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Online News vs. Local TV News (News In Broadcast And Electronic Media, November 2012)

NYT Timescast vs. KRON (written for BECA 460, News In Broadcast And Electronic Media, November 2012)

For an online news outlet, I looked for something that was video-based but not merely the streaming version of a network or cable TV channel. I found Timescast, an exclusive webcast on the New York Times website. Compared to even a local San Francisco independent station like KRON, Timescast had a very humble, low-budget, even amateurish look about it. (Audio was sometimes downright poor.) Nevertheless, with all the resources of the New York Times available to them, they produce several 15-minute news programs each day that stream on their site. I watched two of these. Their scope was mostly national, with several international stories as well. Depth of treatment varied a great deal from story to story.

The first story dealt with two resignations of senior BBC executives over “false accusations” against a Tory politician. The story was so brief and vague that I was left with barely a clue about what happened and what the issue was. (KQED helped in this area as you’ll see in the next report.) The next story was about a settlement between Apple and a Taiwanese company called HTC who Apple had sued for “copying” the iPhone. The two companies established a 10-year licensing agreement.

The third story was an attempt at media criticism from what seemed to be a business angle. I am going to have to devote some extra space to this one, as I found it so egregious. A panel discussed the fact that MSNBC had higher ratings than Fox after the election for the 20 to 54 year old demographic and how the network could capitalize on their success in the future. The panelists gradually revealed that they had no idea what they were talking about when the question was asked, “How will MSNBC fare now that Obama has won?” The implication was that opinion-journalism-based networks can only succeed when they are in opposition to the party in power, an assertion with no basis in fact. A panelist said “MSNBC thrived during the Bush years.” (First of all, MSNBC could not even be characterized as a “liberal” news channel in the early 2000s, having fired Phil Donahue at the height of post-9/11 “patriotism”; second, the network’s liberal shift really began around 2005 as Keith Olbermann began making bolder anti-Bush statements on the air; and third, MSNBC was not even a distant contender in the ratings until around mid-2007, when new additions like Air America’s Rachel Maddow began to develop a following.) The panelist continued, “Nobody watched Fox then.” (Fox News, along with right-leaning talk radio, blogs, and publications, surged in popularity during the Bush administration, helping to create the very same bubble that left so many conservatives unjustifiably surprised at last week’s election results.) The conclusion was, for MSNBC to succeed, “they’re going to have to bring in some moderate Republican voices.” (These people are clearly unfamiliar with morning host Joe Scarborough and regular correspondents Steve Schmidt and Michael Steele, among others.) One of the worst things a news organization can do is show themselves to be less informed than their own audience. This piece was a failure of analysis that underscored the amateurism of Timescast.

The second segment I watched seemed more substantial. An obligatory piece on the Petraeus scandal covered the facts of the case as we know them on Nov. 12. The next story was about a hearing taking place in Washington State for Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a late-night rampage. The final story was an in-depth report on villages in Mozambique that are being evacuated by the Vale Mozambique coal mining company. The displaced people lose their farms and communities and are placed in substandard housing and many are suffering from starvation. A group of 500 displaced villagers blocked coal railway lines in protest of this practice and, despite a violent response from police, have continued to demonstrate. The government is said to have responded to pressure and “started rehabilitation” of the displaced people, though what that means was not specified further. Still, I found the report to be informative overall.

At 5:00 PM I turned my attention to our local independent station, KRON, and their evening news. KRON’s scope is decidedly local, and if traffic, weather, local crime, and sports are what you’re looking for, they will provide. We learned of a road rage incident in San Pablo where two cars crashed and one driver responded by shooting the other, an update on 49er quarterback Alex Smith’s recovery from a concussion, and a Union City man found unconscious in a garbage can who died after he was found, before a report on the Petraeus scandal. There was a little more emphasis on the role of Jill Kelly in exposing the Petraeus/Broadwell affair; it was she who set the investigation in motion after receiving threatening anonymous e-mails which turned out to be from Patricia Broadwell. We saw the recurring footage of Dianne Feinstein and Peter King we would see everywhere, both questioning why Congress was not informed in a more timely fashion, and attorney and KRON political analyst Michael Yaki discussed the ramifications. Are people pushing a “conspiracy theory”. he was asked. Yaki responded that there was that element, “election year sour grapes kind of stuff”, bringing up Eric Holder’s unpopularity with the right side of the aisle. More pressing was the question of whether there was a security breach. A video was produced of Broadwell speaking publicly and revealing some “unvetted” information. “A loose cannon”, Yaki commented. At the same time, we were reassured that there was no breach of national security. It looks like this story will not be going away any time soon.

A little exercise in interactivity followed as anchors invited viewers to comment about this story on KRON’s Facebook page. After a commercial break, a weather report (I really liked the gorgeous 3D virtual aerial relief map the meteorologist used), and traffic, some of those Facebook comments were read on the air.

The final stretch covered plunging gas prices, a drunk driver who totaled his SUV and survived, the 18th anniversary of the murder of a San Jose police officer by a carjacker, and the 76th anniversary of the opening of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. KRON has an engaging way of making one feel at home in our community of winning sports teams, murderers, and bad drivers.