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Edgy News Arrives in Tampa



I do a lot of TV and radio pundit gigs -- sitting in a studio with a few other people tossing around opinions on politics, culture or society -- so when the producer who usually books me on WTVT-Ch. 13's midday talk segment asked me to participate in something they were calling the Lightning Round, I said yes without thinking much.

Turns out, I had agreed to appear on the tail end of WTVT's first 11 p.m. newscast Monday, the NewsEdge.

Conceived as a four-minute roundtable on a variety of topics, this "Lightning Round" thing was predictably superficial. Seated with anchor Mark Wilson, sports guy Chip Carter and weatherman Paul Dellegatto (guess who was the chocolate chip in that cookie), I helped them tackle topics such as a local church's sign saying "To Hell with Happy Holidays" (bad!) and the Buccaneers ascending to first place in the division defying all prognostications (good!)

What bothered me most, was that the segment was filmed at 4 p.m. that afternoon, yet was presented within the show with no explanation -- leaving viewers to assume we were live in the studio, because everything else in the show seemed to be done live.

Turns out, NewsEdge employed a few such tricks during its inaugural broadcast. Reporter Gloria Gomez delivered two reports live in an area that looked suspiciously like the fountains in front of WTVT's studios. And one of her reports was on the results of a survey about sexual harassment in high school which was conducted in 1997! (How many kids surveyed? Where were they located? We don't know, because Gomez didn't tell us.)

What NewsEdge does have, is lots of flashy graphics and swooshy sound effects -- an odd, kinetic bridge between the vapid reporting style of Fox News Channel and WTVT's usually sound journalism.

Besides the 1997 survey, there was a story on a local guy who builds improved harnesses to hold gunners inside Humvees, a high-velocity spin through the story (reported by newspapers days ago) of a black man unreasonably detained at a local Wal-Mart, brief bits of national news and a woman who carries a mannequin looking like her husband to the movies and a restaurant. Other than the story on a local parent who feels her daughter was helped by a teacher accused of sexually abusing another student -- and the weather -- was there anything in this show that couldn't have waited to air until the following morning? If ever?

(Fox News Channel creator Roger Ailes)

Word is that Fox News plans to review tapes of the first few shows with an eye toward duplicating the format in other markets. Certainly, the program provides an eye-catching framework for local news done the Fox way -- something Fox News Channel creator Roger Ailes promised to develop when he took over as head of Fox's owned-and-operated stations.

It also serves as a showcase for anchor Mark Wilson, son of top dog anchor John Wilson, who the station has sought to feature for many years. I'm also hearing the format was developed by Sue Kawalerski, a former assistant news director at WTVT whose shining moment was coming up with the idea of parking a Ryder truck in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa on the day the Timothy McVeigh trial started in 1997 to test security. (law enforcement was extremely not pleased)

But considering WTVT's long struggle to convince the Tampa Bay area's traditional news viewers it wasn't a slave to Fox's high-octane approach, NewsEdge is a curious step in the other direction. My suggestion: find some compelling content to go with all the bells and whistles, before viewers notice how little substance lies behind the sizzle.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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