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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010

Local TV news lacks serious reporting

By David Shapiro

A defining moment at the NewsMorphosis 2.0 conference on the future of local news was when Hawai'i News Now news director Chris Archer expressed dismay at watching the three local newscasts simultaneously and seeing them all covering the same stories.

I agreed with his concern about pack journalism, but almost choked on his conclusion that maybe there just isn't enough news in Hawai'i to cover.

That confirmed my fears about local TV news becoming more and more about technical glitz, fancy sets and personality, personality, personality.

If TV newsrooms can't find enough news to cover, it's only because they have lost so much leadership and experience in the market consolidation that they don't know where to look anymore.

Local TV news operates from a narrow frame of reference in which the typical newscast has become a recitation of the police blotter, the best daily melodrama from the courts, a few staged political sound bites, a soft feature and three weather segments per half hour whether there were exceptional meteorological happenings or not.

In other words, easy hits that require little serious reporting. It's no surprise you won't find news to cover if you don't dig for it.

It's a shame because Hawai'i TV news at one time had formidable journalists who broke big stories and were leading authorities on their beats. Think Barbara Marshall, Tina Shelton, Matt Levi, Gregg Takayama, Jim Dooley, Barbara Tanabe, Elisa Yadao, Doug Woo, Jim McCoy, Richard Borreca, Ken Kashiwahara, Bambi Weil, Byron Baker, Bob Jones and many others.

With exceptions like Denby Fawcett at KITV, Howard Dicus at Hawai'i News Now and a few others, there's just not the same reporting stature in TV news anymore, and young reporters won't grow into it from being assigned to stand in the dark reporting "live" on traffic accidents that were cleaned up eight hours ago.

Archer's comment reflects the small thinking at Hawai'i News Now. Once-mighty KHON is now carried almost entirely on anchor Joe Moore's respected shoulders, and only KITV, which in addition to Fawcett has experienced hands such as Keoki Kerr, Catherine Cruz, Daryl Huff, Paula Akana and Pamela Young, has much meat in its news report.

With Honolulu's two daily newspapers about to consolidate, we'll soon see a similar drastic contraction in print reporting, and the void in the amount of news and information on public affairs available to Hawai'i readers and viewers is going to be striking.

There's plenty of news out there, just fewer local media committed to digging it out.