The Producer Page: April 1996

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • TV Stations on the WWW: What's Really Out There?
  • What Subscribers Say About Their Station's Websites
  • Life of a Producer
  • Live Shots from Hell
  • Real Names
  • Hire Me
  • Producers on the Move

  • TV STATIONS ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB:
    What's Really Out There?

    by Alice Main, (AJMain@aol.com), EP, WKRC Cincinnati

    At this very moment, somewhere in the United States, a committee is meeting to sketch out a World Wide Web site for a TV station. The group grapples with difficult questions. What will the site include? Who's going to use it? Will it be a money-maker? Who's going to maintain it? How much time will it take? And (the biggie) what's this thing going to COST? There are no easy answers to any of those questions at this still-early stage in the consumer's use of the Web.

    I decided to take a critical look at what's really out there, by comparing and contrasting sites within markets. I chose the markets by going to TVNet on the web (http://www.tvnet.com), where there is a comprehensive listing of TV stations with Web sites. I looked for cities in which at least three different stations are on the Web.

    NOTE: I decided that all I would care about is local news. So even if these sites have the world's greatest Doppler and sports scores, I don't care and I'm not impressed. I want news, and that's all I'm looking for.

    DALLAS-FT WORTH

    It's Sunday night, March 3. KDFW (Fox), KXAS (NBC), WFAA (ABC), KTVT (CBS) all have sites. This should be a good place to shop for local news. I begin with KTVT http://www.infi.net/ktvt/, where the homepage gives me eleven choices, the first of which is NEWS HEADLINES. (click). Now, my choices include: PRIEST SEX ABUSE, TEEN ARRESTED, TEEN CURFEW, GRASS FIRES, AND ELLIS COUNTY GRASS FIRE. I try the first one, and get an error message. I try the second one, and get the same error message. TEEN CURFEW gives me a four-line story, about how the teen curfew crackdown this weekend is a success, as 37 kids got citations for violating curfew. GRASS FIRES gives a a three-line story, telling me where a brush fire was, the firefighters put it out before it got any houses, and no word on what started it. Positives: The news seems to be current. Negatives: The news is extremely brief, and I had trouble accessing some of it.

    KXAS's homepage gives me a LOT of choices. I scroll through them until I find the magic words: "Local News." That takes me to the News Department, in which I see several choices, including Local News Headlines, and Logging on with Scott Gordon.

    I click on Local News Headlines, and find four 2-line stories. There's no date on them, but it doesn't take a genius to see that they're old. The first story is "It's on to New Hampshire as the Iowa caucuses leave U.S. Senator Phil Gramm wondering about his fifth-place finish." Remember, this is March 3. The Iowa Caucus was on February 12.

    Out of curiosity I decided to log on with Scott Gordon, because I used to work with him in Tulsa and I want to know what he's up to. The page tells me his Logging On feature airs on Wednesday nights at ten, featuring new information on computers and information technology. I am invited to click on one of five subject headings to read his recent reports, but there's no date to tell me how "recent" the reports are. The bottom of this page says, "Revised 30Mar95." Does that mean no one has changed this page in almost a year? I have no way of knowing. I click on the stories but I still can't tell whether they're old or new. I visited the site again on April 1, and found the Logging-On page had not changed. The address is http://kxas.com.

    KDFW's homepage, http://www.pic.net/kdfw/ gives you a photo of the anchor team, and two choices: the KDFW News Lineup, and the KDFW Prime-Time Schedule. I click on the news lineup, and get a logo that says "Beyond the X Files, Fridays 9:00pm," with text below that reads "It's strange and bizarre.. It's difficult to explain.. " (which is what I'm thinking at this point) "..Even scientists struggle for an explanation.. Real-life mysteries. Strange things falling from the sky landing close to home. What if there's like on other planets? And what if the government is keeping secrets? News 4 Texas goes beyond the X-Files. Fridays on News 4 Texas at Nine." Hmm. The rest of the page tells me when the station has news on the air, which appears to be almost all the time. That's about it.

