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  • Zamir Ahmed 9:01 am on December 22, 2015 Permalink  

    Local TV Stations: Bastions of Investigative Journalism 

    In her New York Times column, “The Search for Local Investigative Reporting’s Future” (Dec. 5), Margaret Sullivan bemoans the uncertainty surrounding newspapers’ future investment in enterprise reporting that roots out corruption and exposes illicit behavior in local communities. What Ms. Sullivan should not forget is that local television broadcasters are picking up the mantle of serious investigative journalism as resources become limited at newspapers.

    In recent years, local TV stations have invested significant resources into building and expanding their investigative news teams both on-air and online. Some stations have even employed former newspaper reporters with extensive backgrounds in investigative journalism, such as Dispatch Broadcast Group’s WTHR Indianapolis, Block Communications’ WDRB Louisville and Capitol Broadcasting Company’s WRAL Raleigh.

    A few examples of broadcasters’ investment in investigative reporting locally and nationwide include:

    • Atlanta: In November, Meredith Corporation’s WGCL introduced an investigative news initiative featuring a team of reporters with over 100 combined years of television news reporting experience, including former The Washington Post reporter Art Harris;
    • St. Paul: Hubbard Broadcasting-owned KSTP recently hired as an executive producer of investigations and special projects Paul McEnroe, who was formerly The Star-Tribune’s most prominent investigative reporter;
    • Chicago: In July, NBCUniversal’s WSNS became the ninth Telemundo station to launch a dedicated news team to help consumers who have been wronged by local businesses;
    • Asheville: In May, Asheville Citizen-Times reporter Jon Ostendorff left the newspaper to join Sinclair Broadcast Group’s WLOS as an investigative reporter;
    • Washington, D.C.: Last December, Sinclair Broadcast Group-owned WJLA create an investigative unit focusing on rooting out government waste;
    • New York: Last year, Tribune Broadcasting’s WPIX brought together several award-winning journalists to form an investigative news team “to bring fraud and injustice to light…while protecting our viewers and keeping their families safe from harm.”

    Broadcasters’ investment in enterprise journalism has not gone unnoticed. Last July, Broadcasting & Cable ran a cover story about the increase in new and expanding investigative news teams at local TV stations. The article noted that attendance at the recent Investigative Reporters and Editors convention exceeded 1,650, significantly more than the 1,250 from the 2013 convention and a new record.

    Local TV stations’ investigations have also paid numerous dividends for viewers by uncovering corruption and illegality in local communities, carrying out broadcasters’ mission of serving the public interest. These investigations have also garnered prestigious national and local awards for their in-depth reporting, and prompted local governments to take action to correct the wrongs exposed. Just a small handful of the many investigations that broadcasters have undertaken include:

