Swept Away

The local television stations are still rolling out their best market-researched items for sweeps month, often to the chagrin of hapless viewers.

We haven't seen everything, but we've been unable to escape some things.

What's hot this year? Getting up close and personal with the on-air staff. Channel 2 has treated us to a five-day series on its traffic reporter's pregnancy. Fox 26 let us watch anchor Mike Barrajas eat breakfast with his family and take his kids to the school bus. We got to see his work cubicle, where he proudly displays a certificate from when he was named the city's best anchor by the Houston Press. We assume he went to the bathroom sometime during the day the report was filmed, but somehow it wasn't shown.

Unlike Barrajas, Channel 11's Anna Werner has managed to uphold with dignity the high honor of winning a Press "Best Of" award. Although we didn't see her cubicle -- and her breakfast remained, amazingly, unreported -- Werner has had two entertaining stories on semi-bad cops.

Whether it was Houston cops lolling about for hours at a convenience store, or seemingly half the force of the Cleveland police department doing one thing or another (like the department's Breathalyzer officer being drunk on duty), Werner has been in full ambush- interview mode. There's nothing that says "sweeps month" more than a reporter dashing across a parking lot, camera in tow, to catch some official trying to get into his car.

It was up to KPRC, however, to provide us with the Exclusive! news that…Houstonians don't like the 55-mph speed limit.

Reporter Brendan Keefe was stationed live roadside with a radar detector May 9 and, sure enough, people were actually violating the speed limit. It's happening all across the city, Channel 2 informed viewers. Or at least those viewers who haven't been in a car lately.

Compelling as the evidence was from Officer Keefe, KPRC was not content to make generalizations with such a small sampling. Instead they commissioned a poll to find out that…Houstonians don't like the 55-mph speed limit.

The Exclusive! poll found that 70 percent of Houstonians thought lowering the speed limit to reduce pollution was "a bad idea." Perhaps more surprising, 46 percent of respondents said they were observing the new, lower limit. (Mostly in the fast lane when we're behind them, the poll didn't add.)

Next up for the Channel 2 traffic enforcement division: people who change lanes without using blinkers, and what the public thinks about them.

Inside Baseball Alert

Staffers at the Albany Times Union are all but starting betting pools on who will follow their soon-to-be-former boss, Jeff Cohen, when he comes to Texas to take over as editor of the Houston Chronicle.

One name that's mentioned by everyone -- and it might be a case of wishful thinking -- has the possibility of really rattling the cages at the Chron.

The Times Union's assistant managing editor over the city desk is a guy named Jim Michaels, a close friend of Cohen's who eventually went to work for him in New York after Cohen got the Albany editor's job in 1994. Michaels is an ex-marine. To the nth degree.

If you listen to Times Union people, you'll hear that "Jarhead," as he's known, seems to delight in storming about the newsroom trying to inflict terror on innocent, hardworking reporters.

Paul Grondahl, one reporter who was willing to go on the record (and who's a Cohen supporter), doesn't go that far, but he says Michaels isn't too popular. "He's kind of [Cohen's] lieutenant that he brought in here," he says. "He's kind of his enforcer and his hatchet man. He's pissed off a lot of people, but he's really just doing Jeff's bidding."

Cohen admits that Michaels is a hard charger who ruffles feathers, but says that's what a good city editor does. "No one likes their city editor," he says. "You don't have a city editor to win popularity contests."

Noting that the Hearst Corporation sent Michaels to Afghanistan to cover the war on terrorism, he says, "Those are the kind of people you want: the first people out the door."

He says, however, he hasn't "even begun to contemplate who is going to come [to Houston] to work with me."

But that doesn't mean fingers aren't being furiously crossed in Albany.

"If Michaels were to leave, there would be one big party here, I can tell you," one reporter says.

Another said he wouldn't celebrate. "I'm a good liberal, so I would just have pity and compassion on the folks down in Houston," he says.


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