Archive for the 'Local TV News' Category

A list of the best political journalism in Colorado so far this election cycle

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Compared to the 2010 election in Colorado, this one has been mostly a snoozer, journalistically.

But the 2010 election wasn’t really an election. It was a dramatic comedy show, with so many stories to tell and scandals to uncover that journalists almost couldn’t help but be stars.

Still, reporters have turned out some excellent work this time around, and I’ve listed my favorite reporting below. I’m hoping to see more great work in the next few weeks, but this list is inspiring.

9News Kyle Clark: “Coffman won’t explain Obama ‘not an American’ comments” Rather than let Coffman hide, Clark went out and found him.

Fox 31’s Eli Stokols:FOX31 Denver goes one-on-one with Paul Ryan” Stokols shows how an informed journalist can challenge a candidate’s spin.

The Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels and Tim Hoover: “Anarchy, chaos behind Colorado civil unions bill may have long-lasting effects” They dug deep to show, among other things, how the upcoming election influenced the legislative debate on civil unions.

The Denver Post’s Tim Hoover: “Noncitizen ID’d fraction of those first alleged by Gessler” No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, to understand Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s behavior and priorities, you have to understand the blizzard of numbers Gessler tosses around. Hoover did a great job clarifying Gessler’s figures in this piece.

Associated Press’ Ivan Moreno: “Voter Purges Turn Up Little Evidence Of Fraud Despite Republican Insistence” Like Hoover, Moreno gets to the heart of the voter “fraud” issue by looking at the details.

Fox 31’s Eli Stokols: “Colo. girl registering ‘only Romney’ voters tied to firm dumped by RNC over fraud” Stokols quickly connected the dots from Colorado to a scandal that was developing nationally.

CBS4’s Shaun Boyd: “Romney Loses Cool When Questioned About Marijuana, Gay Marriage” Boyd keeps her cool and sticks to her questions even as Romney flips out.

KBNO radio host Fernando Sergio’s interview with President Obama, which makes the list because Sergio almost certainly got the first interview with a sitting president on Spanish language radio in Colorado.

Colorado Statesman’s Judy Hope Strogoff: “Perry campaigns with friends in Colorado” I love this scoop, with the photos. An illuminating and fun piece.

The Denver Post’s John Ingold: “GOP’s VP candidate, Paul Ryan, emphasizes contrast with Obama’s vision” I like how Ingold gets at the candidates’ underlying view of government, as he reports on a campaign stop.

Local TV news fact checkers Shaun Boyd (CBS4), Matt Flener (9News), Brandon Rittiman (9News), and (sometimes) Marshall Zellinger (7News). I don’t always agree with them, but what they do is really important, especially on local TV.

Fact checking the TV fact checkers: mostly accurate analysis of ads attacking Romney’s positions on abortion

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Two Denver TV stations so far have fact checked political ads attacking Mitt Romney’s positions on a women’s right to choose.

The ads were aired and checked a while ago, in early August, but I thought I’d spotlight them today, because women’s issues will come up again and again and again, we can be sure.

The two ads, analyzed by 7News’ Marshall Zelinger and CBS4’s Shaud Boyd, were slightly different, but the ads mostly made the same allegations.

AD:  “Mitt Romney opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraception.”

CBS4 Reality Check (scroll down to abortion ad): TRUE

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: TRUE Both stations got it right.

AD: “Romney supports overturning Roe Vs. Wade.”

CBS4 Reality Check: TRUE

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: TRUE Both stations got it right.

AD: Romeny would cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood

CBS4 Reality Check: TRUE

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: This fact wasn’t included in the ad checked by Channel 7. Channel 4 got it right.

AD: “Romney backed a bill that outlaws all abortion, even cases of rape and incest.”

CBS4 Reality Check: MISLEADING

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: MISLEADING (but it also found the “even-cases-of rape-and-incest” part to be “MOSTLY UNTRUE”) First, both Channels 7 and 4 point out that there was not an actual bill. The ad shows a clip of Romney saying he’d back a bill outlawing “all abortions,” if, hypothetically, such a bill came to his desk. That’s not enough to call the statement misleading, more like “MOSTLY TRUE.”

But the addition of the phrase “even cases of rape and incest” makes the statement more complicated. Channel 7 separated out this phrase and deemed it “MOSTLY FALSE,” arguing that even though the hyopothetical bill would have banned “all abortions,” the bill didn’t mention rape and incest specifically.

In addition, both Channels 4 and 7 aired video of Romney saying that he supports abortion in the case of rape and incest.

