Smaller Stations Go Local

Oct 16, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Debra Kaufman

Special to TelevisionWeek

KATV in Little Rock, Ark., has been honored with a Murrow Award for overall excellence for a small-market station for the second year in a row, and WHO-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, won best newscast for coverage of a tornado that blasted through a small town.

In Little Rock, the challenge is geographic: The station covers a broad area that includes urban Little Rock and a large swath of rural territory comprising 75 counties. Much of KATV’s success is due to a group of journalists who have deep roots in the community.

“We have a great staff of people, many of whom grew up in Arkansas and have lived here all their lives,” said KATV News Director Randy Dixon. “They know the market and the state and have a sense of history, which I think is important in covering news on a daily basis.”

The KATV reel submitted to RTNDA contained a “good mix” of spot news, investigative reporting and what Mr. Dixon called “interesting features that wouldn’t likely be on other stations.” The entry included stories tying local events to events outside of Arkansas-sometimes outside U.S. borders. For example, when the charitable organization Heifer International opened its international headquarters in Little Rock, KATV reporters accompanied Heifer International staffers to Honduras to show what the organization does.

The station has handled the career of boxing champ Jermain Taylor in much the same way. “We followed him through the Olympics, through his major fights in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and to his win as middleweight world champion,” Mr. Dixon said. “He is the biggest sports story since Arkansas was in the Final Four in the late 1990s.”

One 2005 investigative report uncovered a child predator living in a small town outside of Little Rock who has since been extradited to Arizona and convicted, and another examined a law firm, since sanctioned by the Arkansas Supreme Court, that had dumped confidential medical records. KATV, which has the only live news helicopter in Little Rock, has also done numerous public service programs for Katrina evacuees. “It’s a great newsroom,” Mr. Dixon said.

WHO-TV in Des Moines followed one of 2005’s biggest local stories, a series of tornados that ripped through the center of the state during November.

“It was one of those watershed moments for the newsroom when everyone came together,” WHO News Director Rod Peterson said. The newscast was hosted by lead anchor John Bachman and co-anchor Kathryn Pritchard, with chief meteorologist Ed Wilson. The Murrow Award is for the 10 p.m. that culminated the ongoing coverage.

“What really captured the attention of the [RTNDA] judges was the clear communication of all aspects of this breakout of tornados,” said Mr. Peterson. “We had some incredible video from our team of photojournalists, with Mike Borland as the chief photographer.”

Mark Ginther was news director at the helm, and Paul Lepert was producer.