Media Watch 

We're All Friends Here

A local TV news fan reports that he's developing whiplash from frequent double-takes. He can't believe he's seeing KVOA Channel 4 reporters on the 9 p.m. KMSB Channel 11 newscast, reporters who mention KVOA's "Eyewitness News" and KMSB in the same breath.

"Can you look into what's going on?" he pleads.

It wouldn't be so surprising if the stations shared an owner, but KVOA runs under its own steam (a rarity in this market), while KMSB (and its sister station KTTU Channel 18/Cable Channel 2, along with 18 other stations mostly in the West) sends money home to the Dallas-based Belo Corporation.

"This is somewhat unique," admits KVOA general manager Gary Nielsen, although it's not so unique in Tucson--KOLD Channel 7 has a similar arrangement with KWBA Channel 58/Cable Channel 8, better known as The WB. In each case, a strong network affiliate is holding hands with a much lower-rated station that hasn't succeeded in establishing a firm news presence.

Since last June, KVOA and KMSB have shared their news resources, and one station's reporters frequently show up on the other's newscasts.

"We have access to materials they may have gathered that we can reuse, and the same goes for them," says Nielsen.

"If there are multiple breaking stories," says KMSB/KTTU manager Diane Frisch, "we can cover more of them by combining resources. And we can take advantage of the expertise of somebody who's been following a story, instead of sending out some other reporter to start from scratch. But we have two separate, distinct news teams."

That may be true, but KMSB news director Bob Richardson is actually nested in the KVOA newsroom. Yet officials insist that the two newsrooms remain independent.

"We often air completely different stories," says KVOA news director Lisa Contreras. "They choose their own subject matter, and we choose ours."

A cynic might suggest that rather than being a dominant station's magnanimous gesture of support for a minor competitor, such arrangements help the dominant station disguise its own declining resources in the post-Sept. 11 economy.

But that's not the case, declares Contreras. "We have not had any shrinking of news staff in the five years I've been news director here," she says. "This just provides us all more resources."

And it should be pointed out that KVOA isn't really competing with itself--KMSB's sole, local newscast airs at 9 p.m. (as does The WB's), whereas the big three local stations run news shows around the dinner hour and at 10 p.m.

This winter, by the way, for the first time in more than two decades, KVOA's newscasts slipped behind KOLD's in the coveted 18-54-year-old demographic. Meanwhile, KMSB's edged ahead of The WB's. Looks like KVOA can use all the help it can get.

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