Bringing it all back home

Nov 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Since Sept. 11, local stations have been making an extra effort to calm fears and inform viewers about progress being made in the ongoing war on terrorism. Some stations are creating special educational segments, while others are working together in their markets, temporarily putting aside competition for the good of the community.
About five days after the tragedy, KPIX-TV, the CBS owned-and-operated station in San Francisco, aired the first segment of its educational series “War on Terrorism: In Perspective,” which runs nightly on the 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.
“It was a crash course in learning who the players were, a little history on how this came to be, [and] history of conflict in Afghanistan for the first week of coverage,” said KPIX Special Projects Producer Tim Didion, who is supervising the series along with Assistant News Director Lisa White.
In the specials, anchored by KPIX’s Hank Plante, the station initially focused on identifying local ethnic groups such as Afghan women, who told their poignant stories of repression under the Taliban. A recent special featured former “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman, who, according to Mr. Didion, took “the networks to task for punting on international coverage.” Other segments have covered civil liberties issues and, of course, the spread of anthrax.
The station has received a great deal of viewer response to the specials, especially one featuring a CIA roundtable, reminiscent of a piece that ran on “60 Minutes.”
“We interviewed four long-term veterans of the CIA about what led up to this, what the intelligence war on terrorism will look like, and it’s a very dirty business,” Mr. Didion said. “We got tons of e-mail on both sides on that.”
Although viewer questions posted on the station’s Web site (www.kpix.com) haven’t driven the segments, Mr. Didion says the station tries to answer the most common inquiries and keep a local angle.
“Almost everything we’ve been doing is locally driven as far as experts in the community,” he said. “Muslim groups, the Sikh community, the Afghani community in Hayward and Fremont have been helpful. We’re drawing on universities in the area as well.”
Another good resource for “In Perspective” has been a series the station aired in May called “Terror Fighters,” which covered preparation for a biological attack. Mr. Didion said KPIX uses archival footage from this series and other sources, making sure to tell viewers when and where the video came from.
Ms. White said the station will run the “In Perspective” specials “as long as it makes sense,” which will cut into at least part of the station’s November sweeps.
“[We were] trying to get away from doing trivial stories anyway,” she said. “We decided to plan a November book that was a little more serious.”
Other stations also have taken a more serious stance in light of growing concerns of viewers.
WBZ-TV, the CBS O&O in Boston, is running a series of reports on its 11 p.m. news called “Safety on the Homefront,” which covers city and state agency preparedness, airport security and public health issues.
In Los Angeles, NBC owned-and-operated station KNBC-TV aired “Bioterrorism: Lines of Defense,” a half-hour news special featuring the station’s medical expert Dr. Bruce Hensel, who discussed anthrax and other types of biological warfare.
KNBC also participated in a marketwide effort to educate the community on race-related issues. Ten stations in the Los Angeles market pooled their talent and resources to produce a half-hour special on ethnic tolerance titled “Together: A Call for Unity,” which ran on eight stations at various times from Oct. 19 to 21. Executive produced by independent producer Michael Linder, creator of “America’s Most Wanted,” the special consisted of 10 two-minute segments, which were compiled and edited at KTLA-TV, L.A.’s WB affiliate.
Segments in the special included: KABC-TV, Los Angeles, reporter Marc Brown interviewed Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II, discussing the prejudice they experienced and how recent events have brought back those memories; UPN affiliate KCOP-TV featured two Sikh boys who wanted people to know that just because they wear turbans does not mean they’re terrorists; KMEX-TV, L.A.’s Univision affiliate, visited schools and spoke with children about hate and discrimination.
KMEX and Telemundo affiliate KVEA-TV produced their segments in Spanish with English subtitles. Fox affiliate KTTV, KCBS-TV (CBS), KCAL-TV (Ind.) and KCET-TV (PBS) also contributed to the special.
Mr. Linder, a veteran of local news in the L.A. area, said this was an unprecedented project for the No. 2 market.
“[On Oct. 17] we had a shoot involving 15 anchors from 10 TV stations,” Mr. Linder said. “They’re not really looking to draw attention to themselves because they don’t want this to be seen as opportunistic. They just want to get the message out.”
In a similar effort to help the public better understand local issues in the two-station market of Greenville, Miss., CBS affiliate WXVT-TV and ABC affiliate WABG-TV joined forces on Oct. 30 to simulcast a live town hall meeting on safety measures in the community.
David Cavileer, VP and general manager of WXVT, said the idea came up at an emergency preparedness meeting with local government officials and the Red Cross in early October.
“A lot was being done, but the word wasn’t getting out,” Mr. Cavileer said. “I brought up the idea about getting the people in the room into the studio and having people call in to the studio with questions.”
The stations later decided the studio was too small and opted instead for nearby Delta State University’s Bologna Performing Arts Center. Greenville Mayor Paul Artman Jr. moderated the hour-long, commercial-free forum, which consisted of live-audience and phoned-in questions. WXVT and WABG shared equipment and personnel to produce the special.
“We put our best together to achieve this,” Mr. Cavileer said. “[WABG General Manager] Mike Elrod and I both felt this is what we do best as broadcasters-inform the public and alleviate fears. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. It’s neat to see two rivals get together.”