Following a large-scale tragedy, such as the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia, media critics often dissect coverage of the event on television and in newspapers--something Buzz usually doesn't do. For one thing, daily media outlets, both local and national, are usually at their best as such crises unfold, and this week was no exception. The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram each had outstanding coverage. The news stations, while still ridiculously tied up in their "we had our grainy pictures first" sort of contests, for the most part did what TV can do, which is give new information as it arrives and then repeat itself for hours until more information arrives. In other words, they do what they are supposed to do, for which they deserve a pat on the back and nothing more.
Buzz has no problem with the fact that both the DMN and the Star-T had reporters write stories on the all-day TV coverage of the event, each of them pointing out that WFAA-TV Channel 8 was first on the air with images of the shuttle's demise. Well, we have no problem with the Star-Telegram's decision, because that paper allows its critics to write about local news outlets all the time. It did seem odd, though, that DMN critic Ed Bark, who has not been allowed to critique local news since January 2000, was allowed to come out of local-news retirement and write a story praising fellow Belo employees before going back to cover network TV. (Belo owns Channel 8 and the DMN.)
A quick recap: Three years ago, Bark was told he could no longer critique local news because he could not appear unbiased, given the close working relationship between Channel 8 and the newspaper (Buzz, March 23, 2000). More than a year ago, when Bob Mong became editor of the paper, he and new publisher James Moroney III said they would work to allow Bark to resume covering local news. That has yet to happen, although Mong told Buzz, "It will happen. Soon."
Until then, the problem with the decision to have Bark write a story praising two Channel 8 staffers for doing their jobs--as opposed to, say, doing a story on Dr. Scott Lieberman, the Tyler cardiologist who took pictures of the shuttle that appeared on the front cover of newspapers coast-to-coast--is obvious: It creates the very perception of biased coverage that management says it wanted to avoid. No matter the validity of the story, when you do such a piece once in three years, it looks as though the only time Bark is allowed to write about local news stations is when Channel 8 deserves credit.
"I certainly agree with that perception," Bark says. "That is a problem. As for other concerns, like did we overdo it [three stories on the Channel 8 photogs in Sunday's paper], or should we have used bio boxes for the photographers, was that too much? Well, that wasn't my call. And as for the story on the photographers, I mean, yeah, we had to do it...To do nothing would have been ludicrous, because their pictures were a national story. But, yeah, I completely understand why people would question it. Even though you'll notice that I still didn't critique the broadcasts, because I'm still not allowed to do that.
"In some ways," Bark says, "it was almost unfortunate that another station didn't get the pictures, because the question then is, Would I still have been allowed to do that story? It would have been a good test."