No News Is Bad News

You knew local TV newscasts were lame, you just didn't know how lame

Accordingly, with this void of coverage to hold Miami's officials accountable to the public, it's hardly surprising that the county commission's supposed ringmaster, new mayor Carlos Alvarez, remains a political cipher. He swept into office thundering about ending business as usual at county hall, yet it has become apparent that no less than half his staff is now composed of holdovers from the administration of predecessor Alex Penelas. As Kulchur has previously noted, this is certainly convenient for Miami's lobbyists -- they don't even need to reprogram the speed dials on their cell phones. For the rest of us, though, it's a situation that cries out for some critical reporting.

True, sending a TV news crew to grill a local elected official won't be quite as action-packed as an afternoon on the road with P. Diddy (Art Teele excepted). But Kulchur isn't asking for Channel 7 to wholly abandon its "if it bleeds, it leads" programming ethos, or that Channel 6 should adopt a homegrown version of C-SPAN. As for those craving a steady diet of mind-numbing, 5000-word feature stories on the latest municipal dustup in Surfside or Hialeah Gardens, there's a certain weekly newspaper nicely filling that niche. That said, it would be refreshing to have Miami's TV outfits tear themselves away from the latest highway wreck for an occasional look at the forces that run this community -- and that ultimately affect all of us much more profoundly than any I-95 fuel spill.

"Every station has good reporters who can do fine stories," offers Channel 10's Michael Putney, the sole TV newsman in town whose full-time beat is politics and government. However, Putney continues, instead of scorning Miami's on-air talent, try looking behind the camera. "These stations' managers won't break their reporters free to do those stories. What this [Lear Center] study reiterates is not so much the failure of reporters but the failure of management to see that this kind of local political reporting matters to people, and that they could do it in a way that's meaningful, that connects with how people live, with their neighborhoods, with their schools."

Nothing like an A-list celebrity to attract the cameras: Local television 
news virtually ignored November’s elections, but made an exception for 
P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign
Fred Harper
Nothing like an A-list celebrity to attract the cameras: Local television news virtually ignored November’s elections, but made an exception for P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign

Good intentions aren't always enough, of course. Putney recalls covering one county commission session when a budget debate became heated. As the dais erupted with talk of raising Miami-Dade's ad valorem (property) taxes, one newsman sidled over. "This reporter, who shall remain nameless," Putney chuckles, "came up to me and asked, öSo who is this Ed Valorem guy? Why does he have a tax named after him?'" Kulchur can detect the faintest sound of a tongue being held firmly in place before Putney sighs: "I don't want to sound condescending, but some of these issues may be beyond the ken of a few of my colleagues."

Minute by Minute

Advertising: 8 minutes 51 seconds

Sports and weather: 6 minutes 21 seconds

Elections: 3 minutes 11 seconds

Presidential coverage: 2 minutes

Noncandidate coverage (ballot measures): 45 seconds

All other races (local, state, federal): 30 seconds

Crime: 2 minutes 34 seconds

Local interest: 1 minute 56 seconds

Teasers, intros, outros: 1 minute 43 seconds

Health: 1 minute 22 seconds

Other: 1 minute 12 seconds

Unintentional injury: 55 seconds

Business/economy: 47 seconds

Government (nonelection coverage): 28 seconds

Iraq: 25 seconds

Foreign policy: 13 seconds

Source: Norman Lear Center study of English-language broadcasts, October 1-November 1, 2004

All Politics Is Local

Stories on Local Political Races

WPLG-10 ABC 12%


WLTV-51 Univision 9%


WSCV-23 Telemundo 3%


Source: Norman Lear Center study, October 1-November 1, 2004

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