News

Komo Gets Hyper-Local

Station Downplays Crime, Focuses on Community

Advocacy journalism is the mantra of Seattle’s KOMO-TV, the ABC affiliate owned by Fisher Communications, which is the winner of the Murrow Award for large-market overall excellence.

Under news director Holly Gauntt, who arrived in February 2007, the station, with a slogan of “Working 4 You,” has ramped up its signature “Problem Solvers” franchise, said Jim Clayton, the station’s vice president and general manager. He himself arrived in Seattle two years ago, after a stint at the Fox-owned WNYW and WWOR in New York.

“In my mind that’s what it take to separate you from your competitors,” he said. “Everybody covers the news really well here in Seattle, so we try to take it one step further.”

Every day, and sometimes in all three evening and late-night newscasts, the station aims for a “Problem Solver hit,” he said, whether large or small. If there is a house fire, the station finds a place for the family to go. At the other extreme, when the region was hit with devastating floods earlier this year, the station put out a call for donations; viewers responded by filling seven tractor-trailer trucks with water, clothing and blankets.

Since her arrival, Ms. Gauntt has switched some assignments and made some on-air changes, but mostly, she said, she has built on what she found. “I was lucky to get a good newsroom with a lot of very talented people,” she said.

The station has de-emphasized crime reports and instead is focusing on consumer news and community news, Ms. Gauntt said, citing a “need to be hyper-local” in the current news environment. In that vein, she said, “Problem Solvers is a great way to connect on a million different levels in the community.”

KOMO also has added more investigative reporting, she said, including an examination of the flaws in the way school bus drivers were hired that led to changes in the system.

The Murrow Award isn’t the station’s only recognition this year. In June, KOMO took home 14 local Emmy awards, the most of any station, including one for station excellence, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported. Anchor Molly Shen was honored for individual achievement among news anchors, for the second time in three years.

Although the station is not the ratings leader—that honor goes to the long-dominant NBC affiliate KING—the audience numbers are rising, said Mr. Clayton, adding: “We’re kind of rockin’.”

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