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Egypt protests deserve local news prominence

Does what happens beyond our backyard belong on our front lawn?

That’s an evergreen debate, globally speaking, in the TV news biz when gauging how, where or even whether to slot international news into regional newscasts. Do viewers care?

Local news should be hyper-local, goes one argument. Viewers can get everything else elsewhere, so grab ’em — and keep ’em – mostly with the hometown skinny (the ratings rationale). News is news, goes the counterargument. Viewers don’t necessarily make remote stops at cable or network news or even online, so omitting it leaves them with parochial attitudes toward the world, breeding ignorance (the sociological response).

Protests in Egypt that began Jan. 25 over President Hosni Mubarak’s reign refocus attention on the question. Local story placement varied as national coverage intensified late last week, especially Friday, the eve of a scheduled Las Vegas rally by Egyptian-Americans at the Federal Building.

Looking at late-night newscasts because they’re the day’s news wrap-ups (with the caveat that the story might have been played differently at other hours), only KSNV-TV, Channel 3 thought it crucial enough at 11 p.m. to earn the lead spot, trumping all local stories.

Wise decision.

Blending network reports with Jerry Brown’s interviews of local Egyptian-Americans, News-3 also aired a statement from Sen. John Ensign expressing concern that Islamic radicals might manipulate the situation, adding another dimension to the media narrative of fury and violence.

Runner-up for best placement was KVVU-TV, Channel 5 at 10 p.m., which ran it second and at length, also with network footage paired with Matt DeLucia’s interviews, behind coverage of a pit bull attacking its owners. Over at KLAS-TV, Channel 8, it also slotted second — following a riveting Aaron Drawhorn report on the local influx of a “super cocaine” triggering horrific reactions in users — but it was just a brief report of network video and Dave Courvoisier’s voice-over. Assigning it the least importance was KTNV-TV, Channel 13, which led with the grisly pit bull piece and pushed the protests to mid-newscast in a roundup segment that also included Charlie Sheen’s rehab.

Given the strategic conundrum facing the United States from protests in an allied Arab country, as well as the sheer human drama, the story is, essentially, local, even without the angle of a Las Vegas rally supporting Egyptian protesters.

Anything that captures the attention of local viewers in any locality — and this story, rightly or wrongly, does that more than any earthquake in a third-world country – is, by definition, local. Viewers are interested? Geography’s irrelevant — even if the interest is triggered by the voyeurism of bloodied Egyptians flooding Cairo streets.

Later newscasts should, for those reasons, adopt what local morning shows already do for logistical reasons. Occupied by shaving, showering and getting the kiddies off to school, viewers aren’t prone to channel-surf from a show with strictly local news to CNN for the national/international scene — and back again — so local shows include both, especially since local news that early is mostly rehashed from the previous night.

Once violence ebbs, dramatic video vanishes and coverage turns into a cerebral policy debate, interest will wane. Until then, watch the world. …

Watch YOUR world.

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

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