Regime change could signal news shift at Channel 3


Bang -- right there.

Top-of-the-news teasers at 11 p.m. on News-3: drive-by shooting of a local 8-year-old; Texas mother decapitates and cannibalizes her infant; the economy triggers insomnia among anxious Americans.

Lured with brutality and anxiety. Two about assaults on children, one unspeakably horrifying. Two of three not local. All of them negative.

Lacking vivid visuals of human misery, what wasn't teased? Jobs for Las Vegans -- 300 of them -- when two new Target stores open.

Bang -- right there. The terminal brain cancer of TV news: stubborn reliance on leads-that-bleed stories that should be covered without being the grisly bait to hook us. How to reverse the reflex? Hire a new honcho. But can instincts that are so ingrained be retrained? Let's backtrack:

Channel 3 news director Deborah Clayton was fired last Friday from a newsroom awash in discontent (assistant news director Kim Sherwood and executive producer Miles Smith are interim captains of this unsteady ship). They've averaged a new news chief every 21/2 years over the past decade. Insiders cite a raft of complaints to this columnist:

Clayton, a station vet made newsroom ruler in 2007, was widely considered unprepared for the News 3 throne; deep budget slashing and departing staffers, soon to include anchor Mitch Truswell, whose contract wasn't renewed, while retaining unseasoned reporters; ratings nose dive -- 6 p.m. is their sole newscast topping the Nielsens, while the 4 p.m. news has been thumped by the likes of "Judge Joe Brown"; meddling by owner Jim Rogers; and swapping half of the noon news for infomercials.

True? Untrue? We ran it by G.M. Lisa Howfield:

Why was Clayton canned? "I can't talk about personnel matters." Morale in free fall? "I've heard from some that it's great." Decimated budget? "It's tough for everyone in this economy." Reporters who amount to rookies in a midsize market? "I don't think that's true." Rogers' editorial involvement? "I don't believe that's true."

Ratings reversals? "That's true. Every year I say, 'This must be the year NBC gives us a breakout (lead-in).' But I hate to fall back on that excuse. You have to deliver a good news product."

Reaction to rumors? "I'd better spend more time in the news department." Each issue is more complex than outlined here, but bottom-lining it: News-3 should be Watching Out for Themselves.

This column offered suggestions for overhauling the archaic news model: interactive elements, pundits, upbeat news, trading high story counts for in-depth reports. Any interest from a new newsroom navigator? Might they demote the sensational and promote the informational?

"We have to change," Howfield concedes. "We need to find a new, improved way to do local news."

With a touch of healthy skepticism but a ton of genuine optimism, we say an utterly sincere ... thank you.

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

 

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