But Romney told Mike Huckabee just last last year that he “absolutely” would have supported an amendment to the Massachusetts’ consitution defining life as beginning at conception, otherwize known as the zygote or fertilized-egg stage.  (Video here at 6:25)

And if you define life as such, like personhood backers do, and you do so in a state constitution, you give legal protections to zygotes created as a result of rape. So it’s fair to conclude that Romney opposes abortion for rape victims, though obviously it’s a Olympic flip from what he’s said elsewhere.

Romney also told Huckabee:

“Would it be wonderful if everybody in the country agreed with you and me that life begins at conception, that there’s a sanctity of life that’s part of a civilized society, and that we’re all going to agree that we’re not going to have legal abortion in the county? That would be great.” (Video here at 8:15)

Against this backdrop of Romney’s own dueling positions, I don’t understand how Channel 7 could conclude that it’s mostly false to say that Romney opposes abortion, even in the case of rape and incest. It could be true or false. Take your pick.

You have to conclude, like Channel 4 did, that Romney’s obviously a flip flopper on abortion. And you certainly can’t say it’s untrue for Obama to tell us Romney opposes all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

So Channel 4’s take-away comment, which it calls the “bottom line,” hit the mark:

“The ad says women, a key voting bloc, should be troubled by Mitt Romney’s position on abortion.  And they should, because it’s changed so many times. Mitt Romney brought this one on himself.”

Reporter Shaun Boyd discusses CBS4’s “Reality Check”

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

When Channel 4’s Shaun Boyd sits down to fact check a political ad, for her station’s “Reality Check” feature, the first thing she does is ask for documentation from the people that produced it.

“Sometimes they send it before the ad starts running,” Boyd told me. “They drown me with information.”

Boyd sits at her desk sifting through the documents and doing other research.

So while most TV reporters spend their time shooting footage and writing stories, she says, with Reality Check, she spends most of her time as a researcher.

“Some days it’s brain damage,” says Boyd. “But my hope is I give people information they use to make informed decisions.”

She gets criticism from all sides. “It’s amazing they’re looking at the same piece,” she says.

Most often the criticism is directed at the final portion of her analysis, which is called the “Bottom Line”

Here’s Boyd’s “Bottom Line” for two anti-Romney  ads:

Bottom Line: This ad is trying to channel our resentment over high oil prices to Mitt Romney.  But if Romney is a tool for Big Oil, this ad fails to make the case.

Bottom Line: “The ad says women, a key voting bloc, should be troubled by Mitt Romney’s position on abortion.  And they should, because it’s changed so many times. Mitt Romney brought this one on himself.”

You can see why these conclusions could piss off people. It’s not as if all fact-checking isn’t interpretive to some degree, especially when stuff like “What You Need to Know” is added, but the “Bottom Line” makes the interpretation more obvious.

“The ‘bottom line’ [segment] is, here’s what’s really happening,” says Boyd. “It could be, ‘here’s why they’re doing this.’ It could be, ‘here’s the take-away.’”

Boyd says the “bottom-line” comment is what separates CBS4’s “Reality Check” from the other stations’ ad-checks. So despite the blowback from the campaigns, she says it’s worth it.

Reality Check airs on CBS4 during the 6 p.m. broadcast because, Boyd told me, they “require people to think” and “viewers at 10 p.m. are sometimes tired and don’t want to think more.”

So far this year, Channel 4 has analyzed more political ads than any other station in Denver (all are doing it), but as the election approaches, she predicts she’ll spend more time on the campaign trail and less behind her desk.

“People start to tune out the political ads toward the end,” says Boyd, who’s been doing Reality Check since 2010 and has been at Channel 4 for 15 years. “By the time we get into September, Reality Check becomes less effective. It’s something we’ve learned.”

Boyd will not repeat an analysis of an ad that makes a claim that she’s already addressed in a previous Reality Check. As the election nears, she expects to see fewer and fewer ads containing new allegations, meaning she’ll focus her political reporting elsewhere.

“I try to apply a Reality-Check veneer to every story I do,” She told me, “rather than reporting that this candidate said this and this candidate said that.”

“The vast majority of people, their eyes glaze over when a political story comes on,” Boyd says. “My challenge is to make it matter to them.”

Should journalists decline interviews if questions are banned?

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Talking Points Memo reports that the Mitt Romney campaign told an Ohio TV station yesterday that it preferred not to answer questions about Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

“They were chatting and it came up and I believe [a Romney staffer’s] wording was that they prefer not to talk about it,” [WHIO-TV] assistant news director Tim Wolff told TPM. “But we didn’t care because we were going to talk about Ohio stuff.”

If I’m a journalist, and a campaign tells me it prefers not to talk about something, that’s immediately what I want to ask about.

But Wolff told me that the preference was expressed by a low-level logistical person in the Romney camp, and so it didn’t matter to the station, which wasn’t interested in the topic anyway.

I asked Wolff if his station would have conducted the interview, with some questions banned outright.

