Friday, February 24, 2006

Not everyone gets anthrax

WNEP's Talkback forums are a fun read, if only to see the pointless comments of "WOW GREAT STATION!!!!!!" or "Joe Snedeker is [YOUR OPINION GOES HERE]." But this post brought up an interesting point on news coverage.

The poster, "Jen," complained that WNEP didn't touch the story about the New York doctor who performed at Mansfield University, and was later diagnosed with anthrax. Mark Sowers, WNEP's webmaster, responded by asking if it was newsworthy "if a local man gets the flu, or gets the measles?"

You should know that anthrax can occur naturally, as it did in this case. The man got it from goat skin he imported from Africa. As such, there's no terrorist connection, which would explain why WNEP didn't touch it. Or, perhaps they already had a full news lineup that day, and didn't see why they should head outside of the market into Tioga County, which is covered by the Elmira stations.

It's a tough call, but I believe WNEP was wrong to not cover this story. Anthrax, be it from goat skin or a terrorist, is front page news for obvious reasons. This wasn't breaking news, but it was worth mentioning, and WNEP failed to do that.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a pretty easy way to decide who royally screwed this one up...

Did the NY Times (the paper, the real journalism outlet) have the story on the anthrax poisoning ? YES.

This was a bad, local call by NEP. Perhaps they had a full boat of news for the night and decided this story did not warrant any coverage. What a bad call! And what a surprise too from the station that had to make two retractions and apologies for mistakes all in one block last night.

A live reporter had to recant an error in her PKG: talk about falling while trying to walk.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOR 9 in NY did the story for the past couple of nights, I guess they know news when they see it.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never been a big fan of sending a crew OUT of the viewing area to cover a story, unless that story is so huge you just cannot ignore it. Tioga County is not our viewing area, nor is Pike County, Berks County, Centre County, yet all local newsies get into these counties from time to time. From my personal obsesrvation, most times the stories are weak, which makes it even more confounding. You wouldn't go to Endicott or Johnson City to cover whatever, why go to Mansfield?

The Mansfield anthrax story could've been covered without going to Mansfield, because all we saw from Mansfield was one or two sound-bites and an auditorium with like a dozen students in it. People there were not all keyed up over the issue. Misuse of resources has dogged all three stations over the years, but WBRE and WYOU are the worst offenders.

Put another way; try covering the metro more comprehensively instead of making a four-hour roundtrip on some bogus story.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Howard Beale said...

When WNEP covered the recent hotel fire in Bellefonte, which is not in their home market, they primarily relied on video sent from the ABC affiliate there. For the Mansfield anthrax story, they could've asked WENY-TV (Elmira's ABC affiliate) for video. It's not a far drive from Muncy either, so sending a reporter from their Lycoming Mall bureau wouldn't have been a stretch. Barring all that, why not a quick VO?

WNEP's problem is they try to cover too much. Here's what I mean. They've found a good niche in covering the fringe counties that WBRE and WYOU rarely venture into, like Snyder, Bradford, Schuylkill, etc. But they sometimes forget about their "home" area of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which leaves WBRE and WYOU to jump in and fill that void.

What's more important? Constantly going out to those fringe counties, or focusing on the core market? I'd say choice number two, but with WNEP's resources and ratings domination, they could just have Mike Lewis and Marisa Burke spin in their chairs...and people would still watch.

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would you call Schuylkill, Snyder, Bradford County "fringe"? There are viewers there that count in this market. Just because you may not live there, and WBRE and WYOU choose not to cover news there, doesn't make those areas fringe.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Howard Beale said...

They are fringe counties because, by definition, they are on the fringe of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market. Because of their distance from those cities, all three stations rarely venture out that way, unless something big happens. Just look at Bradford County. The last time WBRE, WYOU, and WNEP ventured up that way was for the Dustin Briggs trial.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say WNEP "rarely" ventures into Schuylkill County. I see several stories from Bob Reynolds there each week. They also have two reportes covering the western portion of the viewing area. Another reason WNEP is number one is because they cover all of NEPA, not just Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Howard Beale said...

I misspoke when I said Schuylkill County was "fringe." WNEP has long covered that area, and now WBRE and WYOU venture down there as well.

(Fun fact: WYOU used to have a Schuylkill County bureau in the pre-Nexstar days.)

I suppose a better example of a "fringe" county would be Clinton County. It's the western-most county in this market, and nobody really bothers to cover the area.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Snyder County - Closer to Harrisburg than Scr/W-B, and folks there know that and view local TV that way.

Bradford County - More likely to be served by either Elmira or Binghamton, they have never felt part of this market, and rightfully so.

Clinton County - Stronger ties to Centre County, which in turn, is more closely tied to Johnstown-Altoona.

Schuylkill County - The further south you go in the county, the less there is any connection to Scr/W-B. Remember that Schuylkill County was in recent history part of the Philadelphia market, perhaps it should still be. Also remember that a good many from Pottsville on south commute to Harrisburg on a daily basis.

