TV strikes out, fails to provide complete story DAVEY JOHNSON RESIGNATION

Media Watch

November 06, 1997|By Milton Kent

Hang around a group of newspaper reporters long enough and eventually one will whine about the superficiality of television news, how it takes you to an event but never tells you how or why you got there.

A lot of it comes across, both within journalistic circles and among the public, as jealous carping from people who didn't have the pluck to make it in a very demanding medium, and in many cases, the perception is correct.

However, a lot of the local television coverage of the resignation of Davey Johnson last night provided textbook examples of what makes ink-stained wretches kvetch.

There was plenty of heat in the coverage, but precious little light or perspective to match, as virtually all of the stations came up short in delivering the full story of Johnson's departure.

For instance, while all of the early news programs liberally quoted owner Peter Angelos' letter to Johnson, only Channel 11 managed to get a copy of the former manager's letter, a rather key part of the story. After all, how could you explain Angelos' response to Johnson without Johnson's original letter?

If channels 2, 13 and 54 couldn't get the original document, they should have told the audience.

Likewise, is it possible to do a story like this without having to resort to the hoary practice of asking the so-called fans what they think of a move?

While showing angry or depressed or indifferent fans surely fills time, it adds nothing to a viewer's perspective because the people being interviewed likely know little about what went into the decision.

And, by the way, even Johnson would acknowledge that the story of one person dying and more than 100 others getting sick because of a salmonella outbreak in Southern Maryland was significantly more important to local viewers than the departure of a manager. Yes, the media should give people what they want, but not before they get what they need.

Channel 13, which loudly took credit for breaking the Johnson story, seemed woefully overmatched in its attempts to cover it, placing style over substance with pictures and sound simply for the sake of pictures and sound.

For example, with a reporter already stationed at Angelos' office holding and reading a copy of the owner's letter, why did we need to see a team publicist explaining the Orioles' side of things? And what was the point of a weeks-old "exclusive" clip of Johnson's wife declaring how much she loved Baltimore?

Also, with the only hourlong program at 6 p.m., why was Channel 13 the first station to leave Johnson's news conference?

The clear local winner was Channel 11, which got pertinent information, like Johnson's designation as American League Manager of the Year, before anyone else did, and presented a balanced and thorough accounting not only of what happened yesterday, but what led up to what happened yesterday.

On the radio side, WBAL (1090 AM), which like Channel 13 has the rights to the Orioles, covered the day just as a good radio station is supposed to. The oft-maligned Greg Sher rose to the occasion with solid reporting and good hustle, and Ron Smith, who is not this reporter's usual afternoon talk show choice, provided a solid public service, first by reading both Johnson's and Angelos' letters in a dispassionate manner, then by wisely sitting back and letting the public weigh in with their thoughts.

Last night, Sandusky and Sher did a little "good cop, bad cop" on the evening talk show, with Sher, who copped an interview with Angelos yesterday afternoon, steadfastly backing the owner, while Sandusky strongly criticized Angelos, a stance that probably won't earn him many Brownie points at the Orioles' warehouse offices.

Nationally, after failing the first time to connect with Johnson, ESPN and anchor Charley Steiner scored nicely with a live interview, in which Steiner asked Johnson perhaps the best question of the day: Why did he choose yesterday to resign?

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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