    • Tampa: Following a year-round investigation, in September TEGNA’s WTSP aired a five-minute news broadcast examining the influence wielded by a private PR consultant in local politics, potentially in violation of local and state ethics laws. The station supplemented that broadcast with a 6,000-word online article, extensive links to public records and online-only videos, a convergence of elements that earned the project kudos from the Columbia Journalism Review.
    • St. Louis: Meredith Corporation’s KMOV earned a 2016 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award after launching an investigation of the area’s criminal justice system in wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown and subsequent civil unrest. Through more than 40 stories, the investigation revealed a system of mandated ticket quotas, speed traps, and fines to help small municipal courts make money. The reports prompted one local police department to end its ticket quota system, a judge being forced to resign and the firing of a police officer.
    • Baltimore: Hearst Television-owned WBAL received a 2016 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for its in-depth, breaking news reporting on what happened to Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who was critically injured while in police custody and subsequently died a week later. The investigation into his death raised questions about police procedure and prompted major protests in the city and around the country.
    • Raleigh: Capitol Broadcasting Company’s WRAL produced a documentary from the Rio Grande Valley on the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors illegally immigrating into the U.S. from Mexico and its impact on North Carolina. The report was credited as an “excellent example of local reporting” when it was cited for a 2016 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award.
    • Dallas: NBCUniversal-owned KXAS, which partnered with the Dallas Morning News, was honored with the 2015 Gannett Foundation Al Neuharth Award for Investigative Journalism. The station looked into claims by injured U.S. Army soldiers, particularly those with mental wounds, that they were often mistreated, belittled and even ordered to do things that jeopardized their medical care by commanders. The report prompted changes to the Army Warrior Transition Units and sparked investigations and hearings by the U.S. House of Representatives.
    • “Full Measure”: Debuting in October, this Sinclair Broadcast Group-produced half-hour news program airs every Sunday on 162 television stations in 79 markets. The show focuses on investigative, original and accountability reporting and is hosted by Sharyl Attkisson, a five-time Emmy Award winner and Edward R. Murrow award winner for investigative reporting at CBS News.
    • New Orleans: Hearst Television’s WDSU continues to investigate questionable hiring practices by the district attorney in one of Louisiana’s most populous parishes, who recently brought onboard two employees that raised ethical questions. One new employee was tied to a federal corruption case involving a kickback scheme at the parish courthouse, while the other retired in order to collect a pension and was subsequently rehired in a part-time position.
    • Louisiana: An investigation by TEGNA’s WWL, in partnership with USA Today and other TEGNA newspapers, found that the state’s backlog of untested sexual assault kits may have only accounted for a fraction of outstanding kits. The investigation found that while a new state law requires law enforcement agencies to report how many untested sexual assault kits they had, only half of the agencies did and others reported lower numbers than was actually the case.
    • Rochester: Nexstar Broadcasting Group’s WROC aired a special report in February that exposed how teachers under investigation for misconduct were sent to the Alternative Work Location, dubbed “The Rubber Room.” In the spring of 2014, the 15 teachers and administrators sent to the Alternative Work Location received their salary but were not given any work assignments, the report revealed.
    • Arizona: In January, all Arizona television stations aired “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” an investigative report produced in English and Spanish by students at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in partnership with the Arizona Broadcasters Association (ABA). The program focused on the growing perils of heroin and opioid use in Arizona.
    • Detroit: Graham Media Group’s WDIV examined the school-issued helmets that several local high school football teams were using and tested their ability to prevent concussions. The station’s investigation found one in four helmets that were being used by the Detroit Public School System held one- or two-star ratings on a scale of five.
    • Denver: E. W. Scripps Company’s KMGH won a Peabody Award for its “Investigating the Fire” series, which examined a controlled fire set by the Colorado State Forest Service that expanded into an out-of-control forest fire that cost three lives and damaged 22 homes. Producing more than two dozen reports, two town hall meetings and a 30-minute special, the investigation uncovered negligence on the part of the Forest Service and prompted state lawmakers to take action to compensate victims.
    • Columbus: In a series called “Investigating the IRS,” Dispatch Broadcast Group-owned WTHR uncovered massive fraud caused by mismanagement and lack of oversight inside the Internal Revenue Service that cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. The investigation earned the station a Peabody Award and prompted the IRS to institute permanent changes in agency practices and policies.

    The questions Ms. Sullivan asks are the right ones: Where will local investigative journalism come from? Who will expose corruption and defend the taxpayer? Who is going to hold people accountable?

    Broadcasters understand our role as Americans’ most-trusted, top-choice news source and our power to drive local conversations.  That’s why many TV stations have invested in investigative journalism to fill the gap left by a declining print industry. I believe we have answered Ms. Sullivan’s questions. Broadcasters have already assumed the important role of the watchdogs of our democracy.

     
  • Zamir Ahmed 9:49 am on May 21, 2014 Permalink  

    Broadcasters Show Their Commitment to Public Safety 

    Much attention has been paid to KSFY (Sioux Falls, S.D.) anchor Nancy Naeve’s recent on-air rebuke of viewers who complained about the station breaking into regular programming to report on a tornado in the area on May 11. It has been heartening to see that a vast majority of those weighing in on the subject have supported broadcasters putting their public safety commitment above all else.

    The video of Naeve is just the latest example of broadcasters being credited for educating the public about staying safe when danger is approaching. Tupelo, Miss. residents have praised WTVA meteorologist Matt Laubhan for saving their lives during a tornado outbreak in April, after his on-air evacuation order to station personnel led many viewers to seek shelter.

