Bark, don't bite


So, how is KTVT-Channel 11's newscast now that popular anchorman Tracy Rowlett has joined the team? Has Rowlett's former station, WFAA-Channel 8, suffered noticeably? If you have an opinion, please feel free to voice it, unless you're Dallas Morning News TV critic Ed Bark.

The word from the Morning News is that as of roughly two months ago, Bark is no longer allowed to write analyses of the content of local news programs -- you know, the sort of stuff TV critics do. Bark's editors, sources tell Buzz, banned reviews of local newscasts to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest as the newspaper expands it news-gathering cooperation with WFAA, which, like the daily, is owned by Belo Corp. Bark will still be permitted to write objective stories about local television.

How can you fairly review someone you're in bed with -- metaphorically speaking -- was the question facing the News. (The non-metaphoric answer is, of course, that you can't. Not ever. Bad idea.)

A cynical person might ask whether the Morning News' high-mindedness will apply as well to other Belo joint ventures -- the company's investment in the American Airlines Center and Dallas Mavericks comes to mind -- but that's an entirely different situation, for reasons that escape us at the moment.

Wait, now we remember. It's convergence, the hot new buzzword in daily newspapering. What that means is, stories that appear in the paper are popping up on WFAA and vice versa as Belo positions itself as a media "content provider," and sharing reporting is much more likely to taint a newspaper's editorial judgment than sharing something more mundane, like money.

Corporate convergence is striking other media conglomerates as well. In Florida, the Tampa Tribune and its sister television station, WFLA, both owned by Media General, not only share reporters and a Web site, but also have offices in the same building. Walt Belcher, the Tribune TV critic, says his bosses ordered him to lay off criticizing local television a year ago as the paper made plans to converge with the television station. The Tribune at first planned to hire an outside critic to fill the role, but recently told Belcher he could resume.

Belcher says he's still waiting to see what happens the first time he must "lower the boom" on either WFLA or its competitors, but he has already had one station question how he reported a straight news story on ratings.

Will Bark face the same sort of questions? You bet. Or, as Brian Jones, vice president and general manager of Channel 11, puts it: "It's very clear that the newspaper and the television station are owned by the same company...It's interesting, because the Belo-owned television station has suffered serious audience erosion, and that has not been pointed out."

Jones specifically mentioned the March 3 editions of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Morning News, both of which contained stories about the most recent local ratings. "Channel 8 sees ratings for its newscasts shrink" was the Telegram's headline. At the Morning News, it was "WFAA wins tight ratings race."

Cubes just wanna have fun

MSNBC is in town this week to profile Mavericks owner and billionaire-about-town Mark Cuban. But this will be no ordinary, talking-head profile -- we're not even sure you can fit all of Cuban's talking head onto a single TV monitor. Rather, MSNBC execs promise us, this will be a "fun" profile of the founder. The only problem is, MSNBC is having trouble coming up with fun stuff to do with the Cubes, so Buzz has taken it upon itself to offer a few suggestions -- not all of which involve tossing burning hundred-dollar bills off Reunion Arena during a Mavericks game.

How about playing a game of H-O-R-S-E for Lear jets with the staff? Then, it's off to the nearest carnival, where Cuban can hold tryouts for Mini-Mark. After that, the Cubes and the MSNBC staff can build a complex weather machine they can use to take the world hostage. The Cubes could then print up a million "Out of Order" signs and hang them on every vending machine in the city. Or he could give Dale Hansen a few hundred thou to replace Mavericks footage with scenes from Hello, Larry.

He could also buy out Neiman-Marcus' downtown location and sell off its stock at ridiculously low prices: One suit, one nickel! He could then turn over the empty building to the homeless, whom he would then pit against the Mavericks in a never-ending death-match scrimmage. It might also be fun to go to the Mansion on Turtle Creek, get stinking drunk, cause a ruckus with the hotel staff, resist arrest when the police arrive, then bribe the cops with a billion dollars to release him before they get to Lew Sterrett -- though, come to think of it, that's been done.

Pay back a bitch

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the abrasive, conservative, homophobic syndicated radio shrink, has her issues with Dallas. This city treated the Californian with a barrage of bad publicity last time she visited. In March 1997 Dr. Laura offended a group of North Dallas women who paid her a $30,000 speaking fee only to have Schlessinger whine incessantly about every this and that, including why the women who drove her to her gig were wearing so much perfume. Schlessinger, in turn, badmouthed Dallas regularly on the air.

Of course, that won't necessarily stop Channel 11 from airing Schlessinger's new syndicated television show beginning in September -- though, God willing, something else might. A near national riot has occurred over Paramount Television's decision to create the syndicated series, thanks to Schlessinger's history of vicious gay-bashing, leading to an organized effort to keep the show off the air.

Channel 11's Brian Jones says local viewers have begun logging complaints already, and he has sent messages to his bosses at CBS and the program creators at Paramount letting them know the station doesn't want to air something that will offend particular groups. He is not ready, however, to make any commitment about putting a stop to the broadcast in Dallas if Schlessinger doesn't soften her act. "At this particular point, I'm waiting, and I'm going to reserve comment," Jones says.

Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams


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