Reacting in part to public calls for press restraint in gulf war coverage, Baltimore's three network affiliate television stations set up their own pool yesterday to report on local military personnel killed, captured or missing in action in the Persian Gulf.
Before the day ended, the pool was put to use when Pentagon officials confirmed the death of the first local casualty of the war, 24-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Ron Randazzo of Glen Burnie.
"Baltimore television news operations have a responsibility to report on casualties of war. At the same time, our news organizations hope togather the necessary information in a manner that is least intrusive to grieving families," said a joint statement issued yesterday by WMAR-TV (Channel 2), WBAL-TV (Channel 11) and WJZ-TV (Channel 13).
A pool arrangement is one in which news organizations that normally compete with one another agree to share resources, as well as information they obtain.
Channel 2, which went first in the pool rotation, interviewed relatives of the slain serviceman shortly after 5 p.m., transmitting the report live to Channels 11 and 13. The interview did not air anywhere until the 6 o'clock newscasts, because the stations had agreed to air the pool reports -- or at least have the opportunity to do so -- during the same time period.
The unprecedented arrangement springs not only from current public sentiment toward the news media, but also from a long-standing criticism of local television news for sticking microphones in the faces of victims and mourners.
"Our goal is to spare the families repeated phone calls from various television newsrooms and from news teams camped out near their homes," Channel 2 News Director Bob Feldman said, echoing comments from his colleagues at the other two stations.
As happened yesterday, the pool is activated when any of the localstations learns that a family in the metropolitan viewing area has been notified that a relative has been killed, is missing or has been taken prisoner in the gulf war. The pool arrangement is to continue through burial services, in the case of death.
What viewers are most likely to notice about pool coverage is that reporters from one station will show up on another. Last night, Channel 2's Kim Skeen conducted the interview with Sergeant Randazzo's parents, but the report was photographed so that her voice was heard but she could not be seen, as pool guidelines advocate.
Initial handling of the coverage showed there are still details to be worked out among the stations. Last night a Channel 13 reporter interviewed one of Sergeant Randazzo's brothers, and the station ran that as part of its report.
Although Channel 2's Mr. Feldman said such supplemental reporting is allowed, it is not mentioned in the two pages of guidelines circulated among the stations.
Spokesmen for the stations said there were no plans to extend the pool arrangements beyond covering local victims of the war.