Good Reports and Bad Reports

Local Stations get Kudos from National Group, GR Press GRIID studies continue to be ignored

On November 17, the GR Press ran a story on a National local TV news study conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The report – Local TV News Project 2002 found that WOOD TV 8 was rated 3rd in the country out of 53 stations surveyed. WZZM 13 received a “High B” mark. The Press article was quite congratulatory, interviewing the news directors from both stations.

One major flaw of the study, conducted in the spring of 2002, only looked at the 6pm newscasts, Monday through Friday, for 4 weeks – two of which were during Sweeps Weeks (ratings weeks). Everyone in the TV news business knows that stations will put forth their best efforts during sweeps weeks so that they can get better ratings and promote that to advertisers. Unfortunately this does not translate into quality reporting throughout the year.

The Press article also informs readers that “more than 100 TV news directors returned surveys answering a number of questions.” What they don’t tell you is that the people who set up the standards for the study are also all former or current broadcast people. This begs the question – will broadcast journalists create standards that make them look good or bad?

Besides the flaws of this national study, we find it interesting that over the past 5 years the GR Press has never published a story about any of the 20 local news reports that GRIID has conducted. GRIID has done 30-day studies on up to 6-month studies. We acknowledge good reporting when we find it, but we also critique coverage and provide recommendations for improved coverage.

Contact:

Contact the GR Press and ask them why GRIID reports are not news stories. Local News Desk: 222-5455 or send letter to pulse@grpress.com and contact Terry DeBoer, a stringer who wrote the article at 363-9250 or tjdeboer@juno.com.

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Voting for Crime: Local Election Coverage 2002

We have finally survived another election cycle – mud slinging, attack ads and the dreaded Robo-calls. GRIID spent 30 days prior to Election Day monitoring the Grand Rapids Press, channels 8, 13 & 17. We looked at how much coverage was provided, which races, how often we heard/read candidate comments, and ad per election story ratios. See the summary findings below. One overwhelming conclusion that we could derive from our study is that the local news agencies think that the public was more interested in the DC Sniper case than local elections. There were 17, 48 & 42 stories on FOX, WOOD TV8 and WZZM 13 respectively, but not one single story about the 19 Kent County Commissioner races.

Summary of Findings

# Only the GR Press & WOOD TV8 provided substantive coverage on the Governor’s race.

# All other state and federal-level races received minimal coverage and in some cases only when a “scandal” occurred.

# Local races & ballot initiatives received little coverage – the 3 local TV stations never reported on the 19 races for Kent County Commissioner.

# Candidates in the Green, Libertarian, Reformed and US Tax Payers party received marginal coverage.

# Paid ads run during newscasts appeared roughly 4 times per every election story.

# All 3 TV stations ran more crime stories than election stories during the study period – more stories on the DC sniper than all local election races combined.

# Despite hosting and broadcast 28 candidate forums, none of the 4 news agencies studied promoted or reported on the Community Media Center’s Tele-Democracy forums.

Contact:

GR Press Local News Desk 222-5455 or send letter to pulse@grpress.com

WOOD TV 8 News Director Patti McGettigan 456-8888 or patti.mcgettigan@lintv.com

WZZM 13 News Director Cheryl Grant 559-1315 or cgrant@wzzm.gannett.com

WXMI FOX 17 News Dir. Tim Dye 364-8722 tdye@wxmi.com

Not for War, Not Really News

Since Bush made his pitch to the UN in early September, the Grand Rapids-based news media has been doing 2 things; providing almost exclusively the Bush administration’s point of view and giving a limited anti-war perspective.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 anniversary observances the Bush camp has promoted a plan to invade Iraq. The local news has given us sound-bites from Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condelezza Rice, Powell and Dubya. The “reasons” being put forth have been weak or fallacious, yet the media seems to either be oblivious to the validity of these assertions or unwilling to question them.

First, Iraq is in violation of UN resolutions. While this is true, they have only been in violation of minor components of what has been imposed upon them since 1991. If the US wants to go after countries that are currently in violation of resolutions why not go after Turkey, Israel or a whole litany of countries that have ignored the United Nations? http://www.foreignpolicy-infocus.org/commentary/2002/0210unres.html

Second, there is the claim of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Several former UN weapons inspectors have said this is a bogus claim and no credible evidence has been presented. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=2410

Third, when talking about UN weapons inspectors being “allowed ” back in local reporters continue to perpetuate the myth that “weapons inspectors were forced out 4 years ago.” (Tom Van Howe – TV8) The rest of the world knows that the weapons inspectors were pulled out fearing their own safety just as the Clinton administration began Operation Desert Fox, a 1998 US bombing campaign. http://www.foreignpolicy-infocus.org/papers/iraq2.html

Fourth, that Iraq is firing on US planes in the no-fly zone. Iraq has been firing on US planes, because the US has engaged periodic bombing of Iraq since 1991, roughly 30 times in the past month alone. http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Iraq/fiskiraq.htm

Besides these glaring points of misinformation, the local news has also given limited time to the growing anti-war voices in West Michigan. There has been some coverage of local demonstrations/vigils on colleges and in front of the Federal building, but these stories have been short and have rarely included reasons for dissent. Just to put this into perspective WOOD TV8 ran a piece with a local Gulf War veteran that was longer than all anti-war stories on all three stations combined from Sept. 23 – Oct. 4. There have been educational and lobbying activities organized by numerous groups that have received virtually no coverage despite send media releases and making direct calls to newsrooms.