    Radio and television broadcasters are serious about our roles as “first informers.” We do not take lightly a decision to preempt regular programming with live reporting regarding emergency situations. Broadcasting is very often the first place residents, and many first responders, turn to for information when danger is headed towards a community.

    However, the recent order from the FCC on the incentive auction could significantly interfere with television stations’ ability to keep their audiences informed.

    The incentive auction order proposes changes to the methodology and software that determines the coverage area of a broadcaster’s signal and the potential elimination of TV translators that could result in millions of viewers being left without access to the local television programming that they currently rely on. As NAB has made clear to the Commission, these proposed changes dramatically alter broadcasters’ coverage areas and the population they serve today. In more densely populated areas where TV stations are located in cities closer together, viewers may be able to receive signals from other nearby broadcasters. That’s an option that may not exist in lesser populated areas where TV stations are farther apart, such as in Sioux Falls. That could be the difference between life and death for some.

    The tornado that KSFY reported on that sparked the complaints touched down in Hospers, Iowa – about 70 miles from the station’s base of Sioux Falls. Under the FCC’s proposed signal contour methodology, those residents in the path of the storm might not have seen the lifesaving emergency information KSFY provided. In many areas of the country, particularly rural states, broadcast stations may be unable to reach significant portions of the populations due to terrain or geographic reasons. Translators allow broadcasters to fill in gaps in this coverage by transmitting their signal. Americans should not be put at risk to natural disasters because the translator service they used to watch broadcast TV was not protected by the FCC.

    NAB is supportive of a broadcast spectrum incentive auction that is truly voluntary. We believe in a future that is both broadcasting and broadband, a partnership that can be particularly beneficial when it comes to public safety. It appears our friends in the wireless industry believe so as well.

    CTIA-The Wireless Association recently tweeted an article about a cellphone alert awakening Charlotte, N.C. residents to an approaching tornado. The alert directed residents to tune into their local broadcast television station for more information. It is a perfect example of how broadband and broadcasting can work hand-in-hand to save lives.

    As the FCC proceeds with creating a framework for the incentive auction, it must refrain from instituting rules that jeopardize the pledge broadcasters’ have made to serve their communities during times of need. We take that pledge seriously. We hope the FCC does too.

     
  • Zamir Ahmed 1:10 pm on February 10, 2012 Permalink  

    Radio-enabled cellphones: A voluntary approach to public safety 

    Once again, some of our friends in Washington are misrepresenting NAB’s position regarding equipping and enabling FM chips in cellphones. To be clear, NAB supports the VOLUNTARY adoption of radio receivers in mobile devices. Doing so would allow wireless subscribers to access emergency information during a crisis, and on a device many always keep at arm’s reach.

    Coming off one of the worst years on record for natural disasters, broadcasters believe the time is now for a reasonable and factual discussion on the merits of radio-enabled cellphones. Policymakers such as members of the Congressional Black Caucus and former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps agree on the need for an honest discussion on the issue. After all, when a storm is approaching, or a flood is rising, or an evacuation is ordered, shouldn’t we put aside special interest politics and do what’s best in the public interest?

    We have seen wireless carriers express opposition to radio-enabled cellphones by arguing the text message-based alert system established by the WARN Act is sufficient during an emergency. That claim rings hollow when the fact remains that these same carriers have had six years to implement this technology, and it’s still not deployed! George W. Bush was barely into his second term when this cellphone carrier promise was made? Why are the carriers dragging their feet?

    A text-based system may be capable of alerting cellphone users to approaching danger, but messages restrained by the WARN Act’s 90-character limit cannot possibly keep up with a rapidly changing situation. As NAB has previously pointed out, a 90-character message may only direct you to another source of information for breaking news and timely updates.

    Shouldn’t Americans have readily available access to a service that can provide up-to-the-second information when lives are at stake? Radio can and does provide that type of service, and it’s time for all cellphone carriers to voluntarily make it available to their customers.

    Time and again, local radio stations have proven themselves capable of providing a continuous flow of timely information during emergencies. In advance of Hurricane Irene’s approach, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate went so far as to say “local broadcasters…are going to have the most detailed information about what’s happening in your community.” Even if the power goes out or one can’t reach a traditional radio in time, having access to that information through a cellphone can give people a chance to stay out of harm’s way.

