7News anchor was "nicknamed 'Pitbull Pujo' for her determination to 'get the story.'"

Among Pujo's notable achievements as a TV reporter in Toronto, according to 7NewsTimes, was managing to locate her video news crew with just a minute to spare before airtime. "I knew I had only seconds to reach the crew and begin my report," she tells the paper produced by her current employer. "I reached the final ramp that led up to the camera crew, somebody threw me a microphone, and I was on-air. I was so out of breath I could hardly speak, but I got the story." Just what that story was, she does not say. Perhaps it detailed the super-human strength of Toronto viewers: 7NewsTimes goes on to describe how a protester once "attacked" Pujo, grabbed her microphone and "tore it into shreds." (She's just lucky she wasn't wearing that same cocktail-party getup she had on on election night.)

But Pujo isn't entirely to blame for the fact that Channel 7's new ten o'clock newscast hasn't caught on like a house afire (which, in fact, is exactly what was featured on Monday night's "Burn and Learn" segment). She's not entirely responsible for the amateur half-hour that galumphs across TV screens every weeknight. If Channel 7 is to be believed, we the viewers are. Pujo's just the "new face" that fits the station's "new attitude"--a clumsy, superficial ripoff of MTV that "is 7News's response to what viewers say they want in a late local newscast," according to the 7NewsTimes. Judging what the station is giving us, viewers want an anchor with plenty of firm (and teasingly exposed) flesh and a less-than-firm grasp of Colorado politics.

This isn't the first time a local television station has tried to spice up its newscast with a young, female anchor, and it won't be the last. Channel 4 tried it with Madeline McFadden, who didn't take--but who did utter several delicious malaprops during her tenure here (expressions rivaled only by Channel 9's tongue-twisted introduction of the topic of infant "finger-fucking" on the 4 p.m. news last month, or 7News sports anchor Tony Zarrella's intentional reference to the "Silicone Valley" cheerleaders). Then Channel 4 tried it again with Aimee Sporer, who did take. But the second time around, the station was careful to chain its young anchor to some old pros.

Pujo's hanging fire all by herself, wandering around 7News's self-consciously hip set while veterans Ernie Bjorkman and Bertha Lynn are banished to the dinner hour (or, in the case of Lynn on election night, interviewing eight-year-olds). Pujo's "new approach" is designed to attract those young folks who avoid newscasts like the plague--or at least like an old Village People video. Those folks are young, but they're not stupid. If they want to hear what's happening from someone their age, they can call a friend, go to a bar. They do not need to turn on a television. In fact, what they hear from their friends--whoever they might be--would no doubt be a great deal more newsy than what they get from the average 7News newscast.

That was made abundantly clear during Channel 7's "Ask the Media" special Sunday night, during which Peter Jennings--in town to broadcast Monday's evening news from Denver and, not incidentally, give a boost to ABC's local affiliate--hosted an hour-long live discussion with all the excitement and insight of an infomercial. Which, in fact, it was. Pujo and two other Channel 7 personalities (including Bill Clarke, released from his shopping duties) collected questions from the audience, which Jennings passed out to a panel of media types including KOA yakker Mike Rosen and Rocky Mountain News columnist Bill Johnson, who's been in town just long enough to need to change his license plates (but whose employer is linked with Channel 7). The real dark star of the show, though, was Melissa Klinzing, 7News director since April 1. She's the person responsible for bringing Pujo to town--"I knew she'd fit in perfectly with our future expansion plans and our immediate desire to revamp our late news," Klinzing says in the 7NewsTimes--and she's the person responsible for defining the station's "new attitude." It took some hits from the audience Sunday, particularly for its "lightweight" election-eve coverage, but Klinzing defends the format. It's no sin to be entertaining, she says: "News isn't boring."

And sometimes it isn't even news. Before she came to Denver, Klinzing was news director at a station in Oklahoma City. There she sank her teeth into another newscast revamp, earning the station a lawsuit from a Muslim man splashily tapped as John Doe No. 2--along with plenty of criticism from other media outlets.

So far, the new 7News has contented itself with less weighty--and less problematic--scoops during its nightly snippets of what passes as news. For example, last Wednesday's "Real Life. Real News" offered a lighter-than-air profile of Alice DJs Frosty, Jamie and Frank. In a column on Monday, Denver Post columnist Joanne Ostrow compared that segment to a more "analytical" piece on radio that had aired the same night on Channel 4--without the participation of the three Alice DJs, since Channel 4 had refused to give station KALC final approval of the story. "Did Channel 7 grant KALC management story approval?" Ostrow asked, and then provided Klinzing's denial.

But that wasn't enough for the new pitbull of the press. On Monday evening's newscast and again Tuesday morning, 7News anchors read their station's dogged response to Ostrow's "untrue story." Channel 7 "did not and will not let anyone outside...determine the news you see and hear," they recited. "'Nuff said."

No, not nearly enough.

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