KTUU Has 17 Years at No. 1

Oct 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Amid all the talk of media ownership rules, the NBC affiliate in Anchorage, Alaska, is making a case for mom-and-pop ownership.
KTUU-TV has ranked No. 1 in all its newscasts for the past 17 years and is slated to receive the Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence for a small-market station tonight. The broadcaster is owned by Zaser & Longston, a family-owned business in Washington state. It’s the only TV station the family owns, and that’s a plus in market 155, said KTUU News Director John Tracy.
With a news staff of 55, a full-time Washington bureau and the resources to cover an area one-fifth the size of the continental United States, KTUU has proven since the late ’80s that being an only child works.
In the May ratings book, KTUU generated a 15/33 Nielsen Media Research rating/share in households at 6 p.m., compared with its closest competitor, Northern Television-owned CBS affiliate KTVA-TV, with a 5/10, Mr. Tracy said. In the important 25 to 54 news demographic, KTUU snagged a 10 share and KTVA corralled a 2, he said.
KTUU began to make a name for itself with its coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on March 24, 1989. “That’s where we really cut our teeth, and that was a defining moment for the newsroom,” he said. The station won its first national Murrow award in 1990 for continuing coverage of the spill.
Mr. Tracy said KTUU was the first TV news outlet on the scene and fed video to NBC and CNN. “We weren’t going to let the networks shove us around. We knew the players and knew all the state environmental officials. We were getting in locations the networks couldn’t get in,” he said.
That persistence and diligence pushed the station to a new level that it has sustained since, he said. Mr. Tracy attributed the long-term success to a number of factors. The station has never used a news consultant and prefers to keep a lid on the sizzle “that you are constantly used to in the lower 48,” he said. Reporters have free rein to do stories as long as they need to, rather than being confined to prescribed time limits.
“We are not a breaking-news market. We are not a scanner newscast. We don’t have a lot of homicides,” he said.
The commitment to cover massive Alaska from stem to stern includes the weekly feature “Assignment Alaska,” in which reporters travel to the far reaches of the state to report on bugling elk, kayaking, a musk ox farm and other stories uniquely Alaskan.
The station also has a Washington bureau, which primarily covers Alaska’s prominent Republican senator, Ted Stevens.
Also a factor in the success is the longevity of the anchor team of Maria Downey, John Tracy, John Carpenter and Jackie Purcell, a KTUU fixture for more than 16 years.
KTUU has collected three national Murrows before this year and entered-and won-for the first time this year in overall excellence. “What’s remarkable is this really wasn’t a remarkable year for us,” Mr. Tracy said.
Still, KTUU’s award-winning coverage last year included work on the largest land-based earthquake ever measured, a story on the safety of the Alaska pipeline and a feature on a walrus preserve.
“As along as we can keep our anchor team together, I think we can continue to dominate the numbers,” he said. “I think the quality of our coverage and the work we do will continue to be at a standard above the market.”