My television remote control aged 10 years Thursday as I flipped among the four Toledo stations covering the visit of President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox.
Television coverage was unprecedented locally. Never before had four Toledo stations provided simultaneous live coverage of a local event. Best of all, the event provided a level playing field for the four Toledo stations with news operations -- WTOL-TV, Channel 11; WTVG-TV, Channel 13; WNWO-TV, Channel 24, and WUPW-TV, Channel 36.
So, how did the stations fare in this four-way race? Clearly, WTOL and WTVG were the class of the field. WUPW was a solid third. WNWO was never in contention.
For the No. 1 spot, I'd give a slight nod to WTOL. The tiebreaker was WTOL's interactive forums -- e-mail and phone calls -- that allowed viewers to participate. Surprisingly, only one other station, WUPW, sought interaction with viewers.
My notes filled 16 pages. But the first hour served as a precursor of the quality of coverage.
2 p.m. -- WTOL is the first station on the air. Anchor Jerry Anderson goes directly to Alva Taylor, who reports from Toledo Express Airport. Just what you'd expect from the No. 1-rated station.
About 30 seconds later, WUPW begins its coverage. In a real head-scratcher, anchor Laura Emerson goes to meteorologist Andrew Humphrey for a short weathercast. Why? There was no threat of severe weather.
2:01 -- After inexplicably showing the start of One Life to Live, WTVG enters the fray. Instead of a studio anchor introducing what lies ahead, it's Diane Larson at Savage Hall and Lee Conklin at the Teamsters Local 20 Hall. Dual anchors in the field - an interesting approach.
2:05 -- WTOL and WTVG have already had three live shots apiece. Meanwhile, WUPW attempts its first -- with reporter Dan Spehler at the airport. WUPW's inexperience is showing.
2:15 -- The first of eight commercial breaks for WTVG. Neither WUPW nor WTOL broke for commercials during their coverage. I wonder if any of the stations second-guessed their decisions. WUPW went commercial-free for the entire 3 hours, 47 minutes (four minutes longer than WTOL).
2:17 -- WTOL, WTVG, and WUPW show Air Force One landing. Where's WNWO?
2:19 -- WNWO finally joins in the fun. Anchor Jon Clark tells viewers that “Your Most Local News Station” will have team coverage. Because of its late start, the boastful slogan sounds rather hollow.
2:45 -- WTOL's coverage gets bogged down with two in-studio guests, Dr. Andrew Solocha (a North American Free Trade Agreement expert) and Dr. Al Gonzalez (an expert in Mexican/American culture). These guests stayed on the set for three hours - at least two hours too long. Their lengthy appearances -- which seemed longer because graphics were rarely used to identify them -- kept WTOL from being the clear-cut winner.
2:56 -- We're still 33 minutes away from Bush's speech, yet WUPW's camera is fixed on the podium. Meanwhile, WTOL and WTVG are conducting interviews. WNWO and, especially, WUPW relied too heavily on their reporters in the field -- too often, they gave virtual monologues.
What a day it was for Toledo television. WUPW's news operation came of age while WTOL, WTVG, and WNWO solidified their respective reputations.
Russ Lemmon's column on the local media appears Mondays. Readers may contact him at 1-419-724-6122, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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