“We’ve never agreed to any kind of stipulations and never would,” he said. “So it wouldn’t be an issue for us.”

Dave Price, a reporter at WHO-TV in Iowa who also interviewed Romney yesterday, told Talking Points Memo that he also would not have agreed to the Romney interview, if he’d been told that Akin questions were banned.

I asked Wolff what he’d do if forced to reject an interview, due to unacceptable preconditions.

Would Wolff report that the interview invitation was declined?

“I’m not sure, just because I’ve never had it happen,” he said. “There are many variables in how it can happen. We may or may not report, depending on how big a deal it was, that we did not do the interview because of these circumstances.”

Normally, I’d think a reporter should tell us, if he or she doesn’t accept an interview because of banned questions or the like.

Transparency is key, and that’s why CBS4 did the right thing by going ahead with the Romney interview and reporting the ban on Akin/Abortion questions.

Rejecting the interview would have been an over-reaction, because, as CBS4 News director Tim Wieland tweeted, there’s a lot of other questions that can be asked–and you can still report that certain questions were banned, as CBS4 did.

But, at some point, and I’m not sure where it is, an interview gets so restricted that a reporter has to say no, and report what happened.

Or if a topic was so important at a particular moment, a reporter might decline an interview, just because one topic was banned.

So I think it just depends, but CBS4 made the right call yesterday.



With Channel 4 leading the way, four Denver TV stations to fact-check political ads this election cycle

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Channel 4 has jumped ahead of other Denver TV stations in fact-checking political ads so far this election cycle.

CBS4 has already aired segments analyzing 20 ads, over twice as many as 9News, its closest competitor among the four stations analyzing ads.

Sorry for the horse-race media criticism, but the numbers are worth pointing out, because Channel 4’s early analysis of the ads has undoubtedly been appreciated by regular people (none of whom read my blog), who’ve been trying to sort through all the political spots that have aired so early this election season.

“In the past, the ads didn’t start coming in nearly so soon or so often,” Denver Post Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett told me via email. “I’ve talked with national players who have visited Colorado this summer who couldn’t believe the number of ads that already were up and running.”

So it was a smart move for CBS4 to start dissecting the ads early, as part of its excellent “Reality Check” feature, led by “Political Specialist” Shaun Boyd. (Look for a post tomorrow with more on Boyd and Reality Check.)

“We’re committed to it,” said CBS4 News Director Tim Wieland. “We have a system in place that allows us to begin when the ads start rolling in. People are frustrated, and they want something that cuts through the BS. That’s the intent of this project.”

For its part, 9News is ramping up its ad-checking segments, called “Truth Tests,” with an idea that other media outlets may want to copy, straight up.

“Due to the sheer volume of political ads, 9NEWS has hired a team of three graduate students from the University of Denver to work as researchers for Truth Tests,” wrote 9News Political Reporter Brandon Rittiman, who’s the station’s primary Truth-Test reporter. “With the extra help, we hope to be able to tackle more ads than ever before this political season.”

9News, Denver’s NBC affiliate, will also work its newspaper partner, The Denver Post, according to Post Politics Editor Plunkett, with reporter Tim Hoover directing the coverage.

Channel 7’s “Truth Tracker” series is spearheaded by Producer/Presenter Marshall Zelinger, who’s scrutinized four ads so far and is scaling up the project now. Channel 7, Denver’s ABC affiliate, actually introduced the ad-checks to Denver TV viewers in the 1990’s, with reporter John Ferrugia’s “Truth Meter” series. It was later revived by Adam Schrager at 9News.

“I wanted to start a month earlier, because so many ads were rolling in,” Zelinger told me, adding that he plans to dedicate a significant amount of his time to Truth Tracker going forward, focusing on new ads and the ones airing the most.

For the first time, Fox 31, an independent station that’s become known as the local TV news leader in day-to-day political coverage, will produce a regular ad-check segment, called “Fact or Fiction,” anchored mostly by political reporter Eli Stokols. This might air once or twice weekly, Stokols emailed me, with a focus on “the most controversial ads and those airing the most frequently in Denver and around the state.”

Even though he’ll be fact-checking ads himself, Stokols is skeptical of his new endeavor, emailing me that, “especially now in this post-Citizens United world, [it] seems like a losing game of Whack-a-Mole — as soon as you finish checking one spot, it’s yesterday’s news and there are a dozen more popping up.”

“While campaigns are quick to cite such fact-checking spots in their effort to discredit opposition advertising, the campaigns we call out for blatant falsehoods don’t seem to care at all,” Stokols wrote. “And why should they? In a campaign that could see close to $1 billion in campaign spending, it’s inevitable that any TV ad, however false or misleading, will air hundreds of times, overwhelming any news outlet’s fact-check that might air a couple of times. Today’s campaign finance landscape enables political advertisements to have a reach that’s far wider than any fact-check — until, perhaps, the fact-check itself becomes part of a countering ad, just more noise in a never-ending echo chamber of allegations and attacks.”