    On to WFAA, http://www.wfaa.com. Nice page, but no local news. I can go to Computer Corner to see the stories archived there. I can go to the Good Morning Texas Viewer Hotline, which "presents information about the latest programs." (click). I'm now invited to click on any day of the week, Monday through Friday. I click on Friday. Now I see phone numbers, addresses, etc. for the guests who appeared on the show Friday morning.

    HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA

    It's Sunday night, March 10. WHNT (CBS), WAAY (ABC), and WAFF (NBC) in Hunstville all have websites.

    First stop, WAFF at http://www.traveller.com/waff/. I got a logo, a "Welcome to the Tennessee Valley News Channel" message, and then two choices: the InterActive Sports Service, and the InterActive Tennessee Valley Weather Center. That's it, so I'm moving on.

    WHNT (http://www.whnt19.com/) gives me an attractive welcome page with lots of choices. I can link to CBS, The Late Show Top Ten, the New York Times, or RealAudio. The Channel 19 choices include Internet Info, Tower Cam, Weather, Sports.. and News! (click).

    Now I'm on the news page, which has a logo up at the top that reads: "Where Local News Comes First!" so I'm psyched. I see about nine logos I can click on: including The New York Times, USA Today, and the MIT Business site. The only local news I see is a logo for the local newspapers. (click). Sure enough, I'm now in a newspaper site. That's not what I was looking for. I'm out of here.

    Now, I'll try WAAY at http://www.hiwaay.net/waay/waay -tv.html.One of the first choices on the welcome page is NEWS FROM OUR NEWSROOM. That sounds perfect. (click). Okay, this is cool. The first button says LATEST NEWS. Under that is an archive, with other recent dates to choose from, and even a search ability. I click on LATEST NEWS.

    Apparently, there isn't much updating done on the weekends, because LATEST NEWS is from Friday. It's a summary of three local stories, including DeKalb County Train Accident, Stolen Guns, and a firefighter sentenced for arson. Printed out, it takes about three-quarters of a page. Positives: it includes the date when the stories were submitted, so if it's old news, we know it. And it includes the name of the person who wrote the stories. It may be a recycled script, but it looks as if it were written just for this site. Negatives: it's pretty short, and two days old.

    LOS ANGELES

    KABC, KNBC, KCBS, and KCAL all have home pages. It's Monday, April 1, before 8am Pacific time, so the content will likely be the same as if I had accessed on a Sunday night. I start at KABC, http://home.earthlink.ne t/~soundjay/kabc1.html It turns out this site is Under Construction, with a promise of pictures and scripts soon.

    Next stop, KNBC, http://www.knbc4la.com/home2.html The first thing I notice here is the SeismoCam. That's not "News," but I can't help it. (click) You'll all be happy to hear, the lines were flat. Then, I went to the news section, and found four stories, which were a combination of local and national stories from Friday. A note at the bottom says the news is updated after the 6 o'clock news on weekdays. I like knowing when to expect more news.

    On to KCAL, which says its site is "moving," so I won't bother with the http address here. There was nothing much on the page, so the station must be in transition.

    Finally, KCBS (http://www.kcbs2.com), which proved to be a pleasant surprise. The welcome page has a hip, compact look. I clicked on 2 Action NewsNet and got some top local stories. Coming soon: SeismoCam!

    I toured many more sites than the ones chronicled here. Among the sites that include local news, the two most common forms are headlines and scripts. Once the technology is in place, getting news scripts on the site would have to be the easier choice. I suspect it's a bit awkward for non-tv-types to read, but they probably enjoy seeing the scripts as they aired, and once they've read a few, they figure out the form. I think scripts might be the better choice, because no one has to rework the content of the newscast into a print-news format.



