Stations giddily cover OpSail

Television: Local news shows welcome the tall ships with scads of shiny, happy reports.

June 30, 2000|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Much of Baltimore was giddy about the flotilla of tall ships that made up OpSail 2000 - including the city's television news shows.

The event's end yesterday, the Parade of Sail, received relentlessly positive coverage. The stations did not simply report the story. They celebrated it.

That impulse, always strong, surfaced even more forcefully in the wake of negative national attention from the Joseph Palczynski hostage crisis and the murder trial of Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis - unhappy tales about violence and tragedy.

Instead, the spectacular shots of the boats along the Harbor gave the stations and other programs a chance to show the city at its most attractive. It's a welcome contrast to the pieces on the city's woes during last year's mayoral campaign, said WBAL President and General Manager Bill Fine.

Officials at all four Baltimore television news programs said they consider OpSail an unalloyed good news story, providing the city with money from tourists and a reason to feel good about itself.

This kind of event "really is what this station, particularly, does, supporting the people, places and things that make this region great," said Jay Newman, WJZ's vice president and general manager. WJZ has offered frequent reports from the Inner Harbor, led by Katie Leahan.

"It's news coverage," Newman said, "but it's also marketing in how you show and promote it outside the news shows that makes it all work together."

Viewers could be forgiven if they failed to recognize the distinction. The CBS affiliate ended its noon news program yesterday, as it has before, by airing a video montage showing glimpses of the ships and the throngs who came to see them.

The minute-long segment - as long as two or three stories in the typical half-hour news show - was produced by WJZ's promotional department and set to the station's new theme song. The peppy song's verses includes the names of the channel's anchors.

Of all the stations, however, WBAL has done the most. Yesterday, the station broadcast live for 3 1/2 hours from an assortment of spots along the Baltimore Harbor. The station commandeered a 52-foot boat for cameramen and used seven separate remote cameras to capture the departure.

Shedding formal wear for more casual knit, short-sleeved shirts, WBAL's Rod Daniels and Dina Napoli anchored the coverage from an unused pier across from Fort McHenry which was, naturally, dubbed "Pier 11" for the day.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said WBAL managing editor Kyle Brinkman. "We want to own that story."

And in a very real sense, WBAL did own it. WBAL became OpSail's official sponsor in Baltimore by promising to provide live coverage of the caravan of tall ships leaving Puerto Rico, the starting point, and arrivals in Miami and Norfolk before reaching Baltimore.

In addition, Brinkman said, the station pledged to produce and broadcast a profile of the Pride of Baltimore II, the city's goodwill ship that relies on financial support from private donors.

As a result, the station's news crews received the right to board ships that were closed to competitors. In addition, WBAL joined SunTrust Bank to pay for a giant television screen to be set up near the Maryland Science Center at the Inner Harbor, to broadcast their coverage of the Parade of Sail.

The Sun also served as a corporate sponsor of OpSail. According to Terri Hayes-Woods, the paper's director of circulation, sales and marketing, The Sun published a four-page promotional pullout with a map and agenda of the sailing event. In return, it received permission from organizers to set up kiosks along the Inner Harbor to sell newspapers.

But the paper made no agreements that affected the daily stories or an eight-page special section printed by the paper, said Editor William K. Marimow. "Our coverage was 100 percent driven by journalistic concerns," he said.

During yesterday's marathon live broadcast of the Parade of Sail, reporters fanned out to interview people who gathered to watch the tall ships pass. Cameras captured sailors hanging from the beams and rigging of passing ships.

Jan Miles, the co-captain of the Pride of Baltimore II, offered WBAL viewers well-informed observations, such as the difference between a bark (a small ship) and a barkentine (a specific kind of three-masted ship).

On the other hand, less glowing aspects of the event evaporated before the television cameras. "The Esmerelda has a rather colorful history, and it's really an honor ... for all of us sailors that there are so many cadets on board," Miles said as the Chilean ship sailed by.

That ship, according to Amnesty International, served as a floating torture chamber under Chilean President Augusto Pinochet in the early 1970s, but you would have struggled to find broadcast reports of that part of its history.

The buzz enjoyed by the stations will dissipate with the ships' departure. But, never fear: WJZ is already planning a new round of promotions around its sponsorship of Artscape. That city fair of food, crafts and music isn't due for nearly a month, but the promotions will start this weekend, WJZ's Newman said.

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