Anchors, reporters capture spirit

TV/RADIO COLUMN

Ravens: Local TV stations catch football fever with everything from purple hair to pompoms.

January 17, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Baltimore Ravens madness is in full flight - and nowhere is that more evident than on television. Some broadcast news figures have proved unable to reflect a celebrating community without joining in the celebration themselves.

It's been 30 long years since Baltimore had a football team in the Super Bowl, and the Ravens' participation in it provides a welcome lift for the city. TV stations, most of which feed viewers a steady diet of other depressing stories, embrace this sort of event as a time to carry welcome news. Some folks, however, are getting carried away.

After the team's win in the AFC championship game, WMAR anchor Stan Stovall wore a Ravens jacket and lofted his index finger in the air - as if to say, "We're No. 1."

WMAR weatherman Norm Lewis reported last week from an area bar with his hair dyed Ravens purple. And anchorwoman Mary Beth Marsden and sports director Scott Garceau were seen shaking pompoms in a promotional spot.

"This transcends a story to me - this is really about the feeling in the community," says Staci Feger-Childers, WMAR's news director. "I think it's wonderful that our talent is getting involved like this."

Over on WJZ (Channel 13) anchors Denise Koch and Vic Carter have worn Ravens garb in on-air promotions - and Koch has even worn her Ravens jerseys emblazoned with the number "13" during live news shots. The Ravens were described by colleagues as "we" - as in, "We're going to the Super Bowl!"

It should be noted that The Sun flew the colors, too. Usually, a small red box on the upper right-hand corner of the front-page "flag" indicates the edition. The Ravens name and logo is now appearing on the flag in the corner above five stars, signaling the edition in the team's purple.

Publisher Michael E. Waller asked the newsroom to devise something "symbolic and tasteful" to mark the occasion. The insignia is "whimsical, regional and fun," says Editor William K. Marimow.

"It's a once-in-a-generation story," Anthony F. Barbieri, the Sun's managing editor, says. "I don't think it in any way implies that we're abandoning any standards, or are being soft on covering the Ravens, or are somehow promoting them. [The logo] reflects only that this is a large story for our readers and for us, too."

On television, news reporters and anchors at WJZ and WMAR abandoned almost all pretense of maintaining distance from the team they cover.

The sports reporters generally did a better job of striking a balanced tone. Compared with Koch and weekend anchor Katie Lea- han, WJZ sports director John Buren was relatively restrained.

Gerry Sandusky, WBAL's sports anchor and the son of a longtime Baltimore Colts coach, says he works hard to avoid the "attaboy" tone of many of his peers so he can retain credibility. Both WBAL and WBFF have been more careful than the other two local stations about blending cheer-leading with coverage.

"People who are making their living reporting on crime and airplane crashes can get caught up pretty easily in all the excitement," says Sandusky. "I'm as jazzed up as anyone else about all this. But I think it's imperative that I not be out there wearing my purple knee-high boots, saying `Go Ravens!'"

WJZ scored enormously on Sunday. Of all Baltimore-area households watching television on Sunday afternoon, 62 percent were tuned CBS' coverage of the Raiders-Ravens game on Channel 13. During the last 15 minutes, more than 525,000 households were watching; the game was one of the highest-rated programs here since television meters were first installed seven years ago. That's higher than any Super Bowl, than the finale of "Seinfeld," than the last installment of "Survivor."

The May 1993 finale of NBC's "Cheers" got a slightly higher rating, according to Victoria Rose, the keeper of the figures at WBAL. But Sunday was a night to remember for WJZ: the audience for the 11 p.m. news exceeded the viewership for WBAL and WMAR combined.

A positive light

WJZ periodically draws criticism from this column for the station's booster-minded and often content-light approach to news.

WJZ general manager Jay Newman explains the tenor of his newscast as part of a philosophy guiding the station. "One role of a local television station is to get involved in the community," Newman says. "Television stations need to find ways to support the people, places and things that help make Baltimore great."

As a result, Newman says, the station is turning an intensified focus on a smaller number of events that stir positive reaction from the community. The efforts include both on-air promotions, use of anchors as hosts at events, and stories during the stations newscasts.

So those watching WJZ lately could not have missed: the Kennedy Krieger Institute Festival of Trees; the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure; the Army/Navy Game Celebration; and the New Year's Eve Special, broadcasting from the Inner Harbor.

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