    WHAT SUBSCRIBERS SAY ABOUT THEIR STATIONS' WEBSITES

    Editor's Note: I asked readers to write me about their sites. As it turned out, I didn't really need the information to do the story above, but you may find their descriptions interesting.

    from Skip Wood (skip@pol.org), News Producer & Site Manager, KXJB, Fargo, ND

    Our website is: http://www.pol.org/kx4 (KXJB-TV, CBS AFFILIATE, Fargo, ND) Locally, our viewers have free access to the full network (Prairie Online) on a local call, but persons with full-service internet capability can access from anywhere. One account holder hails from Austrailia! Browser-based internet services (AOL, Prodigy, etc.) can only access basic information pages, as they can't run the required software.

    from Ward Koppel (Ward_Koppel@prodigy.com), KOVR, Sacramento

    I invite your readers to check out KOVR-Sacramento's home page on the Web. Among the unique features, complete access to the actual scripts from each newscast. The scripts are available 20 minutes after the show has aired, and remain there for 24 hours. Our Political Reporter publishes a newsletter on our page, with dozens of links to other political sources. And for tomorrow's California Primary election, we plan to have viewers e-mail their questions in for our panel, along with their comments, and their choices for Vice President on the Republican side.

    We also have the normal access to News staff bios, Sports and Weather, including links to the latest Doppler Radar, and Satellite photos and CBS sites.. Our Web manager recently quit, so currently a group of people are maintaining and updating the site. Check it out at WWW.KOVR.COM

    from Jonathan Shelley (jonathan@ktnv.com), EP, KTNV

    KTNV-TV (Las Vegas) became active on-line about six months ago. We can be found at http://www.ktnv.com/ktnv

    Our page features an overview of our station, biographies on our anchors, daily summaries on our top news and sports stories of the day (updated early evening, Monday through Friday), information on the Las Vegas television market, a weather page featuring forecast and satellite information, and links to a number of other related sites (including the new "ElectionLine" service, provided in part by our network, ABC). We encourage viewers to write to us (at: KTNV@KTNV.COM) and have received a notable response. Most of the feedback poses questions about our community or news stories we have presented on our air. We also get questions from out-of-towners who are planning to visit Las Vegas. Responses are handled usually by myself (if it is a news-related item) or by the appropriate person in other station departments.


    NEWS RELEASE FROM WRAL-TV

    RALEIGH, N.C.-- WRAL-TV5 announces the launch of WRAL OnLine, a full-service multimedia news and information site on the Internet's World Wide Web. The site represents the most comprehensive on-line effort by a local television station, offering a full range of local, national and international news, weather, sports and community information, continuously updated seven days a week.

    While building on its status as North Carolina's News Leader, WRAL-TV5 targets the regional, national, and even international, Web surfer. Local news and features from the WRAL newsroom are supplemented by Reuters, Associated Press and The Sports Network. Weather information and satellite images from WRAL's WeatherCenter cover the local Raleigh-Durham viewing area, all regions of North Carolina, and the entire United States. Users can access audio forecasts from meteorologist Greg Fishel and other WRAL weathercasters or download a QuickTime video of sports anchor Tom Suiter's "Play of the Day".

    Other features of WRAL OnLine include an electronic greeting card store, chat areas, newscasts transmitted live via RealAudio, a news picture page, program schedules with links to various Web sites in the entertainment industry, and a shopping mall where users can find comprehensive information about area merchants, download coupons and access special on- line offers.


    ALSO ON THE SUBJECT OF WEBPAGES:
    from Mark Bell (ding@world.std.com) of Mark Bell Enterprises

    I have a background in news and read your newsletter with interest. Most of my experience in a newsroom was about 14-15 years ago, and it seems as if few things have changed since then.

    I would like to call your attention to the homepage http://www.broadcastvideo.com. This page has been written up in "News Photographer" and "Television Broadcast" magazine for having a great section to help thwart equipment thefts. (The NET police) There is also a section, within the Macie Video Service domain, where I have contributed my four part series regarding ENG safety. What is in there was published in Television Broadcast in 1994, and should be a suggested reading for every ND, EP, Contributing Producer, and anyone else who works with ENG crews.

