Tuesday, December 20, 2005

TV Tells Tales Of Transit Tribulations, Even If They're Not True

Rush To Get On The Air For Transit Strike Coverage Finds N.Y. Broadcasters Getting Off Track With The Facts
On most days, the morning news shows on New York TV stations are predictable affairs, repackaging yesterday's news, provding constant weather and traffic reports and dollops of peppy features (how to dress your dog for the holidays, anyone?) so you don't have to think too much.
Rare is the day when these programs have to cover breaking news, let alone a transit strike that forced 7.7 million commuters to scramble. Ditto the newscasts, which tried to play a game of one-upmanship.
Lots of reporters and anchors who are already overcaffeinated just so they can make it to 7 a.m. were up and at 'em at 3:04 a.m. when the Transport Workers Union made it official that its members would hoof it to the picket lines. Many pulled all-nighters, which put their Norelcos and mascara to the test, for sure.
While the stations generally did a good job of capturing the frustration, chaos and life alterations that a city without its subways or buses requires, there was at times a rush to keep pumping out info without bothering to check if it was right.
Case in point: at least twice, Darlene Rodriguez was heard on WNBC-Channel 4 telling people they could park at Shea Stadium or Yankee Stadium and then get a commuter train. Only problem: It wasn't true.
The railroads had said for days such plans wouldn't be in place for 24 hours after a strike was called.
WCBS Radio was among those that correctly urged commuters not to go to the stadia for anything else except, perhaps, trying to find a carpool to get into Manhattan, although they went a bit far trumpeting that fact as "breaking news" read by News Director Tim Schield, who normally doesn't go on the air.
Later on, WNYW-Channel 5 ran tape of Mayor Mike Bloomberg walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. To their chagrin, the questions asked by a reporter came from Today's Lester Holt, who could be seen in the foreground. Afterwards, Jodi Applegate -- a Today alumna -- chirped, "While this is a national story...." but reminded viewers that if they wanted local coverage, Fox5 was the be all and end all.
Applegate was apparently too busy working to see that her competition at the other networks had preempted the morning shows at 7 a.m. for their own wall-to-wall coverage. So, while Lester Holt may have conveyed the breadth of the strike to the rest of the nation, Channel 4 and the rest refused to cede the airwaves and stayed close to home, and nobody should have expected anything less, including Applegate.

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