Sunday, December 20, 2009

No Business Like Snow Business on New York TV

Nothing Like a Blizzard to Get the Competitive Juices Flowing, But....

From my perch in Westchester County, the first big snow in the New York area was so-so.
We got a mere eight inches, compared to the rest of the family blitzed by at least 21 inches on Long Island, where Newsday captured this picture. Other areas got more. In other words, the kind of story that keeps people glued to their TVs. Nothing like having reporters do live shots in a blinding storm to tell you it's snowing so you don't have to find out for yourself.
Not surprisingly, the stations trotted out a lot of their first-string anchors and weather guys. Chuck Scarborough is usually anywhere but a studio on a Saturday night, but there he was on WNBC-TV with Melissa Russo, while regular weekend co-anchor DeMarco Morgan was booted outside to do stand-ups from Times Square. Talk about being big-footed.
WNBC has slashed and burned its staff, and shed many a veteran reporter as it cut costs concurrently with its plunging ratings. But it was relatively game last night. While I didn't see it because I have DirectTV, the station had a continuous storm broadcast on one of its digital side channels anchored by David Ushery.
From what I can gather it was solid, public-service journalism, more akin to what you'd get from an all-news radio station. But what WNBC really should have done was put that broadcast on the main channel. It's not like there was a compelling need to run WWE wrestling when the area was being bodyslammed by the snow.
I didn't find out until almost after the fact but WNYW/Fox 5 trotted out Ernie Anastos and Rosanna Scotto for a 9 a.m. broadcast this Sunday. It may have been lightly attended given the station normally is running religious programming in that slot, so if you weren't watching the 10 p.m. news the night before, you were likely somewhere else. Like WABC/Channel 7, the usual clock cleaner in New York when it comes to news ratings and staff.
The station had the equivalent of a weekday complement of reporters in the field, with at least eight checking in for live spots, with two weather anchors, including weekday mainstay Lee Goldberg pulling duty Saturday and Sunday.
The coverage was solid, workmanlike fare if somewhat limited by the predictable nature of the story itself. But they made the most of what they had. The only one who came up short was weekend weather anchor Heidi Jones, who was dispatched to the LIRR station in Mineola to report on the myriad delays on that system.
Only problem: Jones really didn't know what she was talking about. First, she kept talking about suspensions of service at places like Far Rockaway, Long Beach and West Hempstead. True, but those are also the names of branches on the line, which meant about 20 stations had no service. She repeatedly showed she didn't know the difference and nobody bothered to correct her.
Ditto for when she kept talking in the present tense about a train that broke down overnight, and how passengers were still stuck on the train when reported the train had been towed to a station and passengers were placed on another train.
That's when producers come into the picture. If a reporter is stuck doing stand-ups, somebody actually has to be making calls to ensure the information is correct and current. It was a rare misstep for a news operation that otherwise sets the table for how TV news is covered -- or not -- in this market.
P.S. Memo to the staff at NBC New, the website for channel 4: this picture was taken in Maryland, not New York. Thought you might want to know.

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