    Once immediate danger has passed, radio-enabled cellphones can still help a community in its rescue, rebuilding and recovery efforts. Following the devastating tornado outbreaks in Missouri and Alabama last year, local radio stations became a community forum and a lifeline for survivors. People called into the stations searching for missing loved ones. Those capable of lending a hand offered their service through broadcast airwaves. Families that lost everything learned how to go about putting their lives back together.

    Unfortunately, many were not able to access these critical communications if they did not have a battery-powered or car radio. Radio-enabled cellphones would put this time-sensitive information in the hands of many more people.

    Radio receivers also allow broadcasting to relieve strain felt by wireless networks when data demands go up before, during and after an emergency. Rather than strain a congested network, users could access local radio stations on their phones and find the critical information they are seeking. For all their clamoring for more spectrum for mobile broadband, it’s unfathomable that wireless carriers would oppose a service that could free up airwaves to meet higher-than-normal demand.

    Despite the benefits of radio chips and the overwhelming evidence the public would support the service, many wireless carriers claim there is no consumer demand for radio receivers. Apparently they never got the memo from smartphone manufacturer RIM, which recently announced it is equipping two of its newest BlackBerry models with FM radio capabilities. According to Inside Radio, Arun Kumar, RIM’s senior product software manager for multimedia, said the company made the decision because, “A lot of customers have been asking for FM for a while, so we took that to heart. We basically just listened.”

    It is time for more wireless carriers to listen as well. Broadcasters take seriously our role as ‘first informers,’ and we are committed to working with wireless carriers to expand the availability of broadcast radio service in mobile phones.

     
  • Zamir Ahmed 11:28 am on May 10, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: Public Interest   

    Vast? Yes. Wasteland? Not a chance. 

    Fifty years ago this week, former FCC Chairman Newton Minow addressed broadcasters at the NAB Show and declared that television was a vast wasteland failing to serve the public interest. While the merits of his argument were debatable then, those that would make a similar case about the current state of broadcast television would be embarking on a fool’s errand. Today, broadcast stations play an integral role in local communities and fulfill their commitment to the public by offering programming that educates, enlightens, and entertains.

    While the TV landscape has changed dramatically since half a century ago with the rise of cable, satellite, the Internet and alternative viewing platforms, broadcasting remains remarkably resilient as the number-one source of entertainment and news for all television viewers. Week after week, over 90 of the top 100 most-watched primetime programs are found on broadcast stations. These programs include brilliant and smartly-written comedies like “The Simpsons,” “Modern Family” and “30 Rock” that match the best satire that TV has ever offered, along with compelling dramas like “The Good Wife” and “Friday Night Lights.” Complementing scripted fare are weekly programs like “American Idol,” “The Amazing Race” and “Dancing with the Stars” that consistently draw mass audiences that dwarf the viewership of cable network fare.

    In February, Super Bowl XLV became the most-watched program in the U.S. of all time, drawing a U.S. TV audience of 111 million. Last week, so many viewers were watching the royal wedding on television that Internet traffic was down 10 percent for the day.

    Indeed, broadcast TV serves as a window to the world, despite the growth of 24-hour news channels and social networks. When news happens at home and abroad, chances are that broadcasters will be covering it. Just last week, Pew Research found that by more than a 3-to-1 margin, Americans learned of Osama bin Laden’s death from a broadcast outlet rather than an Internet news or social networking site. In addition, over 70% of the 57.9 million people who watched President Obama’s address to the nation Sunday night were tuned to broadcast stations. Those numbers fall in line with other evidence that Americans’ depend on broadcasting over cable news during significant national events, such as presidential inaugurations and State of the Union speeches.

    Local television news is consistently rated by a vast majority of Americans as their No. 1 source for news. Broadcasters take seriously our role in educating the public during campaign season, providing free airtime offers and debate coverage that often is re-broadcast on cable news outlets like CNN and C-SPAN.

