What are the local news room's obligations to the viewing public? Who determines which crime, which murder, which fraud makes the air and why? In a world trained to listen to soundbytes, who decides how many seconds can be devoted to the telling of each story? And how do the very conventions of the medium shape the content and form of the daily news?
The production team at PBS Western Reserve sets out to find answers.
On the most simple level local news is the bundling of timely stories with some sports and weather presented in a period of 30 minutes or an hour. Those constraints alone help to define the nature of local news.
"We have to find a way collectively in this building and in our industry to get our message across to people who want to know what the news is as quickly as they can and yet as thoroughly as they can, which is sort of at odds with one another," explains Ted Henry, anchorman at WEWS/Channel 5 (Cleveland). "Some stories are best suited for TV because we're a visual medium ... [and] some stories with a huge amount of detail are best suited for newspapers and magazines. Some stories fall somewhere in between."
Ted Henry is one of several local network affiliate journalists featured in PBS Western Reserve's local production, TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. The one-hour documentary is a companion piece to the national PBS production, LOCAL NEWS.
TWENTY-FOUR HOURS is a telling, behind-the-scenes look at how local news is constructed. Over one 24-hour period, the documentary follows local news broadcasts to see what each station deems "important news."
Mark Urycki of PBS Western Reserve's NEWSNIGHT AKRON and WKSU-FM follows up by interviewing journalists at all the major news stations in the Cleveland and Akron area to give viewers some insight into how decisions are made and who makes them. Viewers also see the pressure to get the news fast, efforts to improve ratings and the struggle to balance "tabloid" journalism with good civic journalism.
Featured in this broadcast is reporter Alicia Booth of WOIO/Channel 19. Booth is a former anchor from WCNC, the station profiled in the national series, LOCAL NEWS. In North Carolina, she was dismissed from her position because management said she didn't appeal to their demographics.
Also featured in TWENTY-FOUR HOURS are news director Kathy Williams of WEWS/Channel 5 (Cleveland); reporter Dick Russ of WKYC/Channel 3 (Cleveland); and Eric Mansfield, managing editor of Akron's Channel 23 news. Other local anchors, news directors and reporters will also offer their observations of the news behind the news.
Viewers will discover how any piece of news is selected to go to air. Is it a visual story? How "tabloid" might it appear? How will it affect the ratings? What other stations are covering it? TWENTY-FOUR HOURS explores how the news is manipulated and packaged for air, using people, graphics, sets and music that have been specially selected to appeal to a target audience.
TWENTY-FOUR HOURS is a production of PBS Western Reserve. Executive Producer: Don Freeman; Producer/Director: Duilio Mariola; Host: Mark Urycki; Writer: Janis Worley.
A PBS Western Reserve production, 2001.