Daily campaign-trail coverage and investigative journalism obviously had more of an impact than ad fact-checks in the last plagiarism-ridden election here, but political advertising can overwhelm all journalism, not just the stories fact-checking political ads. And the elucidation of facts can have an impact on the campaign trail, shaping the debate there, at press conferences and debates, for example, where they’re sometimes cited.

CBS4’s Boyd says in her normal reporting duties, covering events and such, she’ll often “turn a story and you don’t feel like you’ve influenced anyone.”

“Reality Check influences voters,” she told me. “I know that from the emails I receive.”

TV audiences pay attention to it.

“It’s the most popular thing we do in political coverage,” CBS4’s Wieland told me.

Maybe that’s because viewers don’t get enough day-to-day political journalism on local TV, like what you find in a newspaper, to get hooked on it. So the fact checking fills the void?

In any case, when you watch the ad-checks on TV, you can see why they work so well.

The ads themselves are usually already branded, if you will; they’re familiar to viewers. And the process of stopping and starting the ads, and analyzing segments with sharp graphics and simple analysis, is gripping, in its way.

The text-based fact-checking you’ve traditionally found in newspapers, without the video, doesn’t carry the same impact, at all.

The format for the fact-check segments at Denver TV stations varies a bit, but the basics are similar. Channel 7 provides a rating system with six options for the “facts” analyzed, including “misleading,” and “opinion.” 9News and CBS4 use a wider range of descriptions for the facts in question. And CBS4 concludes with a “Bottom Line” statement, which often offers a broader interpretation.

When Adam Schrager was at 9News, he actually taught people how to check ads themselves.

If you try it, you know how difficult it is to do. It’s hard to label the facts, found in a deliberately vague advertisement, as false or true, and partisans can almost always find something to get mad about.

But with an expanding sea of misinformation coming at us, the effort to shed nonpartisan light on political advertising is worth it. And the earlier the TV stations get started at it, like CBS4 did this election season, the better.

Hyberbolic television coverage of hyperbolic Gessler

Monday, June 11th, 2012

With a straight face, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler told KOAA-TV, Channel 5, in CO Springs on Saturday:

Gessler: I think that [people allegedly receiving two ballots in the mail] really underscores the need to have measures, and these are things I’ve been pushing for a while, to make sure we’ve got accurate voter rolls. So this is a really disturbing, systemic issue that’s going on in Pueblo now and we need to get to the bottom of this very quickly.

“Systemic” issue?

Gessler told KOAA-TV that an undetermined number of people in Pueblo received two election ballots, after they changed their voter registration information.

In KOAA-TV’s story on Saturday, the evidence for this was…. Well, there was none. Only the claim of Gessler:

KOAA-TV: The Secretary of State told us the problem started at the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. People who changed their voter registration had a second profile made in the system, resulting in the extra ballot….

The Secretary of State says the biggest worry is people who do vote twice will dilute votes of those with one ballot, making for inaccurate election results.

So, if you believe Gessler, the election system is teetering toward free fall.

And unfortunately neither the Pueblo County Clerk, who allegedly caused the problem, nor any other source was interviewed to present a countervailing opinion (though, to its credit, KOAA-TV did interview the clerk for a subsequent story, in which he said about 200 ballots out of 59,000 “may be doubles”).

For the KOAA-TV’s Saturday piece, someone named Clarice Navarro appeared on the screen and said:

Navarro: It makes you question how valid each election is, and elections are very important to the state of Colorado and Pueblo in general. So it’s very concerning.

KOAA-TV failed to tell us that Navarro is a Republican State House candidate in the Pueblo area. And she’s a former staffer for Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.

Also unreported was the fact that Gessler and Pueblo’s Clerk and Recorder, Gilbert Ortiz, are in litigation over Gessler’s efforts to block the Ortiz’s decision to send mail ballots to voters who missed the last election.

The Ortiz-Gessler dispute might be part of the explanation for Gessler’s sky-is-falling response to what appears to be minor problem, involving ballots that may actually never be cast.

And, if they were submitted, the election system is designed to identify duplicate ballots and ensure that only one is counted, as Ortiz pointed out in KOAA-TV’s follow-up story.

Gessler’s response to Ortiz is very different from Gessler’s treatment of Teller County Clerk & Recorder J.J. Jamison’s acknowledged mistake last week of mailing 4,100 ballots that omitted a line for voters to sign their ballot. The signature on mail-in ballots is essential to protecting against voter fraud.

