Friday, February 20, 2009

Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen!

When I was growing up, the TV news leader in Washington was unquestionably Channel 9, then WTOP-TV. The anchor team of Gordon Peterson and Max Robinson was backed by an impressive team of top-flight journalists, the best weather guy in town and Warner Wolf, a favorite DC son and sportscasting legend. But a recent glimpse of the Channel 9 morning product shows now just how far TV news has fallen.

Let me start with the good news. Andrea Roane is the morning anchor at WUSA, and that's a big plus. I have always liked Roane. She's always perky, and she seems unflappable, which is important given what she's left to work with.

Channel 9 has dropped all pretense, really, of being an actual news-gathering operation. They do have a morning street reporter, but the several times I've seen him, he's been doing standups in front of a public building, telling us about meetings that will happen many hours in the future. He would be just as useful reporting from the newsroom.. Speaking of which...

Channel 9 no longer has a newsroom - It's an "information center". And they no longer have reporters - they are "digital correspondents" instead. "Digital correspondents" are what used to be entry-level reporters, except these people not only report on scene - they also shoot their own video and edit their own packages in the field. One-man bands in a top-10 market... and unfortunately, this appears to be the norm going forward.

The lead digital correspondent during channel 9's morning news appears to be a woman named Kristin Fisher. Her job appears to be two-fold. In one segment, she surfs the Internet to show you what you'll be surfing about when you get to the office. That's right... she shows you what's on the Drudge Report. Why spend time actually reporting the news, when you can show other people what other people are reporting?

Fisher's other segment involves taking requests from listeners. She has them e-mail her with stories they would like to see reported. One of the stories was from a woman who's been trying to collect child support from her deadbeat ex for a year and a half now! Fisher says she will go out and cover some of these "news stories" herself... Maybe she'll hunt down the deadbeat ex!

Fisher's stories, as well as the ubiquitous traffic and weather together, movie reviews, pitches for USA Today (owned by Channel 9's parent, Gannett) and other trivial non-stories dominate Channel 9's morning product. And oh, yes - There are a few news headlines as well. Just headlines. No reporter packages... and no sports guy, either. Poor Andrea has to handle that chore herself.

News on the cheap. But not really news at all.

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