By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
There's a group of people pissed off at local Fox affiliate KRIV, and they've also taken to the Web. And even though the site doesn't offer topless pictures of Mark Berman, a lot of folks in Houston have been trying to log on to it.
The site, www.fox26investigates.com, hit the Web the last week of April. It's since been taken off, leading to much speculation about who's responsible for it and what happened.
It's clearly not a fan site: The index of subjects surfers are invited to click to include sexual harassment, drug use, bad journalism, falling ratings and poor management.
Some of those stories mention reporters, staffers or managers by name, along with a note saying that further details will be coming in May. Especially criticized is KRIV general manager D'Artagnan Bebel, who has shaken up the station since taking over a little more than a year ago.
Bebel has been frantically quizzing his employees, trying to find out who's behind the site.
And who is behind it? A guy named Alan, and a group calling itself News Media Watch.
Alan doesn't want to give out his last name, at least until group members hold a press conference later this month to announce their project. His informal organization is planning to turn a spotlight on stations around the country that it feels are practicing bad journalism.
"A couple of people who founded [the group] were themselves the subject of stories that they felt were unfair," Alan says, without getting more specific.
He claims that one company, the subject of a story currently being worked on by KRIV investigative reporter Randy Wallace, allowed him to surreptitiously tape Wallace's interviews; the Web site will show whatever Wallace leaves out if it feels the story is unfair.
Alan says the Web site that went up in late April was only a prototype and wasn't supposed to be seen. "We were beta-testing and we didn't tell anyone about it, but somehow word got around," he says. "Immediately we got just tons of inquiries about it."
They soon replaced the site with a "Coming in May" screen. They have chatted with Fox corporate lawyers, but so far have not been asked to take the site down or not put anything more up.
"We're hoping one of the stations sues us," Alan says.
"What they put up was so scurrilous we thought it should not be dignified with a comment," says Muriel Reis, a Fox vice president in New York. "It was libelous and defamatory."
The group will hold a press conference in Houston on May 20, Alan says, to announce the other two stations besides KRIV that it plans to target. Every month after that, he claims, a new station will be added to the hit list.
Not surprisingly, he won't say which former or current KRIV staffers are feeding him tips.
Bebel didn't return a call seeking comment.
A Tale of Two Cities
It certainly was a breathtaking lead on the April 30 story bannered across the top of the Houston Chronicle's sports-section front: "In what might have been the most stunning announcement in the history of auto racing," reporter Terry Blount wrote, the Firestone Firehawk 600 had been canceled the previous day because of safety concerns.
Gee: "The most stunning announcement in the history of auto racing"? Stories don't get much bigger than that.
Unless you're The New York Times. It devoted all of four wire-service paragraphs to The Most Stunning Announcement in the History of Auto Racing.
Of course, it's the snooty Times, and elitist New York.
But you'd think that The Most Stunning Etc. would have rated a follow-up or two in the next day's Chron, right? It's hard to think of something that is the most stunning event in any given subject area being just a one-day story, unless the subject area was something like a badminton tournament or a Murder, She Wrote fan expo.
What was so stunning to the Chron on Monday, though, was of absolutely no interest on Tuesday. No follow-ups appeared in the paper, according to a search of the archives.
A Tale of Two Titties
Dignity has been restored to KPRC-TV. While many of its competitors have gotten caught up in the frenzy of sweeps month, airing investigations and special reports, Channel 2 has kept its eye on the prize.
Plenty of prizes, as it turns out. The station has often tried to jump-start ratings by offering contest giveaways during sweeps, but it's outdone itself this time. The "Millionaire May" contest offers viewers a chance to win a Rolex watch, a weekend trip to Paris, a "spa getaway," a Jacuzzi or cash.
"One pre-selected winning number is worth ONE MILLION DOLLARS! It could be yours!" the station's Web site screams.
Of course, you have to be watching when your number is called.