    The important work broadcasters perform covering significant news is not just confined to a handful of occasions throughout the year – local and national broadcasters provide consistent coverage of important issues on a daily basis. Network evening news commands an audience of more than 20 million viewers each and every night. Television is a showcase for the power of investigative journalism such as “60 Minutes,” which averaged 13.2 million viewers per week during 2009-2010. Programs such as “Dateline NBC” and “Nightline” are also consistent showcases for quality journalism, and few would question the week-in and week-out excellence of “Meet the Press,” “This Week” and “Face the Nation.”

    At the local level, broadcasters invest heavily in news-gathering so they may provide insight for residents about the issues that affect them. Local broadcasters are also reliable and credible in a crisis, embracing the roles of first informer when disaster strikes. Cases in point are AMBER Alerts, a program voluntarily launched byDallas broadcasters in the mid-1990s following the brutal abduction and murder of a young Texas girl. Hundreds of kidnapped children have been rescued by broadcasters via AMBER Alerts. Those who suggest TV is a ‘vast wasteland’ should ask themselves: How do you put a price tag on saving the life of a kidnapped child?

    Or ask citizens in the South whether they view broadcasting as a wasteland in light of the heroic coverage of devastating tornadoes two weeks ago. Countless people in Alabama and elsewhere survived the tornadoes thanks to the up-to-the-second information broadcasters were able to provide. The legacy of the local broadcaster is this: to provide credible and continuous lifesaving information  that no other medium can match. And when the crisis is over, broadcasters are there to lead the recovery from the devastation

    In his speech a half-century ago, Chairman Minow said, “I believe that the public interest is made up of many interests. There are many people in this great country and you must serve all of us.” While broadcasters have always aimed most of their programming at a wide swatch of the American public, the analog-to-digital transition opened new doors for broadcasters to cater to previously underserved communities. In addition to allowing broadcasters to offer hyper-local programming, secondary digital channels can be aimed at specific groups, including minority populations that rely on the channels to stay connected to their community.

    At of the end of 2010, the percentage of commercial multicasting stations had increased to 71%, or 849 of the 1,196 full-power commercial stations, doubling the options for viewers with 1,240 additional digital channels. Many of the channels feature foreign-language programming, especially in major metropolitan areas with large populations of immigrants. In New York alone, 13 of the 28 secondary digital channels are foreign-language. In Los Angeles, of the 48 multicast channels, 18 are foreign language programming, airing programs in Spanish, Chinese, Armenian, Korean, and Vietnamese. Right here in Washington, D.C., nine of the 20 multicast stations are foreign-language and ethnic channels, including broadcasts in Russian, French, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. And just last week, Bounce TV, the nation’s first over-the-air broadcast TV network designed exclusively for African-American audiences, announced that it will launch in the fall on Raycom’s secondary multicast channels in 26 markets.

    Fifty years ago, UHF broadcasting, pay TV entertainment, and satellites capable of beaming local programming to the other side of the world were in their infant stages, merely glimpses into television’s future. In his speech, Chairman Minow pledged FCC support for these burgeoning services, promising “that they shall be explored fully, for they are part of broadcasting’s New Frontier.”

    Today, broadcasting again heads into a New Frontier thanks to the analog-to-digital transition. The transition freed up spectrum that enabled broadcasters to adopt innovative services such as multicasting, 3D programming and mobile DTV, which will change the ways viewers access local news, weather, entertainment, and emergency lifeline information. As options are explored to reallocate some of broadcasters’ spectrum for broadband use, policymakers must recognize the enduring value of a free and local television service that is the envy of the world. Policymakers should stand behind broadcasters’ efforts to revolutionize this service and reject policies that sacrifice the promises of the DTV age.

    Television is a ubiquitous medium. Along with free and local radio, there is probably no other technological commodity found in more homes than TV. It has the ability to bring communities together for a single event, to educate people about local and global issues, to serve as an emergency lifeline during critical situations, and to galvanize residents behind an important cause. 

    From Bangor to Boise to Birmingham, free and local television has been there through triumph and tragedy, from miraculous moon landings to shocking Space Shuttle explosions, from September 11 to presidential inaugurations, from catastrophic tornadoes to courageous mine rescues. Even in this frenzied world of Facebook and Twitter, broadcasting provides a communal gathering place for celebrating the human spirit. Our best days are still ahead.

     
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