Thursday, July 09, 2009

Eye on Local TV news coverage of politics/public policy: How important is a Gov. Quinn presser to 2, 5, 7, 11 and 12?

Electronic media coverage

In general, the local electronic media seem to do what they can to hype government budget deficit, tax and spend issues, especially on the state and local level, if they are going to cover government fiscal issues at all. Their efforts mostly seem to focus on putting together “human interest,” packages that highlight vulnerable individuals losing services, e.g. developmentally disabled adults, learning disabled kids, autistic children, etc. Indeed, his critics argued that the Governor was trying to use, cynically, human service agency cuts last week to exploit that age-old media directive: If it bleeds, it leads.

Print media coverage

The local print media, on the other hand, generally focus more on the intricacies and subtleties of the budget process. But, recently the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times have taken to omitting coverage of press conferences dealing with these issues from their print publication and putting such items on their blogs, or nowhere at all.

Absence of serious, one-on-one political interview TV shows in Chicago

Sometimes, to be fair, the electronic media cover the more significant public policy/political events, but the time allotted is getting pretty skimpy. Further, there are no local TV commercial or public TV shows in Chicago that do what “Public Affairs,” does and has done for more than the last decade, i.e., provide a half hour, weekly, one-on-one serious, probing, challenging interview with an elected city, county, state or national elected official or someone running for office.

Decline of WTTW’s public policy coverage

Chicago Tonight, with the late John Callaway at the helm, used to do that nightly on WTTW. But, that pretty much stopped when Callaway left the show more than a decade ago. The show expanded to an hour but adopted a magazine format which seldom has a serious public policy interview or panel discussion that exceeds fifteen minutes. Also, the “public policy,” segment often focuses on things like sports, e.g., this week’s Carol Marin led discussion of the sale of the Cubs, a topic one would think would be sufficiently covered by the commercial media.

Callaway’s Friday Night show on WTTW, although interesting and well done, wondered far a field from Callaway’s prior focus on public policy and politics, moving more often into such worlds as theater, film, sports, music, etc.

Radio political interviews

Craig Dellimore’s “At Issue,” Sunday show on WBBM-780 AM Radio is perhaps the only weekly radio, [mostly] one-on-one political/public policy interview show. There are other radio shows in Chicago dealing with politics and public policy, such as Tom Roeser’s excellent weekly Sunday Political Shoot-out show, but these shows are more in the nature of talk or discussion radio, as opposed to one-on-one political interview shows.

Apparently, the executives who make the local commercial TV-radio programming decisions about content have decided serious public policy-political interview shows just can’t be done in a way to generate sufficient ratings to be profitable. Of course, it is an open question as to whether creative attempts to do political interview shows in a serious, yet entertaining way, have even been tried by the TV local stations.

What explains WTTW’s abandonment, in large part, of that format I just don’t know. They don’t seem to have tried to do it right, once Callaway left in 1999.

Coverage of Gov. Quinn’s Tuesday press conference

This past Tuesday’s press conference by Gov. Quinn seemed pretty important. Essentially, the State is into a new fiscal year and it has no budget. It is doubtful whether the General Assembly and the Governor are doing anything to reform the broken Medicaid and pension systems in the state. Education is costly and doesn’t perform in Chicago and in a number of other geographic areas across the state.

Quinn announced significant lay-offs to save money and attempts to negotiate furloughs with the unions in an attempt to avoid even more substantial lay-offs. Most Republican legislators and many Democrat House members oppose Quinn’s proposed 50% increase in the income tax, arguing it is not necessary and will exacerbate Illinois’s lagging job and economic performance. Quinn and many Democrats argue his income tax increase is necessary to produce a fair and balanced budget. Each of these issues is integrally related to the on-going budget discussions and actions that were the subject of Governor Quinn’s press conference. [Read about here].

The local commercial TV stations 10:00 pm news shows covered this past Tuesday’s press conference as follows (WGN and CLTV were not included in the survey):

CBS 2 News: 34 second segment; starting 15 minutes into the news

NBC 5 News: 48 second segment; starting 15 minutes into the news

ABC 7 News: 57 second segment; starting 7 minutes into the news

The local Fox Affiliate, WFLD: one minute and two second segment; starting 6 minutes into the news.

Although CBS- 2 News’ political editor Mike Flannery and NBC-5 News’ political editor Mary Ann Ahern were at the presser and asked questions, only Fox WFLD gave its political editor, Jack Conaty, some face time on the newscast.

Yes, sadly, the local and national news shows were falling all over themselves that night to maximize the coverage of Michael Jackson’s death. But, one local TV news show also managed to spend more time on such scintillating and important topics as, “How to do a garage sale.”

Moreover, if done right, more extensive coverage of Quinn’s press conference would not only have been better public policy by the stations, but it would have been better for ratings. Somebody should have the courage to try it. This journalist would be happy to discuss with them how to do it.

A good night for WTTW, Ch. 11

Ending on a positive note, Tuesday night was a good one for one of Chicago's public TV stations, WTTW- Ch. 11[The other Chicago public TV station, WYCC, was not included in Tuesday night's survey]. Christian Farr discussed the presser, with clips of same, for five minutes with Phil Ponce. Elizabeth Brackett led an eighteen minute panel discussion of state budget issues and the Governor’s press conference with four state legislators: Rep. Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), Senator Lauzen (R-Aurora), Rep. Durkin (R-Western Springs) and Sen. Lightford (D-Westchester). One can always quibble about content, but WTTW deserves credit for it's ample coverage of public policy and politics on Tuesday night. Now, if we can persuade WTTW to stretch the coverage to a full half hour and do it every night, we'll be happy campers.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at *************************************************************
"Public Affairs," is a weekly political interview show airing in Chicago on CANTV, in the Chicago metro area, Aurora and Rockford on Comcast and also often on the Illinois Channel. You can watch the shows, including archived shows going back to 2005, here.
"Hot," recent posted shows on the Public Affairs YouTube page include a show with Chicago Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, a candidate for Cook County Board President in the 2010 Democratic Primary, a show with economist Art Laffer [inventor of the Laffer Curve] and FNC's Steve Moore about their book, "The end of Prosperity," and the Obama Administration's economic policies; the fastest five minutes on the web- a New York Times video about Obama-Berkowitz, a show with State Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), a show with Professor Stephen Presser, a Northwestern University Law School Professor, about Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U. S. Supreme Court, , the second fastest five minutes on the web- a segment of Bill O'Reilly with Berkowitz discussing a clip of Obama from 2002 on Blagojevich and many more shows.