It's a local television-news paradox: How do you separate yourself from the competition when you're basically reporting the same stories?
As much as they attempt to market themselves as unique—KVOA Channel 4 is "4 Tucson," while KGUN Channel 9 is "On Your Side," and KOLD Channel 13 is "Live, Local, Late-Breaking"—in the end, they're working off the same template while covering pretty much the same material, and presenting it more or less in the same fashion.
But occasionally, philosophical differences and approaches make themselves apparent. Such was the case last week. The story at the center: 911 tapes released regarding a home invasion on the southside that left two people dead.
The 911 call was placed by a 10-year-old girl who was hiding with a wounded younger sibling after her parents, Manuel and Cynthia Orozco, were fatally shot on March 29.
All three stations dealt with the story in different ways. KVOA ran a package in its 5 p.m. Wednesday newscast that included sound bites from the girl who made the call and from the dispatcher who received it. It was the only station to include audio of the girl.
"After much internal debate, the decision was made to run some carefully selected portions of the 911 call," said KVOA station manager Kathleen Choal via e-mail. "Using both the young girl and the dispatcher really showed what both parties were going through during this horrible and senseless killing."
KVOA significantly shortened much of the audio in later newscasts, but did keep small portions of the conversation between the girl and dispatcher in broadcasts at 6 p.m. and Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, KGUN only aired audio from the dispatcher.
"We deliberately went slow on this one," said KGUN news director Forrest Carr via e-mail. "We discussed it in an editorial meeting. We looked at all options. Ultimately, we decided that we didn't want to re-traumatize or re-victimize the girl, but on the other hand, we did see a legitimate journalistic purpose in focusing the public's attention on her bravery, and on the calmness and professionalism of the 911 dispatcher. And we also saw great value in keeping this story on the public agenda, given that the killer is still out there. So, we decided to focus on what the 911 dispatcher said and did, and not to use the girl's voice or even to quote her directly, for the most part."
Meanwhile, KOLD's report did not include audio from either party.
"It was very painful to listen to the whole tape," said KOLD assistant news director EJ Junker via e-mail. "The girl was going through the worst 10 minutes of her life. We discussed it with our producers and staff members and decided because of the emotion and content of the call, there was no viewer benefit to airing the tragedy. Nor was there any reason for the family to re-live the moments. The age of the little girl was also a major factor. We have received positive feedback from the viewers for our decision. We discuss these stories on a case-by-case basis. In this case, we chose not to air the audio."
Said Carr, "Use of 911 tapes has sort of become a controversial issue among ethics experts and media observers. Some believe the media are only interested in 911 tapes for the shock value—and on occasion, for some stations, they're not too far off from the truth. So we try to make sure, when doing so, that we do have a legitimate purpose and that we are being true to our values."
Viewers of KOLD Channel 13 have noticed the unusually lengthy absence of meteorologist Chuck George.
The award-winning weather personality is due to return shortly—if he hasn't already returned by the time you're reading this—after personal issues that kept him away from the station since early March.
"He has taken some time off to handle some family matters," said interim general manager Michelle Germano via e-mail. "He is planning on being back really soon."
Germano did note that George has responded to numerous e-mail queries, and wanted to thank viewers for their support.
UA School of Journalism grad Stephen Ceasar was one of five students nationwide chosen for the James Reston Reporting Fellowship from The New York Times. Ceasar, whose story on Chinese illegal immigrants was recently published in the Times, will intern at the Times' metro desk. He earned a degree from the UA in just three years.
Former UA basketball players Corey Williams and Joseph Blair have purchased time Mondays from 6 to 8 p.m. on KCUB AM 1290 (for which I do UA athletics pregame and postgame shows) for a show they call Out of Bounds.
"We had talked about doing a radio show for awhile," Williams said. "Joseph really wanted to get on the air, finish up the Wildcat season, talk about things in spring and get the ball rolling. The thought behind the show ... is more the personal side. We talk about a lot of topics, but it's a chance for callers to tee off about anything that's on their minds."
Williams and Blair played for the UA in the mid-'90s, then parlayed that into successful overseas careers. Williams just concluded his first year as the analyst for local UA men's basketball television broadcasts alongside veteran play-by-play announcer Dave Sitton.
"Working with Dave has been great, and the people at IMG (the company that owns the rights to UA broadcasts) have been extremely helpful," Williams said. "It is so different than actually playing a sport. I have a newfound appreciation for what broadcasters do. You have to be really prepared. ... It's been a growing experience, and I've gotten a lot more confident and comfortable. I love talking basketball, and I love talking Wildcat basketball."