We urge readers to contact the local news agencies and demand that they run more stories on the growing local, national and international opposition to war and stories that do not perpetuate myths about US policy towards Iraq.

Contact:

GR Press Local News Desk 222-5455 or send letter to pulse@grpress.com

WOOD TV 8 News Director Patti McGettigan 456-8888 or patti.mcgettigan@lintv.com

WZZM 13 News Director Cheryl Grant 559-1315 or cgrant@wzzm.gannett.com.

WXMI FOX 17 News Dir. Tim Dye 364-8722

Oliver North Comes to Grand Rapids

On Monday, September 16th, convicted felon, Oliver North, was in Grand Rapids to sign books and speak at a Right to Life fundraising dinner. The Grand Rapids Press ran a story on his visit, as did channel’s 8 & 13.

The Grand Rapids Press article was fairly even, giving space for both North and a demonstrator who was there with about 30 people calling attention to the crimes committed by North in the 1980’s. The article (front page Region section A11) focused on the book signing that took place earlier in the day, with accolades from North supporters. Dissenting opinions only appeared on the next page A12, but North is given an opportunity to respond. The Press did contextualize North’s role in the Iran-Contra scandal by saying that “the Reagan administration defied a Congressional ban against aid to the Contras,” and “the administration funded the insurgency by illegally selling weapons to the Islamic regime in Iran.” However, no mention was made of the court rulings on North’s role nor his knowledge and participation in cocaine trafficking at the time. (See http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/nsaebb2.htm on the Contra/Cocaine connection and http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/publications/DOC_readers/icread/icread.html – declassified US government documents on Iran-Contra from the National Security Archives)

Channel 8 ran a short response from North (11pm newscast) on his support of a US invasion of Iraq. This seems ironic since North participated in violating a Congressional ban on selling weapons to the Contras known as the Boland Amendment, demonstrating his contempt for the rule of law.

Channel 13 provided the coverage that was actually inaccurate. After giving North’s opinion on Iraq, news-reader Juliet Dragos said “Outside the Grand Center tonight just over a dozen Pro-Choice protestors showed up. They picketed the Right to Life event and North’s Pro-Life stance on abortion.” The numbers present was wrong, there was an estimated 30-40 people. More importantly the protestors were not there representing a Pro-Choice organization. The focus of the signs and the discussions with those attending the dinner focused on North’s conviction, his illegal trafficking in weapons, and assistance with cocaine smuggling into the US in the 1980’s. The group who organized the demonstration was the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change. WZZM 13 reporter Chris Tye never bothered to ask demonstrators who they were or what their message was.

Contact:

GR Press writer Barton Deiters at 222-5504 (evenings) e-mail at bdeiters@grpress.com

WOODTV8 News Director Patti McGettigan 456-8888 or patti.mcgettigan@lintv.com

WZZM 13 News Director Cheryl Grant 559-1315 or cgrant@wzzm.gannett.com

Corporate Crime Reporting

Since the Enron scandal hit the front pages a whole litany of corporations have been investigated for illegal practices. The level of corruption has forced most news outlets to give some attention to corporate negligence. However, the coverage has been limited and fallen short on informing the public in two ways.

First, there has been virtually no discussion of systemic corporate practices. The scandals are being framed in such a way that readers/viewers are likely to conclude that Enron, WorldCom, etc are just a “few bad apples.” Many independent sources believe that these illegal practices are the norm within much of corporate America. Yet, these perspectives are not being reported.

Secondly, when “experts” are interviewed about what is going on with corporate corruption, the public has generally heard the opinions of government spokespersons or investment brokers. What would the public perception be if independent analysts, labor or community-based spokesperson were interviewed?

Suggested sources:

Project on Government Oversight

Consumer Federation of America

US Public Interest Research Group

Institute for Policy Studies

Citizen Works

Contact:

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WOOD TV 8

News Director: Patti McGettigan

Phone #: 771-9366

E-mail: patti.mcgettigan@lintv.com

WXMI FOX 17

News Director: Tim Dye

Phone #: (616) 364-1717

E-mail: tdye@wxmi.com

WZZM 13

News Director: Tim Geraghty

Phone #: (616) 785-1313

E-mail: tgeraght@wzzm.gannett.com

Grand Rapids Press

Editor: Mike Lloyd

Phone #: (616) 222-5455

WZZM 13 plays the role of Charity Organization

For several weeks in July (2002) WZZM 13 has been running promotional stories/pieces of their Food For Families (FFF) campaign. This is a campaign designed to get viewers to donate non-perishable food that will be sent to local food banks. In one sense we salute an effort that might mean people don’t go hungry, but there are more serious issues at stake here.

First, WZZM 13 is a news station. Their primary function is to inform viewers about issues and events. In this case, their primary responsibility is too help viewers understand why people are living in poverty and need food assistance. Very little reporting on why people are living in poverty or need food assistance has been done. What has been reported on is other charitable efforts or projects that teach people how to stretch their dollar.

Secondly, the stories/promotional pieces act as commercials for both WZZM 13 and Spartan Stores, which is the major business partner in the FFF campaign. The Spartan CEO has been interviewed, a Spartan truck is often the backdrop of these stories and Spartan products are featured in the stories. If this isn’t product placement, we don’t know what is.

Lastly, these stories run on all of their newscasts, which means a great deal of time is being devoted to their charity campaign. These stories are running in the midst of a primary election period. If election stories ran as often as FFF stories, there might actually be a significantly informed voting population.

Contact:

News Director Cheryl Grant at (616) 785-1313, news@wzzm13.com or

WZZM 13 Box Z, Grand Rapids, MI 49501.