Keeping Tabs on Denver TV News
By L. Wayne Hicks
L. Wayne Hicks is a freelance writer based in Denver.
Paul Klite is watching a lot of television news these days. And he doesn't like much of what he sees.
"There's more happening in Denver than crime and violence," says Klite, whose group, Rocky Mountain Media Watch, examines what's wrong with TV news in Denver.
"When the TV stations give us this hit-and-run journalism, this crime to crime to crime, we think that they're not meeting their responsibility to public service," Klite says.
Klite, who left a career in medicine 20 years ago to battle for social causes, joined media consultant Jason Salzman and mathematician Robert Bardwell early this year to start the organization. The idea was to use objective measures to determine whether they had legitimate gripes about the content of local TV news.
Since its launch in January, the group has issued three reports chronicling the dearth of Denver TV coverage devoted to the environment, health care, education and other social topics.
ýhe first report, covering a week of 10 p.m. newscasts by the city's three major network affiliates, found that conversation between anchors took up more air time than that allotted for international news, and that nearly 70 percent of stories were about crime, disaster and war.
A second report two months later found that calamity stories filled 61 percent of broadcast time, and that previews and promotions of upcoming features used more air time than some news stories. A third report analyzing one week last July combined disaster, war and crime stories into a "mayhem index" that totaled about 60 percent for the month.
"It's sensationalized. It's hype," says Klite. "It's focusing almost entirely on events.... It squeezes out the chance for anything [substantial]."
Denver news directors have no plans to change. "It's perfectly valid for them to bring up concerns," says Arlen Stevens, news director at CBS affiliate KMGH. "But I'm not so sure I should value their opinion above and beyond someone else's."
News directors say they haven't heard similar complaints from other viewers. "I'm not seeing an outcry [to] go in-depth on the issues" says Steve Grund, news director of independent KWGN.
KWGN fared the best in the group's surveys. It aired the fewest commercials and the most news. KUSA, an ABC affiliate, did not score as well. According to the group, the station featured the most commercials, the least hard news and the most soft stories.
Dave Lougee, KUSA's news director, says categorizing stories is too simple a formula by which to judge. He notes that one story aired by his station was about a suspected former Nazi guard from the Denver area who would have been deported but voluntarily went back to Germany. "Where the heck did they categorize that one?"