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Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 10/19/2005

Local TV criticized for riot news

Twice this year a violent incident in North Toledo has forced local television stations into a scramble mode.

But there were few similarities in the coverage of January's shooting at the Jeep assembly plant and Saturday's riot in the vicinity of Mulberry Street and Central Avenue. The shooting came without warning, whereas the riot, while unexpected, stemmed from a planned event.

In both cases, local stations drew harsh criticism for their coverage. Based on e-mails and phone calls that I received, it was nearly unanimous: For the Jeep shooting, there was too much coverage; for the riot, there wasn't enough.

One reader asked me to help her understand why the four local stations continued to show sporting events three had college football games, the other a baseball playoff game when news of the riot was unfolding. She had to watch CNN and the Fox News Channel "to find out the latest," she said.

She said she was "livid" over the inconsistencies between coverage of the Jeep shooting and the riot.

She does have a valid point. The stations were not consistent. And, indeed, it was somewhat surreal to watch CNN and FNC cover an event in Toledo while local stations stuck with sports programming.

That being said, local stations made the right call Saturday.

From 3 to 7:30 p.m., news crawls at the bottom of the screen kept viewers informed. Those wanting to know more about the situation could switch to the national news channels.

WNWO-TV, Channel 24, was showing one of the most anticipated games of the college football season, Southern California vs. Notre Dame. WTVG-TV, Channel 13, had Michigan vs. Penn State. WTOL-TV, Channel 11, had Louisiana State vs. Florida. WUPW-TV, Channel 36, had Game 3 of baseball's National League Championship Series.

The combined audience for the four stations was estimated at 200,000.

WNWO was the only station not to interrupt the game it was showing. Instead, the NBC affiliate had a five-minute report before the game and an extended update at halftime. The other three stations interrupted their respective games with an occasional update and to show Toledo Mayor Jack Ford's 4 p.m. press conference, which lasted about 30 minutes.

"This is the kind of situation where no matter what you do, people are not going to be happy," said WUPW general manager Ray Maselli.

The local stations had to strike a balance between satisfying sports fans and satisfying those who hungered for information about the riot.

At every station, there was a discussion about how much coverage to give the planned march by members of the National Socialist Movement. Although Toledo police stopped the march, the presence of the neo-Nazis was a factor in igniting the violence.

"You didn't want to give too much attention to these guys," WNWO news director Jonathan Mitchell said of the neo-Nazis. "But when all hell broke loose, we had no choice."

Unlike the Jeep shooting, the local stations did not frustrate viewers with frequent interruptions of network programming.

Although unorthodox, especially at first glance, yielding the "visual" part of the story to national news channels made the most sense for local stations.



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