Here’s what Gessler told the Colorado Springs Gazette about Jamison’s mistake:

“We’ll be OK on this,” said Secretary of State Scott Gessler told the Gazette. “I know in about every election, somehow, some way, a mistake is made. People run elections and people make mistakes.”

KOAA-TV concluded its report in full breathlessness:

KOAA-TV: But how this error will impact the election…and voters’ confidence in our government, is yet to be seen.

With sloppy, hyperbolic reporting about a Secretary of State who fear mongers, maybe that’s true.

But if the facts about Colorado’s election system are reported, it’s more likely that voters will have a crisis of confidence in our Secretary of State, not our voting system.

Snapshot of southern Colorado local TV news shows indifference to Hispanic issues

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

By Michael Lund,

In this election year where Colorado factors heavily as a swing state with a large and growing population of Hispanic swing voters, we’ve been looking at local TV news broadcasts in major media markets to identify strengths and weaknesses in their coverage of Hispanic issues and representation.

Following our analysis of the Denver market, we’ve turned our attention to southern Colorado and the local TV news broadcasts of KRDO Channel 13, KOAA Channel 5, FOX Channel 21, and KKTV Channel 11.

Our findings show a vacuum of coverage of Hispanics and the issues important to them.  While we’d hoped to find these news stations reaching out to a growing market demographic to garner their ratings, and an attempt to broaden the discussion around issues important to the Hispanic sector of the voting public, instead there seemed to be indifference.

Our analysis was a snapshot of news coverage, where we monitored two evening telecasts of all four news broadcasts from the same two days in April.   All the stories in the newscast were logged by their length and topic.  Stories that included subjects identified by Hispanic surnames or Latin-American or Spanish geographical origin were categorized by the type of reporting (news, sports, weather, etc.).  News stories with Hispanic related content were identified by topic (crime, commerce, government, legislation, accident, disaster, etc.), and when Hispanics were identified in the story we noted whether or not they were pictured.

Here’s what we found.

Overall, out of nearly four hours of collective broadcast time, only fourteen minutes (or 6.4% of air time) contained material that fell into our criteria of Hispanic-related – a relatively low representation in Colorado where Hispanics comprise 20.7% of the overall population. Our assumption is that Hispanic viewers would be more likely to view a broadcast where they are fairly and proportionally represented.  And at the same time, the general audience benefits in getting more representational and comprehensive coverage, with diverse perspectives on the issues which affect our communities.

So, since the Hispanic community is under-represented in news coverage, how they are portrayed in southern Colorado news broadcasts becomes even more important.

Establishing familiarity, credibility, and loyalty with the viewing audience depends on the viewers’ recognizing themselves and their values in the news broadcast.  Inclusion and visibility of Hispanics on the news staff provide that connection to a large portion of the audience.  However, in the small sample we observed, there was an obvious absence of Hispanic reporters and anchors among the four channels news programs, with the one notable exception from KOAA Channel 5, David Ortiviz.    

In the past, television news broadcasts have received criticism for misrepresenting minority communities in their coverage of crime stories; the need for balanced portrayal of these groups is a sensitive point of critique.  Of course, on any given day the stories will vary with the specific incidences of crime, but what we observed in the southern Colorado broadcasts isn’t encouraging:

  • Half of the stories involving Hispanic-related content were crime related with the majority of Hispanics portrayed being perpetrators.
  • Approximately one-third of the time allocated to news stories involving Hispanics (four minutes of a total eleven and-a-half) was reporting on crime.
  • Six of the seven crime stories involved a suspect identified as Hispanic (by surname).
  • In three of the stories, photos of the perpetrators were shown, as compared with eight identified Hispanics pictured throughout all the broadcasts and among all of the news stories reported.

Balance can be achieved no matter which crimes or criminals present themselves by expanding coverage to issues with specific interest or importance to Hispanics.  Fox21 can be commended in their early coverage of Colorado’s ASSET legislation, which proposed reduced college tuition for qualified children of undocumented immigrants.

Balance also comes from seeking interviews with Hispanics getting their commentary on topics of general interest.  A Pew Research Center poll has identified that the issues rated as most important to Hispanics in this election year closely correlate with the top issues of the general population: jobs and the economy, healthcare, education, etc.  So, when a feature story addresses these topics, it’s an opportunity to get opinions and perspectives representing a wide range of the audience.

As an example, Fox21 featured a story highlighting a street-side sign waver dressed as the Statue of Liberty, which included an interview with the Hispanic proprietor.  This commentary gave depth to the story, affirmed the diversity of the community, and provided an otherwise underrepresented (or misrepresented) group of viewers with a point of positive identification.  Even when the opinions differ widely among Hispanics on a given topic, credibility is established by inviting participation from one among the group.

Similarly, sports stories were surprisingly deficient of Hispanic perspective and topics.  Notable Hispanic athletes in Colorado sports seemed to be eclipsed by larger stories of the day.  And on the whole, Hispanic sports enthusiasts weren’t providing their commentary as much as one might hope.  Again, this could be explained by the small sample of broadcasts monitored, but it certainly raises the question whether reporters are reaching out to Hispanics where it would be logical and easy to do so.

However, KKTV and KRDO provided good examples of reaching beyond the big stories to find the hidden gems of local interest which gave a sense of inclusiveness.  Specifically, KKTV featured a profile on Jordan Pacheco, who moved up to the Rockies line up from the Sky Sox farm team, and KRDO aired a story about a prep league tennis tournament, featuring an Hispanic player.

As a point of comparison, our analysis of Denver TV news identified similar trends and conerns.  The most notable differences in their Hispanic coverage could be seen in the visibility of Hispanic reporters and anchors on the news teams.  Also, there seemed to be a greater degree of direct,on-site coverage of stories, so Hispanic commentary and visual representation were more apparent.  Sports reports included more coverage of mainstream Hispanic athletes, probably due to the accessibility and proximity of professional teams.  However, the same problems existed overall, with issues of balance, and the quantity and quality of Hispanic coverage.

There’s room for improvement, to be sure.  Let’s hope that Colorado’s news organizations can benefit from the widest possible viewing audience this election season, while responsibly providing balanced and informative coverage of the issues affecting all of us.

Click here to view the data (stories, reporters, categories) upon which the snapshot study is based: Hispanics in local TV news coverage: Denver and Southern Colorado

Possibly looking for softballs from Denver TV reporters, Romney gets real questions

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

I can think of a couple reasons why Mitt Romney chose to take questions from local TV reporters and KOA radio hosts yesterday, while blowing off all those “print” journalists in Denver.

The most obvious reason is that Romney thinks local TV news is watched by the swing voters he needs to win. This approach would be in line with what he did when he came to Colorado the day before the GOP caucus. Then, his target was Republican caucus goers. So Romney blew off all real-life journalists, TV and print, and took loving questions only from friendly, conservative talk-radio hosts, whose listeners were likely to be heading out to caucuses. So Romney got to talk directly to his target audience.

An alternative explanation for Romney’s local TV tour yesterday is that he was scared pesky print reporters would ask him tough questions while mayhem-and-fluff loving local TV news journalists would have one eye on the incoming rainstorm and therefore be unable and/or uninterested in asking him substantive questions.

If this was Team Romney’s thinking, they got it wrong. Denver’s local TV news didn’t suck up and ask softballs. They asked real questions about real issues in Colorado, including the most obvious question, given the drama in the State Legislature, about his view on civil unions.

CBS4 reporter Shaun Boyd introduced her piece by saying, “As you can see, Romney seemed a bit flustered by the questions viewers posted on our Facebook page, trying to steer the conversation back to topics he was comfortable with.”

I would say Romney was less flustered and more irritated with Boyd’s news judgment after she posed questions about civil unions (answer: no), college-tuition reductions for undocumented high school graduates (no), and medical marijuana (no).

Sounding like Colorado GOP chair Ryan Call who recently said birth-control issues were “small issues,” Romney told Boyd:

Romney: “Aren’t there issues of significance that you’d like to talk about?

Boyd: This is a significant issue in Colorado.

Romney: The economy. The economy. The economy. Jobs. The need to put people back to work. The challenges of Iran. We have enormous issues that we face, but you want to talk about, go ahead.”

Boyd picked up where she had left off, telling Romney matter-of-factly, “Marijuana.”

And Romney said, “I oppose the legalization of marijuana….”

Boyd, along with her counterparts at Fox 31, 9News, and 7News, all asked Romney serious questions, perhaps the kind he wasn’t expecting from local TV reporters.

I’m hoping the tough questioning continues through the election season because it’s informative and it makes interesting television, as opposed to happy-talk questions like, “Hey, how’s your dog.”

But I guess in Romney’s case, that would be considered a hardball query as well.

Why do some local TV stations have political beat reporters when most don’t?

Monday, July 4th, 2011

If you watch local TV news in different cities around the country, and I’m not suggesting you do so, you see that a small number of stations have political beat reporters, but most do not.


“Most stations where politics is a beat with dedicated reporter happen to be in places where politics is part of the culture,” Deborah Potter, who writes about television news for the American Journalism Rewiew.  “So stations in Des Moines,  for example, Chicago, New Hampshire, New Orleans, places where politics is what makes the world go round.”

James Pindell, the political beat reporter for WMUR-TV in New Hampshire told me that’s exactly why he’s covering politics there.

“My station is crazy about politics,” he says. “It’s the state sport. We spend a lot of time on politics. It’s very much based on market.”

