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We Are the World
Local newscasts that air in the mornings and afternoons can afford to ignore world and national news, because they're usually juxtaposed with network programs dedicated to the broader view. Traditionally, though, late-night newscasts across the country have saved space for big stories that stretch far outside the city limits. But in Denver, that space is getting smaller all the time. During the week in question, Channel 2 set aside 8 percent of its newscast for such reports, probably because it has so much more time to fill; Channels 4, 7 and 9 allotted 5 percent or less -- and were it not for an earthquake in Turkey and the crash of an EgyptAir jet (on which eight Coloradans perished), this percentage might have been much smaller. In general, if you wanted to know there was a world outside Colorado, you had to tune into the sports segments. Big fat surprise.

Getting Graphic
Denver newscasts dedicated between 6 percent (Channel 2) and 14 percent (Channel 7) of their time to what we've generically labeled flotsam -- self-promotional "stories," teases to reports scheduled later in the program (some of which were plugged as many as four times before they finally popped up), advertising tie-ins, and graphics, graphics and more graphics. What Denver has lost in real news, it's gained in computer animation.

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.

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.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts