Browns story moves TV teams to report, only some accurately

Media Watch

November 06, 1995|By Milton Kent

If you've ever needed a working model of how the world of television operates and what drives it, the reporting of the move of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore has provided it in a major way.

From the first reports on Channel 11's late news Wednesday, through the round of NFL pre-game shows yesterday, the good and bad of television journalism have been exposed, and, appropriately during one of the four months each year when sensibilities often are turned upside down.

That November is a "sweeps" month is just a loopy coincidence to this story, but, no doubt, contributed to what became a feeding frenzy.

No one, locally or nationally, came through the process pristine, thanks to the broadcasting of a litany of unconfirmed rumors and the casual tossing about of fiscal figures without substantiation, which have become part and parcel of some television journalism these days.

For instance, many outlets -- print and broadcast -- prefer to wait until an entity has actually filed a lawsuit before reporting that one is coming, yet both Fox and ESPN declared on their pre-game shows that Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke would be suing, despite the fact that he has not said so publicly.

And it's foolish to say, as we've heard often, that the NFL won't block any proposed relocation. That decision can only come after a vote of league owners, which, of course, hasn't been taken, since the move hasn't happened.

Also, it's been widely reported that Browns owner Art Modell will receive $50 million up front as a bonus for signing a lease with the Maryland Stadium Authority, with NBC's Will McDonough yesterday adding the element that Modell had been promised 10 years of sellouts.

In fact, Maryland Stadium Authority chair John Moag has said that the club could receive $75 million for move-related expenses from sales of permanent seat licenses, the precursor to season tickets, without any mention of guaranteed sellouts.

It is precisely that kind of "throw it up on the wall and let's see what sticks" journalism that generally governs the pre-game shows, and crept into the reporting of this story, that makes television news gathering so maddening at times.

The clear winner, however, was Channel 11, which grabbed the story early and claimed it, thanks to some generally solid reporting from Mark Viviano.

Because Channel 11 -- the only station in town to carry Saturday's news conference in Cleveland, in which that city's mayor pledged to fight the move -- was so far out in front, the other stations were understandably forced into defensive clinches.

In the most bizarre defensive posture, Channel 2 -- in the name of not wanting to put viewers on an emotional roller coaster -- actually took to running promos that first directed the audience not to get caught up in rumors from other stations, then implored that same audience to tune in there to get the latest information.

Indeed, until Friday, when it became obvious that something was in the wind, Scott Garceau of Channel 2, and especially Channel 13's John Buren, seemed to go to great lengths to knock down the story.

By Friday, however, all sides were forced to grudgingly admit through their own pieces that Viviano had the story, although he had to backtrack on the element that the NFL would designate one of five teams that would move here rather than send the Browns.

Last night, however, Channels 2 and 45 got back in the game by airing Cleveland Mayor Michael White's news conference at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, curiously missed by Channels 11 and 13.

Channels 2, 11, 13 and 45 plan live coverage of today's news conference announcing the Browns' move. Channels 2 and 11 will begin their telecasts at 11 a.m., and Channel 13 will go on the air at 11:30. Channel 45 will interrupt programming within a few minutes of the 12:30 news conference. In addition, Channel 11 will air a recap of the day at 7 p.m., while Channel 13's program will air at 7:30.

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