Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tribune’s WPIX Skips Over Breaking News in Assembly Line Newscast

By Andrew Gauthier - TVSPY
Jerry Barmash and Jerry Barmash - FishbowlNY

New York’s WPIX was constrained by its newscast’s slick format on Monday night when breaking news hit.
Just after 8 p.m. on Monday, two planes collided while taxiing at JFK airport. And while WPIX’s rival WNYW began its 10 p.m. newscast with prolonged coverage of the accident, the Tribune-owned CW-affiliate launched into its regular “11 in 11″ segment, giving just a few seconds to the breaking news before darting to another story in the fast-paced rundown of news that begins every WPIX nighttime newscast.
WNYW (FOX5) Anchors Ernie Anastos and Dari Alexander opened the newscast with the story, supplementing information available (no one was injured) with live video and reporting from the chopper. Fox 5 remained on that lead story for four minutes.
As FishbowlNY points out, anchor Jodi Applegate  mentioned the JFK accident as the #1 story of “11 in 11″ as the station showed still photos from a website. Applegate said Marvin Scott was on the scene, but they would get to him “in just a little while.” Instead, PIX moved along to “number two.”
Meanwhile, WNYW, which has lately been expanding its 10 p.m. ratings lead, devoted several minutes of “Breaking News” coverage to the story with live video and reporting from its chopper.
As promised, WPIX returned to the Kennedy Airport story at 10:20 p.m., this time with Scott live on the scene for a 2 minute and 30 second report. Continuing with the “lack of urgency” theme, WPIX didn’t even have the breaking news graphic on the screen.
There would be no follow-up for WPIX during the remainder of the newscast.

Meantime, back at WNYW, after their initial four-minutes from Kennedy, Anastos and Alexander gave updates three times during the broadcast.

At 10:13 and 10:30, the WNYW anchors reiterated the breaking news to viewers. Then at 10:54, Fox 5 closed the newscast with a one-minute report from Andrea Day at the airport.

WPIX Channel 11 underwent a new 10 p.m. look on October 11, bringing in Jodi Applegate, late from News 12 Long Island as the solo anchor of the PIX News At 10.

The station built a new look in the newsroom, allowing Applegate to be free of the usual TV news constraints. If nothing else, WPIX management, led by news director Bill Carey, should be recognized for trying to break with the norm. Unfortunately, there’s not much else.

The tandem of Kaity Tong and Jim Watkins was relocated. Tong still has roots on the weeknight newscast, but “anchoring” portions from remote locations in Brooklyn or Queens. Watkins anchors four newscasts, but he has been relegated to weekends. Tong appears live for five-minute segments from the outer boroughs. But, along with the dramatic metamorphosis back at the home base, Tong’s appearances are almost jarring. Tong is a solid pro who shows off her interviewing skills. However, with decades of anchoring on her resume, seeing someone throw to her for a live remote seems amiss.

Sherry from Bayside tweeted that “the format just worked well for sports and not much else in my opinion.” It actually makes sense given since sports is commonly delivered quick and upbeat. Unfortunately, the sports section of WPIX is no more, other than Applegate reading a few scores (the no-frills graphic is a throwback to the Jerry Girard days). 

With the station about to mark the pivotal six-month period, FishbowlNY spoke to Carey for his examination of the product and the all-important ratings.

“When I put my plan together last year, I forecast that we would go down in ratings for six months, and that it would take a while to find its audience and build,” Carey tells FishbowlNY. “But the evaluation that I had made was that we could grow it to a higher height than where we were treading along.

“Much to all of our delight, and hard work of the staff, we blew through our own estimates … We enjoyed a win in November, which was very gratifying to the team and validated ourselves for a month,” Carey says. “And now, we’re measuring our success against ourselves.”

You can put an asterisk next to the “win” that Carey mentioned. The November sweeps got underway as Fox 5/WNYW and Cablevision were embroiled in a bitter carriage dispute. It affected the first two days of the sweeps results.

“…We’re delighted with our objective measurements, subjectively we’re resumes from all around the country of people who want to come here and try to do the news differently, and break out of the same rut that everybody’s in,” Carey says.

WPIX is giving itself those personal goals, because they haven’t been able to beat the competition (save for November), specifically WNYW/Fox 5 with anchors Ernie Anastos and Dari Alexander.

WPIX performed well behind WNYW in the all-important February 2010 sweeps. Among the pivotal Adults 25 to 54 demographic, which is used by the sales department to generate ad rates, WNYW had a 1.8 compared to WPIX with a .8 rating.

Delving further, FishbowlNY has obtained the March rating that shows WNYW actually making gains on WPIX (although Channel 11 did have its own slight improvement). In the 25 to 54 demo, Fox 5 outpaced WPIX, 2.2 to .9.

Carey says viewers will have the opportunity to participate in conversations with Channel 11 staffers.

“We want to be known as the best place where you can tune in and sound off in real time and be validated and count,” Carey says. “Where this goes is going to be a fun experiment with New Yorkers about how engaged we can get with them in the course of an hour.”

Once they complete the hard news, live remote-intensive Top 11 stories in 11 minutes, another of Carey’s newscast signature is on display—opinion and commentary.

“You got to remember, a year ago nobody was doing any commentary in late news. Then, when we first launched Larry Mendte (a multiple-Emmy winner Sunday night) as commentator it was received with a lot of looks over the shoulder,” Carey recalls. “Next thing you know, I got general managers showing up doing editorials on other stations.”

Carey is referring to WNYW vice president/general manager Lew Leone who does a Lew’s View segment on the Fox 5 newscast and posted on the Web. (WNYW also incorporates stand-up comedian Jessie Cantrell into the news for a witty repartee with people on the street.)

Sources close to Fox 5 tell FishbowlNY that several Fox-owned stations began doing commentaries in January 2010, one month prior to the first Mendte sighting at WPIX. Fox eventually brought the Leone commentaries to WNYW in July 2010.

Back to WPIX, they didn’t stop with Mendte, adding Lionel to the mix, and even reporter Greg Mocker is known to intersperse opinion.

WPIX news director Bill Carey told FishbowlNY, “We’re emboldened by going our own way with stories, People may like it, they may not like it, but we're getting away from the obvious stories that everybody does.”

Unfortunately, that goes for breaking news as well.

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