The anthrax story in Tioga County was bogus. Tioga County is no way in this market, why send a crew? If you want to send a crew, why not send one to NYC? From Moosic, it's about the same drive. A closing thought - WBRE promised Schuylkill County a bureau about ten years ago, they never delivered. Shocked?

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story wasn't bogus. Anthrax grabs headlines, whether it's from Al Qaeda or from animal skin imported from Africa. WBRE wasted its time heading out to Mansfield though. Why not a simple VO instead? That's what WNEP should've done. Sure, Tioga County isn't in this market, but neither is Centre County. That didn't stop WNEP from reporting on that hotel fire, or trying to appease Penn State fans by sending Skycam out there when the Nittany Lions were in the Orange Bowl.

12:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few posts back, someone mentioned that because Snyder Co. is closer to Harrisburg, people there watch the Harrisburg locals. I find this hard to believe. I actually spent a few years in Harrisburg and their local stations NEVER covered any stories from Snyder Co. WNEP, by contrast, seems to report on Synder Co. every couple of days.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

W-B/Scr might as well be on the other side of the moon as far as people in Snyder County are concerned. Hell, let's face it, a lot of people in Nanticoke don't know where Carbondale is, and vice versa. My point all along was that sending a crew out of market, even if it is an adjacent county, is largely squandering resources, and I'll stick with that thinking.

And it really wouldn't upset me if Scr/W-B stations stopped covering stories in Centre County for the most part. The hotel fire ended up airing so much because WNEP had "flames." If they lacked dramatic video, like walls collapsing, the story would've never gotten the play it did.

1:15 PM  
Blogger D.B. Echo said...

I think this story had a local angle just because it took place at Mansfield University. Probably more than a few local families have kids at Mansfield. If someone developed, say, encephalitis at the State College campus of Penn State, or if a pipe bomb were found in an off-campus house at Shippensburg, or there was a dorm fire at Franklin & Marshal, would these stories get coverage locally?

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For Starters, there is no doubt in my mind, WNEP definitly made a bad call on this one. Binghamton stations, which don't cover that county either, had the anthrax as their lead story. WNEP has so many vehicles and the chopper, there is no excuse that they didn't get atleast a VO.

Second, WNEP does focus on their core cities. WNEP will go live for some small fundraiser, but when there's a fatal rollover in Susquehanna County, who would think of sending someone up there? The simple answer - Binghamton. WNEP is losing literally thousands of viewers to the Binghamton stations, and why not. They aren't that much closer then the scranton stations are, yet they come down. The Scranton stations truly are losing viewers from the northern tier. A solution, a newsroom somewhere up north, say somewhere off I-81 in Susquehanna County. Will that ever happen, I strongly doubt it. But with the resources and manpower scranton/wilkes has compared to Binghamton, the Binghamton stations put Scranton/Wilkes to shame when it comes to covering actual news up north.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Mark Sowers said...

I found out later in the week that we did cover the story during Thursday's 5:30pm newscast.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Mark Sowers:

You're the one who wrote off your big trap on your station's website, making editorial judgements that do not belong to the job of webmaster.

If I were 16's ND, I would have fired you. And Beales, I hope you approve this post, since Mr. Sowers is the one speaking out on behalf of his rash behavior.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Howard Beale said...

Sowers did apologize for coming across as arrogant. He also clarified that he had no role in the editorial process; he was only offering his opinion.

Compared to some things I've seen on WNEP, Sower's remark was incredibly tame and far from being a reason to even consider firing him.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

22 and 28 have been making poor decisions about news coverage outside SCR/WB for years. In recent months, 16 has joined their side.

16 has been covering many stories in Centre and Pike Counties (Johnstown and NYC markets) and that will just insure that our market size gets smaller.

If a 16 crew is in Centre or Pike, it's not in a county inside the market. Viewers are noticing, especially in the northern counties.

Since total viewers determine what county is in what market. Elmira and Binghamton could steal Bradford and Susquehanna. 16 should cover news in counties it can win. It's been such a monster over the years that poor decisions by the other stations didn't matter.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am upset at this also. I graduated from Mansfield and was up there when the Anthrax was there. I was on campus and did not know what happened. WNEP did cover the rape spree back in 2003 though at the University.

I actually have done some work with the station and know that there are quite a few MU grads there, one being a photog. If anything, they should have some say in this since it being their Alma mater.

As being a Mass Communication student, I feel that if Tom Clark can mention a town in his local radar forcast, it should be covered in teh viewing area. Blue Ridge 13 actually has WNEP anytime in Tioga county and there are weather warnings for the county. So don't tell me that Tioga isn't in the viewing area.

WNEP's problem is that they only cover Luzerne county and their over-exaggeration of fires. If its not fires they are covering, its a fender bender on 81 or a cat stuck in a tree.

2:18 PM  

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