News Hostage

Careful What You Wish For

When last we heard (anonymously) from current and former staffers at KTRH-AM, the city's leading news radio operation, they were exulting over the departure of longtime general manager Laura Morris.

Now many of them seem to be meekly asking: Umm, is it too late to change our minds?

The complaints about Morris, who left October 26, concerned mostly her autocratic and stress-inducing management style, a style that despite the bitching resulted in an aggressive, award-winning news operation [News Hostage, November 4]. Complaints about the new boss, Mark McCoy, go to something deeper and more disturbing: the idea of what the station should be covering.

According to newsroom sources, McCoy has brought with him from Sacramento a skewed vision of what makes good news radio.

McCoy, says one, "thinks all radio is good for is breaking news. To that extent we have reporters going to house fires where no one is hurt, car and bus accidents that aren't that big a deal but other motorists can see it, and cop chases. He really loves cop chases."

Sounds like McCoy has a real future in TV news, but how exactly a radio reporter covers yet another unspectacular cop chase is beyond us. ("The fleeing suspect WENT THROUGH A STOP SIGN, Lana!" maybe.)

McCoy has allegedly told staffers that they could simply provide color commentary on chases that are being broadcast on television.

The station also recently dispatched a reporter to cover a school bus that had suffered a flat tire. No students came even close to being injured; the best the reporter could come up with was the breathtaking news that some had been "jostled."

"Our news content sounds like crap, and the reporters are very aware of it, but there's nothing we can do," one staffer says. "We are being told not to do 'issue'-oriented stories anymore because McCoy says they have no place in radio. We instead should be listening more to the [police] scanners, so when something happens we can react to it."

McCoy didn't respond to a request for comment, but staffers say that he has brought in a team of consultants and business types to change the way things are done at KTRH. The station's news bureaus at City Hall and the courthouse are in danger, reporters fear; there are even nervous rumors that the station eventually will transform itself into all talk, all the time.

Come back, Laura Morris. All is apparently forgiven.

South of the Border

Channel 11 has opened a Mexico City bureau. That's surprising and commendable in these days of bottom-line madness among local news operations.

That same bottom-line madness, though, is apparently making sure that KHOU gets a lot of mileage out of the bureau.

The week of January 10 we got a long report on how Houston is going to have to start dealing with its air-pollution problems because of a looming federal deadline for improvements. KHOU decided to show us how Mexico City is dealing with its problems, such as cops pulling over cars with smoking exhausts.

Well, hell, since it's working so well in breathtakingly unhealthy Mexico CityŠ

At any rate, the sign-off to the piece mentioned that KHOU is the only Houston television station with a Mexico City bureau.

A week later we had a story on yet another problem afflicting Houstonians: people who use cell phones while they drive. One city, we were told, has taken steps to combat the problem. Sure enough, through the smog we saw how those intrepid Mexico City folk are dealing with cell phones.

At the end, we were reminded yet again that KHOU has local television's only Mexico City bureau. And is working it damn hard, by the way.

Next up: How Mexico City is dealing with the question of whether Houston should build an arena for the Rockets.

Here He Comes to Save the Day

Speaking of the Rockets, the Houston Chronicleably fulfilled its noble purpose of being the mouthpiece for the powers-that-be with its January 21 story, bannered across the top of the front page, that said Enron chairman Ken Lay was somehow, more or less, we-don't-know-how-exactly-how, going to get involved with a new push to build a basketball arena.

"Lay Getting Behind Rockets' Cause: Enron Chief Wants Team to Stay," the headline thundered.

Facts were in short supply in the accompanying story. Lay said he "will play a prominent role" in trying to keep the Rockets. How? "Lay would not elaborate on the role he intends to play this time around, saying those decisions are still being made."

We guess it's enough for Lay to send word down from the mountaintop that he has deigned to see what he can do about those Rockets.

The main point of the story -- including its prominent placement -- seemed to be to serve notice that the Chron is going to be very, very aggressive in the drive to build Rockets owner Les Alexander a new playpen.

The paper threatened: "Most observers questioned this week have become increasingly pessimistic about the basketball team remaining here," the second graf of the story said. "Estimates range from a 50 percent to a better than 90 percent chance that the Rockets will bolt when their Compaq Center lease expires in November 2003."

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