At Channel 8, news need not bleed to lead

Ninth. They reported it ... ninth.

Suicide near the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. A grisly end to life at the gateway to a life-loving city. A gift-wrapped report of violence and irony tied in a big, bright bow of yellow police tape. Tele-irresistible.

Yet it landed ninth, two stories into the second block. Even more admirable? Eight preceding stories stressed real lives over rubbernecking and community over crime.

Give it up for the grown-ups.

Balance demands no less after last week's column called out those precocious scamps at Channel 13 who play the fright card with subtle editorial tweaking and audio-visual enhancements, making it must viewing on Halloween night. Maturity -- respecting viewers enough to enlighten, not unnerve -- is more the M.O. of Channel 8.

Last week's 6 p.m. broadcast -- the day's linchpin newscast -- was a snapshot of their doggedly adult approach. Though shackled to competitive pressures more than cable sister station Las Vegas One (praised previously for an aversion to police-siren journalism), Channel 8's sense of proportion and priorities leave viewers less afraid and more informed.

That night's news lineup was a lesson in newsworthiness, assuming the goal is journalism over voyeurism.

Reporter Aaron Drawhorn's story on CityCenter's potential to buoy the Las Vegas economy took the lead spot, its citywide impact outweighing lack of compelling footage -- no police interviews, distraught relatives or breathless neighbor accounts. Also near the top was an assist-the-viewer segment: Paula Francis' rundown of hiring at the Hard Rock Café and Wells Fargo Bank.

Community concerns continued through Chris Saldana's story on patient drop-off and staff vacancies at Southern Hills Hospital after expected growth ran head-on into the recession, and Dave Courvoisier's item on food stamp benefits expiring for some Nevadans without notification.

Other bloodless stories included Sen. Harry Reid's intervention to save some local post offices from closure, the I-Team's report on prescription drug addicts conning meds out of Vegas dentists, and local educators urging parents to ensure returning students use common sense measures to guard against the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, the tone more about offering advice than sounding alarm.

By broadcast's end, the numbers were impressive: Of 14 news stories, only two -- a short murder trial update and the equally brief Strip suicide -- referenced violence. Excepting Las Vegas One, Channel 8 airs the least blood-stained newscasts in town.

As resource-challenged Channel 5 remains short of investigative depth, Channel 13 is trapped by consultant-style cliches and a disheveled Channel 3 rebuilds its brand under new news chief Bob Stoldal, Channel 8's got the genuine journalistic juice.

Though a single news judgment doesn't validate an entire news organization, what aired ninth one night suggests a reason to stop there first.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld or 702-383-0256.