    There are people in these roles that have experienced the horror of going home at the end of the day after a colleague has been injured, crippled or killed in an ENG accident. Questions they may have asked themselves may have been: Could they have done anything different? Did they try and rush the crew too much or distract the crew away from concentration on safety issues?

    The good news is that there are ways a station can be sure to use safe operating procedures that will help insure the safety of their crews on the street. More good news is that it shouldn't take away from the speed in which news operations must occur.

    Read the series. Learn the principles that have made this an issue and some ways of preventing the horror of your crews becoming the story. While newsroom errors may mean station image and ratings, the errors on the street have meant property damage and death to crews, who in many cases, never knew what hit them.


    LIFE OF A PRODUCER
    by George Gillis (kelly+gillis@edge.net)

    Greetings from an ex-producer who has managed to retain a semblance of sanity after many years in the business. As you know, the producer is always on the spot. (S)he is given all the responsibility for a particular show and basically none of the authority to make the changes necessary to make that show the best it could be. One enters the news room at the beginning of one's shift and finds the anxiety level begins at '50' on a scale of 1-100. It goes up from there throughout the day. Breaking news requiring helicopter coverage seems to occur when the only available photographer doesn't 'do' helicopters. The battery packs for cameras are all either discharged or have battery memory of two minutes. The chief photographer is in the bathroom throwing up. The lead tape editor is stoned. The news director came in with a bad back and has had to fire someone to relieve his pain. He spends the day on the phone to cohorts sharing news war stories. The male anchor has spent two hours trying to prove the producer was incorrect in his spelling of the word 'restaurateur'. The executive producer is consummating an illicit affair with a staffer in his downstairs office. The female anchor is stoned. The technical director is stoned. The assignment editor is virtually deaf from the 18 radios he keeps at full blast tracking EMS, police and fire departments of thirty jurisdictions, the competition and his wife's cell-phone. The computer system is down. The script for the show has more blanks in it than copy. The top three stories are bing done by reporters stuck in a massive traffic jam and are feeding their scripts by radio. The tape line-up for the show is lost. The male anchor's earphone has fallen out. The traffic department changed all the spots in the show. Top-level executives of a major multi-national corporation which just bought the station are in the control room and you have mis-timed the show by thirty seconds. You go to the neighborhood pub for a beer after the show and the male anchor and his entourage sit at one end of the bar while the female anchor and her group (the anchors don't speak to each other off-air...they can't stand each other) sit at the other end. Once again, you are in the middle.
    I've been out of the business about seven years. My book will be entitled "Only the Call Letters Change'. Do I miss it? Are there any openings in New England?


    LIVE SHOTS FROM HELL
    by John Odell (Johnandglo@aol.com)

    My contribution to "Live shots from Hell" is vintage, as it occured, I think, about 1977. This was the dawn of the minicam/microwave era, and our crew from KPIX in San Francisco was covering a brush/forest fire that was consuming large amounts of a state park around an East Bay peak, Mount Diablo. Our crew was at the top of the mountain, in a parking lot, as the fire swirled in the brush below. The microwave link and camera had been set up at least a half hour before the broadcast, and the cameraman, Joe Smith, was adjusting his framing when a loud roar was heard, followed by a fade to red. Our remote unit had just taken a direct hit from a fire suppression airplane. The truck, the dish, the camera, the tech, and the cameraman, were covered with the wonderful red mixure of suppressant, manure, and grass seed which these firebirds poop. The audio portion of this program (not on air, thank you God) consisted of the the cameraman uttering the f-word, at the top of his lungs, with an operatic trail.

    The reporter, Ben Williams, was fortunately in the truck writing his script, and was not hit, but used the incident in genius fashion in his live shot. Taking his viewers around the scene of the incident, showing the red truck and wiping the retardant off the KPIX logo (Joe's camera following), Ben uttered the immortal line, "Sometimes, when you try to get on top of a story, the story gets on top of you." (PS- I have this on tape)

    Okay, one more story.