Pindell, who’s on the board of the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, could not explain why a station in a place like Denver would cover politics so closely.

Potter said a local TV news beat may be driven by the “passion of an individual reporter.”

“Unless you have some kind of huge story involving a particular person and particular issue are you ever going to say that’s something that will get more people to watch,” said 9News News Director Patti Dennis. “It’s about being responsible.  It’s about all the things I believe a media organization is responsible for.”

9News has a political beat, including YourShow, a  public Sunday affairs program airing on Channel 20, that’s divided between Matt Flener and Chris Vanderveen. Dennis said she’s interviewing now to add a possible third reporter to the beat.

Fox 31’s political beat reporter Eli Stokols files daily stories about Colorado politics, taking a newspaper-like approach that’s highly unusual for any market.

I asked longtime Fox 31 anchor Ron Zappolo how the political beat got established at his station.

“I think we’ve always wanted to, but I think [Stokols] has been the impetus,” said Zapplo whose own interest in politics is refelected in the frequent political topics you see on his Sunday night show, Zappolo’s Poeple. “And I think he’s pushed it. Some people have been into it. Some people haven’t been. But I think he’s been the impetus to really put more emphasis on politics.”

“Our newsroom has gone through a lot of changes during the last couple years,” Stokols explained. “That change created an opening for me to stake a claim on this beat. I mean, when we were between news directors in 2008, at the end of that year right after the Presidential election and into 2009, it was easy for me to start showing up at the Capitol when the session opened. And I said, this is what I do every day. And I would call in and send them stories, and I would work long hours. After a while, they got kind of comfortable with it or used to it, because it like, all right, we don’t have to worry about him. He’s doing this on his own, and we’re getting it done. Four months later, we’d been at the Capitol every day.”

But Stokols says he’s not the only one driving the political coverage. His station manager was the one, he said, who came up with the idea of leading off the sweeps earlier this year with a five-part series on the state budget and schools.

“To do five nights on education and the budget, when most people are bending over backwards to show flaming cars and dancing bears, it’s quite a contrast,” says Stokols.

Stokols agrees with Dennis that political coverage won’t help Fox 31’s low ratings, at least in the short term.

“Shifting view habits will be pretty hard to do based on political coverage,” Stokols told me. “And even if that were going to take place, it would take a long time.

 “This is about building a brand that’s recognizable and respected,” Stokols said. “Because you want people to think , if we want political news we’ll go to Fox 31. And then when you build that brand up, eventually, that’s when you start to see, perhaps, the numbers picking up.”

Fox 31’s Stokols becoming the face of political journalism on local TV news in Denver

Friday, July 1st, 2011

When you ask political junkies about Fox 31’s political reporter, Eli Stokols, many bring up Adam Schrager, who left 9News in February for a job in Wisconsin.

“With the departure of Adam Schrager, whom I think was an amazing reporter for television, I would say Stokols could be the heir apparent to Schrager in covering local politics,” Jon Caldara, of the Independence Institute told me.

“It seems he’s filled a void there that Adam left,” Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) told me. “Very few video journalists are really interested in state politics and what’s going on at the State Capitol, and he’s stepped up and filled that void.”

“I think Eli is filling the void that Adam Schrager left,” Colorado House Majority Leader Amy Stephens (R-Monument) said. “I think it’s a smart move.”

When I started asking people about Stokols last month, I wasn’t fishing for the Schrager comparison; the people I interviewed offered it up on their own.

And it’s true. Stokols is becoming the face of political journalism on local TV news in Denver.

But I think Stokols’ approach to political reporting is distinct from Schrager’s, and I actually had set out to write about the differences between the two journalists.

To me, Stokols is acting more like a newspaper reporter, filing daily stories, about the biggest political developments of the day, even if they’re not so big, while Schrager was on the air with broader pieces, fact checks of political advertisements, and YourShow, the public affairs program he developed and produced. Schrager didn’t cover the day-t0-day grind of political life in Colorado.

Both approaches have merit, and both are way unusual in the mayhem-and-fluff world of local TV news. Denver TV’s investigative reporters, while informing people less about the political issues and candidates, clearly have their value as well, even if their work over-dramatized or even silly at times. They stand out too  in an industry that specializes in bottom feeding.

But what Fox 31 (KDVR, Channel 31) is doing, dedicating a reporter to the political beat and airing stories most nights, is turning heads because, please correct me if I’m wrong, it’s just not done much anywhere by local TV news, much less in Denver, and even Schrager didn’t do it, especially toward the end of his career here.

“You look at the way TV news has evolved, and nobody dedicates a reporter down there [to cover the State Legislature) anymore, except there’s Eli,” said Marianne Goodland, who covered the Colorado Capitol for 13 years before taking a public relations job earlier this year. “A lot of TV people are there at the opening and end [of the legislative session], and they show up if there’s something hugely controversial. But day to day, that’s not something you see TV people doing. Eli is considered to be one of us, the capitol press corps.”

