News Hostage

This Just In (and Trivial)
It was so important that both Channel 11 and Channel 2 broke into their regular late-afternoon programming April 28 to go live on the air. It was... four guys getting not very injured at all in a small industrial accident.

The story merited but a blip in the next day's Chronicle, but then again the Chron doesn't have high-dollar helicopters in the air that need to justify their expense by broadcasting every mishap possible.

Two weeks before the industrial-accident story, Channel 2 had an airborne reporter breathlessly narrating live footage of a Baytown refinery where nothing much seemed to be going on. There had been a flash fire, we were told, and one worker had been taken to a hospital.

It apparently was an exceedingly small flash fire, but that didn't stop Channel 2 from going on at length to say, in essence, "no story here."

Any police car that flips on its party lights and accelerates is leaped upon by these news choppers, resulting in incisive reporting along the lines of, "Well, Steve and Marlene, it appears that the situation is now in hand, and the officer seems to be writing a citation of some kind."

Our favorite recent moment came a month or so ago. We didn't take note of the station, but there was a zoom-lens helicopter visual of a man being rolled on a stretcher into an emergency room. He had been trapped in a pipe, we were told, and had been treated and released earlier in the day.

Now, if you had footage of the guy sheepishly stuck in a pipe, okay. If the guy had suffered some degree of noteworthy injury -- a broken leg, a paper cut, anything -- we could see taking up some oh-so-precious airtime.

Then again, we're not paying for a helicopter. We guess that changes your news judgment.

Change of Heart
It's time to give credit where it's due: to the Chronicle, for giving credit where it's due.

That paper has long been allergic to crediting other news media in its news stories; it'll say, for instance, that a paroled murderer was arrested after "headlines [were] generated" about him, without somehow mentioning that the headlines came in a certain alternative newsweekly. It'll produce breaking news stories that seem to look suspiciously a whole lot like Associated Press stories on the same subject, without mentioning the wire service.

So it was somewhat nice to see the paper crediting KTRK for sparking a change in Metropolitan Transit Authority policy on drivers who get arrested in their off-hours for driving while intoxicated.

A series of reports by Wayne Dolcefino had highlighted Metro's problems with keeping DWI-charged drivers on the job; we're sure Wayne is pouting over the fact the Chronicle failed to mention him by name.

Of course, Metro made it all but impossible to ignore the KTRK connection, saying in a press release that a new, tougher policy was taken "after loopholes in the Authority's long-term policy were brought to Metro's attention by KTRK reporter Wayne Dolcefino, who after two months of research through the Open Records Act discovered this problem in the system."

(We guess that means that if Wayne-o had gotten sidetracked by one of his many city-employees-who-take-long-breaks reports, we'd still have accused drunks driving Metro buses.)

Let's not carp, though. It's heartening enough that the Chronicle's news desk has acknowledged the existence of another media outlet.

Void Where Prohibited
It is a marvelous, marvelous time to be a news consumer in Houston.
The bad news is that the reason it's a marvelous time is not because of the wealth of top-notch media choices; the good news is that this town has gone, as the ever-alliterative Channel 2 would no doubt title a report on the subject, absolutely "Contest Crazy!"

You want money? Both Channel 2 and Channel 13 are providing sweeps-month chances to win thousands of dollars if you have the stamina to sit through abandoned-warehouse fires and ten-minute weather reports determined to tell you it will be 88 tomorrow in Rosenberg, 87 in Texas City, 88 in Clear Lake, 87 in Bellaire, etc.

You want to be published? The Chronicle is offering two chances to see your work in print.

First there's the effort to offer advice to the Houston Zoo's new koala bears on how best to adapt to our fair city. Then there's the Sayonara Sitcom contest, where readers are urged to offer their thoughts on the passing of such TV shows as Mad About You, The Nanny and Home Improvement.

All we can say is it's too bad Chronicle employees are barred from entering the contest. Oh, the fun that Thom Marshall could have giving his two cents to the koalas. We're chuckling just thinking about it.

Speaking of contests, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the Houston Press's very own poetry contest. The winners of that competition, announced just a few days after the Littleton massacre, included an entry by an elementary school student ranting about how he hated school, and his teachers, and the other kids.

We're sure he was watched very, very closely the next day.

Seen some valiant or terrible performance on the part of the Houston media? E-mail the News Hostage's Richard Connelly at rich_connelly@


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