News-junkie Houstonians who are starved for entertainment now have a great new option: the 10 p.m. news on KHOU.
Channel 11 has long been the most sober of this city's TV news offerings, occasionally even eschewing a run-of-the-mill police chase for a City Hall story.
But KHOU's late broadcast now features a new twist on its "partnership" with the Houston Chronicle: a sneak peek at the headlines in the next day's paper.
The idea itself is kind of a yawn in today's world of ever-growing media monopolies. In cities like Chicago, New York, Phoenix and Tampa, print reporters whose paychecks are signed by the same people who own the local TV station regularly show up on the air to talk about their stories. That isn't the case here -- KHOU is owned by Belo Corporation (owners of The Dallas Morning News), and the Chron is a Hearst newspaper -- but the two entities have been cooperating for some years now. The Chron's Web site features KHOU video, and KHOU has for some reason long had an occasional feature where Chron political cartoonist Clyde Peterson shows off his work. (The outlets also share political polling costs, not to mention an aversion to talking with the Press.)
Media company executives -- the kind of people who, a few years ago, could use the word synergy with a straight face -- love the idea of having their newspaper people show up on their television stations. But town meetings done for the Poynter Institute, a journalism-industry group, indicate that many viewers dismiss the gimmick as simply free advertising, whether it's the TV station touting the paper or the paper's Web site linking to television video.
"They insist that you do more than just promote each other -- they want stronger content," says Poynter's Al Tompkins.
We don't know how all this interviewing-print-reporters synergy works in those other cities, but here in Houston the process is definitely a bit rocky, if the efforts we've seen are any indication. Near the end of the 10 p.m. broadcast, perky anchor Lisa Foronda, or even perkier anchor Greg Hurst, announces brightly that it's time for a look at tomorrow's Chronicle!
The camera then cuts to a reporter or assistant city editor in the newsroom. Sometimes the print grunt tries to out-perk the TV folks, but more often the conversation reveals the deeply inherent contempt that newspaper reporters have for their television counterparts. It usually goes like this:
GREG HURST [with a big "We're all fellow journalists in this together!" smile]: So, Joe, what's this I hear about a big story in tomorrow's paper about public officials getting Astros tickets?
JOE: Um yeah Well, yes, we ummm have a story about that. Public officials and community groups received over $100,000 worth of tickets to Astros games.
HURST: That's a lot of tickets!
JOE: Um, yes, it is. And, um, these officials or groups had more than $150,000 in food and drinks paid for by the taxpayers.
HURST: That's a lot of food and drinks!
JOE: Um, yes. It is.
"That's why we're doing a story on it," Joe, or whoever, doesn't somehow add.
Things got a bit strange April 4. Hurst hooked up with the Chronicle's medical reporter, Leigh Hopper. Hopper told of a story in the next day's newspaper detailing how local hospitals would be receiving $46 million in unclaimed Texas Lottery winnings.
The story itself was fine. But it came from a press release that the Texas Department of Health had put out that day, with a full listing of each hospital in the state receiving money, and how much. So instead of doing its own story on the press release, KHOU briefly interviewed a Chron reporter about a story she was doing the next day on what by then would be a day-old press release.
We guess it was only time constraints that kept KHOU from interviewing the Chron's Astros beat writer to get that day's final score.
It's a shame that KTRK isn't "partnering" with the Chron. They could have set up a nice debate over a big story Channel 13 did on an arrest in Montgomery April 3.
"The FBI says terrorists may be using baby formula to help funnel money to overseas terrorist groups!" 13 reported, showing video of a front-porch news conference by Montgomery Police Chief Jackie McDonald. Two people had been arrested in the tiny town for altering bar codes on hundreds of cans of baby formula. Similar scams reportedly have funded some terror groups.
The Chron was a little more skeptical. It reported that McDonald passed on the information to the FBI and the U.S. Customs Service, but an FBI spokesman told the paper it was "a big stretch" to make a terrorist connection.
"McDonald," the Chron's Harvey Rice added dryly enough, "said he had expected the FBI and Customs to deny the terrorism links because the investigation is ongoing."
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