KIRO Probes Pay Off

Oct 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

KIRO-TV in Seattle is unusual for a number of reasons. Among them: Its general manager is a former news director, and the station is about to hire its fourth investigative reporter.
Those distinctions speak to the station’s commitment to news and specifically to investigative news, a dedication that in large part is why the Cox Broadcasting-owned CBS affiliate will be taking home the Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence for a large-market TV station.
Investigative work defines the station, said VP and General Manager John Woodin, whose pedigree as a journalist is noteworthy because most general managers rise from the sales ranks. In addition, most TV stations employ only one or two investigative reporters at most; three is a rarity, but there will soon be staff of four at KIRO, thanks to budget increases.
“Primarily, our focus overall for the past several years is there has been an investigative tone in every thing we do,” Mr. Woodin said. Since several journalists in the 115-person newsroom have been at the station for 15 to 20 years, that means they have more and better sources. “We have an investigative team that has broken a lot of stories,” he said.
In 2002, the year for which the station is earning the award, KIRO was the first news organization to report that security cameras at the Canadian border in Blaine, Wash., were not working. Other stories include a piece revealing new details about the Green River killer, consumer investigations into contractor fraud and electrical fires allegedly caused by Glade Plug-In air fresheners.
The investigative tenor informs the entire newscast. Anchors’ voice-overs are often peppered with “KIRO sources learned,” or “We uncovered this,” or “We just got off the phone with the mayor,” with exclusive breaking stories, Mr. Woodin said.
The focus on investigative news intensified in 1997, when Cox bought the station from Belo. KIRO had been a UPN affiliate from 1994 to 1997. During those years Belo beefed up the news presence to eight hours a day.
KIRO is back to a standard amount of news-five hours a day-but the Belo experiment illustrated that the Seattle market, with a slightly higher education level and a penchant for reading, has an appetite for investigative journalism, think pieces and newscasts with more texture than just crime and news of the day, Mr. Woodin said. “We really evolved to that,” he said.
Moving Up in Ratings
KIRO was a distant third in ratings behind both the dominant NBC affiliate, Belo-owned KING-TV, and Fisher Broadcasting-owned ABC station KOMO-TV. Today KIRO is second in mornings and late news to KING and is a closer third in the evenings to second-place KOMO.
Mr. Woodin attributed some of the rise to the investigative work and to the promotion the station did for its newscasts during the highly rated Seattle Mariners games it carried from 1995 until this year.
CBS’s strength over the past few years in prime time is also a factor in the stronger numbers. KIRO logged a 6.3/15 in Nielsen household ratings/share for its late local news in May, up from a 4.9/13 two years ago.
Finally, Mr. Woodin’s background-he served as a news director at Cox-owned powerhouse ABC affiliate WSB-TV in Atlanta and other markets-permeates the news approach of the station. “Someone with a news background in the top management and leadership position is looked on by the staff as someone who gives them the resources to do the job.”