    This concerns the topic of communication, and how it can get royally screwed up. It's June, 1980. The presidential primaries are in full swing, and so is the baseball season. Our station (KPIX), is covering both - we're the official World Champion Oakland A's station, and we're keeping a close tab on the election results from L.A. The plan is to switch live from our remote at the Oakland Colesium to our reporter in Los Angeles. In the inning before we were to do a live tease from L.A., the producer back at the station came on the line and asked, "How far out are we?" The director at the ballpark replied, "There are two outs." We're two minutes out, the producer told LA. The next batter up hit a pop fly to left on the first pitch and the inning was over. The engineer in master control triggered the brand new switching computer, and took a remote shot of the cameraman in L.A. cleaning his lens. It was the beginning of a bad night in Election Central.


    LIVE SHOT FROM ... TRIPLE-A?
    by Gina Diamante (gdiamante@aol.com), EP, KADY Oxnard, California

    I've got a quick live shot anecdote for you, left over from last summer. We had a police officer shot and killed in Simi Valley, about 45 minutes from our station. No live truck. The unit was in a repair shop because of engine trouble. When the GM heard the truck was still in the shop, he said, "I'll pay the four or five hundred bucks to have it towed to the scene." Ours was the only live unit to arrive on a flatbed truck.


    REAL NAMES
    by David Gillin, Segment Producer, "Good Evening," KGW-TV, Portland, OR

    About 15 years ago, when I was at KESQ-TV in Palm Springs, I reported the story of a man who filed a lawsuit against Riverside County because claimed he had been thrown in an unsupervised jail cell in Indio to sober up and was forced to perform oral sex on one or more or his cellmates. The man's name -- honestly -- was Richard (Dick) Licklighter. Even his own attorney told me it was an "unfortunate coincidence."


    HIRE ME

    I am looking for a producer job in a medium sized market, preferably in the South, Midwest or on the East coast. Currently, I produce the top-rated 5 and 10 o'clock newscasts in Amarillo, Texas. I have two years producing experience. Unlike many in this business, I have no desire to be in front of the camera. I am computer literate, and I know how to edit beta and 3/4" formats.

    Please e-mail me at Call210@aol. Thank you.


    PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE

    Chip Mahaney has moved from Oklahoma City to Dallas; he's now managing the newsroom computer systems at KDFW-TV (FOX 4 Texas). Chip previously served KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City as Sports Executive Producer. From 1990 to 1994, he worked for BASYS Automation Systems (now part of Avid), installing computers and training journalists for the world's largest newsroom computer supplier. Chip's previous television experience include producing and assignments duties at KOTV-Tulsa, KTBC-Austin, and CBS News-Dallas.

    On a related front, Chip's wife Susan Mahaney, a show producer since 1981, is retiring from the news business to focus her attentions on son Andrew Mahaney, born October 4, 1995. Susan's career began at KJRH and KOTV in Tulsa. She produced "Live at Five" and other newscasts at WNBC in New York for 3 years, winning a Best Single Newscast Emmy there. She then moved with Chip to KOCO in Oklahoma City, where she's been the past 18 months.

    Vanessa McGarry, KADY reporter/producer is becoming a newswriter at KCOP-UPN 13 in Los Angeles.

    ABCís Chicago-based regional manager-producer David Ahrendts has announced his departure from ABC News, and the opening of his own independent television production business from the Twin Cities. David is probably best known for the NewsOne midwest conference calls that link affiliates in 14 midwest states with the network feed.

    After ten-years in this position, its time to seek some of the creative diversity this business can offer, David says, and I canít think of a better way than to seek some new challenges from the many people Iíve been fortunate enough to meet in the last decade while with ABC.

    David and his bride, Janice Hynek, who lived in the Twin Cities for 15-years prior to their marriage, plan to begin their new life in Minneapolis-St. Paul in April where Janice continues her nursing career. David can be reached at the ABC Chicago Bureau through the end of the month, at dahrendts@aol.com anytime, or at his new Twin Cities office, 612-603-1911 after April 1st.