“He covers it like a newspaper reporter,” says longtime Fox 31 anchor Ron Zappolo. “He files a story every day. You know, he’s after it. He stays after it. He goes in there and he pitches these stories and he pitches them with passion. He convinces the powers that be here that, hey, we should be doing this and here’s why.”

“I think what’s unique is that we do it every day,” says Stokols. “That’s rare. News producers are generally inclined to look at a political story and say, that’s boring, unless it’s a sex scandal or unless there’s something juicy or outrageous about it. It’s taken me a while to get to this point in our newsroom, but thankfully I’ve gotten there because if I were still covering snow storms I probably wouldn’t still be in Denver.”

He adds that he still covers snow storms, just not nearly as often as he used to when he arrived at Fox 31 six years ago from Shreveport Louisiana, where got his first TV news job after graduating from the Columbia Journalism School in 2002.

So it’s not surprising that Stokols doesn’t see other local TV stations as his real competitors.

“I don’t just want to beat the other TV stations,” says Stokols. “Frankly, the other TV stations don’t seem to care about these types of stories. If they did they’d put people on them. But I want to beat Lynn [Bartels of The Denver Post]. I want to beat Tim and Jeremy and those people at The Post. I want us to be the place that people go to first, before they go to the Spot, which may be ambitious.  But if you’re not trying to be number one, what’s the point?”

“I’ve gone from reporting for TV and worrying about getting two minutes of television on the air by 9:00 to essentially being a blogger first, a newspaper writer,” continues Stokols, who wanted to be the next Tom Brokaw after it became clear that being a Major League Pitcher wasn’t in the cards. “You’re at [a political event], and you tweet it immediately. Then you go back and you get it on the web and beat The Denver Post. Then you worry about putting it on the newscast. You’re not that worried about beating your other three TV-station competitors, because they probably weren’t at the event to begin with.”

“I like to write,” continues Stokols, whose work also appears on KWGN, in an arrangement that was hammered this week story by the Colorado Independent. “It’s not hard for me to churn out a couple articles a day. If you want to make yourself and your reporting more far-reaching, you have to be able to write, you have to be able to do social media, you have to be able to tell that story in a newscast. You have to figure out how to do each delivery platform in the best way possible.”

As for the comparisons to Schrager, Stokols says: “Any comparison to Adam is humbling.  When I first got here six years ago, he was doing this and had already built a reputation. He was a model to show me that this could be done in local TV and done really well.”

Fox 31’s political coverage definitely gets the attention of political insiders, even if its impact on Fox 31’s low ratings is unknown. (I’ll address that topic in another blog post.)

You wouldn’t expect partisans or political activists to criticize a reporter like Stokols, but the near unanimous gush you hear from politicos of various stripes shows just how starved they are for TV reporters who regularly cover their events and report intelligently on what they do. There’s a huge pool of gratitude out there, all along the political spectrum, for a TV station that’s committed to covering politics every day.

“I greatly respect the outstanding work Eli Stokols did in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles for Channel 2 and Fox 31,” former GOP Chair Dick Wadhams told me via email. “Eli works very hard to be fair and objective but more importantly he seems to enjoy and understand the give and take of politics and campaigns.  Eli genuinely likes elected officials, candidates and activists and appreciates their roles in the political arena.”

“As the mainstream media pare down their scope, it is heartening to see the commitment both Stokols and Fox 31 have shown to providing their audience with in-depth political reporting,” said Kjersten Forseth, Executive Director of ProgressNow Colorado, which, for disclosure, I’ve advised on communications matters.

“Eli has brought a breath of fresh air to political reporting in Denver, ” said Mike Cerbo, president of the Colorado AFL-CIO, via email.  “He is interested in the issues and engaged in complex debates. His reporting is balanced and equitable. He is one of the few reporters in Denver who is covering politics as it relates to working families.”

Stokols told me he gets grief and epithets from liberals at rallies, who think Fox 31 is part of the national Fox cable network, of “fair and balanced” fame. Fox 31 Denver is an independent station with no connection to the Fox News Channel.

Maybe you’re tired about now, if not earlier, of my going on about Fox 31, when we know a content analysis would likely show the newscast to be, well, lacking big time, journalism-wise. And Denver has other journalists with more proven greatness than Eli Stokols.

Why am I doing this? I spent years documenting the obvious: that local news mostly sucks. Yes there’s good reporters, good intentions, and good stoies, and it could be worse, but still. I wrote about it a lot when I was a media critic at the Rocky.

Now, with journalism in free fall, and television still the most powerful force in politics, here’s a local TV news station that doing something that’s really, really the right thing to do.