BlathrWayne Lorentz

Showing blathrs with the tag “WGN-TV.”

Thursday, December 15th, 2022 Alive 18,860 days

A screenshot of surveilance video on WGN-TV

This morning the big story on WGN-TV news was another mugging in Chicagoʼs Lincoln Park neighborhood, as illustrated by the screenshot above.

Why is yet another mugging in the nationʼs third-largest city a big news story? As a former television news producer, I can answer that.

  • Itʼs part of a series of muggings that appear to be caused by the same group of people.
  • It happened in a part of the city that is generally considered safe.
  • It happened in the middle of the day.
  • The mugger threatened to shoot the victimʼs dog.
  • There was video available of the crime.

I canʼt speak to what happened in the WGN-TV newsroom when this story was written. I can, however, state that if I had aired this story in any of the cities where I produced TV news — Chicago, Houston, Cincinnati, and even Green Bay — the newsroom would have gotten complaint calls from people claiming that the only reason we aired the story is because it happened in a “white” neighborhood.

This is incorrect.

While itʼs true that muggings happen all the time Chicago neighborhoods that are more “diverse” and impoverished than Lincoln Park, the reason this was a big story is because it was the intersection of the five factors listed above. And of all those factors, the last one is the most important: There was video.

Television is a visual medium. TV without pictures is called “radio.”

Lincoln Park is a rich neighborhood, which means more people can afford personal security cameras, which means more video of crime is available. Englewood, as a random example, is a poorer neighborhood, which means fewer people can afford personal security cameras. Therefore, thereʼs less video of crime from that area, and thus itʼs less likely to be the main story of the newscast, unless itʼs made into a larger piece with crime statistics and interviews with cops, politicians, criminologists, residents, and whoever else is available.

I canʼt count the number of times Iʼve had to weigh two news stories, and chose the lesser one simply because video was available. If the news program isnʼt visually compelling, itʼs an important factor in people tuning out, ratings going down, and the next thing you know, youʼre on the street.

Struggling to make important, but non-visual, stories more palatable to a television audience is the reason that TV stations put all kinds of text on the screen. A still picture with a caption over the anchorʼs shoulder. A list of bullet points on one side of the screen. Even putting text between two anchors sitting in front of a chroma wall. And sometimes all the visual tricks in the book canʼt make a non-visual story work on TV and Iʼve said, “Let radio have it.”

Race is often an easy answer to not understanding how things work, but in local news it is seldom the right answer.

On a side note, Iʼve noticed that reporters in Chicago now call muggings “robberies.” The common term for a mugging when I lived in Chicago was “strong-arm robbery.” Itʼs a very Chicago term with a long history. I suspect the problem is too many people working in Chicago TV who are not from Chicago, and not thoughtful enough to adopt the local customs.

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Say what?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022 Alive 18,845 days

News anchor on WGN-TV: ”Thank you, Terry Savage.”

The HomePod across my living room: *bing* Hi there!”

I guess my HomePodʼs name is Terry Savage.

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Hi, Shern-Min!

Friday, March 4th, 2022 Alive 18,574 days

KHOU/Houstonʼs downtown studio at the George R. Brown Convention Center

Itʼs nice to see a TV station with a streetfront studio. They were in fashion in the 1990ʼs, and most large markets had at least one. They were a way to showcase the station in high-traffic areas, similar to the way big consumer brands like Starbucks, Hershey, and Nokia build flagship stores on busy tourist streets to serve as 3D interactive billboards.

The first one I saw was at KSDK/Saint Louis in 1994. Chicago is a walking town, so by the early 2000ʼs, several radio and television stations built their own. WLS-TV, WMAQ-TV, WBBM-TV, and WGN radio all had them. WKQX radio had one in the Merchandise Mart, but since the Mart doesnʼt have much of a street-level presence, it faced inside, where all the office workers could see it. WLUP radio and WFLD television each did something similar at Michigan Plaza, but while the radio stationʼs version was well done, it was hard to find. The TV station never really pulled it off. Even Loyola Universityʼs WULW/Chicago, and its student TV station had a streetfront studio.

The last time I checked, both WLS-TV and WBBM-TV have let their former showcase spaces deteriorate, and theyʼre not much of a draw anymore. WGN radio was still using its space in Tribune Tower extensively, but no longer 24 hours a day. WGN had an interesting gimmick where a microphone was suspended outside of the studio, and the talk show hosts would occasionally engage members of the public.

A similar setup was featured in a Tony Hillerman book, outside of KNDN/Farmington. Itʼs possible that it was real, since the Hillerman books tend to be more fact than fiction.

When I was at WGN-TV we longed for a streetfront studio, like the big stations downtown. But we were way out in North Central, pretty much half-way out of town. When WGN radio opened its showcase studio, we were jealous, since the space next to WGNʼs studio was originally designed to be a TV studio, and itʼs where WGN-TV was located until it moved out of downtown in the 1960ʼs. We always thought that space should rightly be a TV studio again, especially with all of our competitors opening shiny new studios all over downtown.

That never happened, because the people who owned the TV station at the time thought the prime downtown location was better used as retail space, then a museum, then retail space, and then left empty.

The picture above is KHOU/Houstonʼs downtown streetfront studio, and the woman in front of it is anchor Shern-Min Chow. We worked together for about five years, and she was always nice to me, but I donʼt think sheʼd remember me, so I didnʼt say hi.

When I was at KHOU, we prided ourselves on the fact that we were the only TV station downtown. All the others were half-way out of town, and when important things happened, we were usually better positioned to get to the news before everyone else.

Since then, KHOU has moved even farther away from downtown than the other stations. Its main studio is in the Galleria Area, but at least this satellite studio gets daily use. The only TV station that does local news thatʼs farther away is KIAH/Houston, but its news product is a very faded shadow of what it was when I was there.

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