MEDIA : Live Is Not Always Better, Especially With Slim Facts

KNSD-TV(Channel 39) led its 5 p.m. newscast last Tuesday with a story from Jack Gates, reporting live from Imperial Beach, where a young boy had been injured earlier in the day.

Gates was live at the scene, just the way television news likes it. Except in this case, as is often the case, nothing was happening.

He had to tell the audience that little information was available. In fact, Gates admitted, he couldn't even say with certainty whether the boy had been shot or poked with a stick.

KFMB-TV (Channel 8) also went live with the story near the top of its 5 p.m. newscast, as did KGTV (Channel 10), which conducted confusing and sometimes misleading interviews with the child's neighbors, who were equally unsure about what had happened.

To the television news departments, apparently it was more important to be live than informative. Such an attitude presents a mine field of potential disasters.

In this case, it was a genuine tragedy. The 8-year-old boy had been accidentally shot and later died. Beyond the titillating aspects of the story, however, there was little reason to rush the story on the air, repesenting it as the most important news of the day.

Television's big advantage over print media is its immediacy, its ability to present a story as it is happening. However, live is not always better, especially when key facts are not available.

"I think sometimes we err on the side of getting it quick," said Paul Sands, Channel 10's news director. "I think in this case we might have done just that."

"Nine out of 10 times" live coverage is done well, he said. But this was not one of those cases for Channel 10.

"There was a judgment error in the field, and it has been addressed," Sands said, declining to elaborate.

Channel 39 news director Don Shafer was proud of his station's coverage.

"It was not the kind of story you could handle on the phone," he said, noting his station was the only one with a camera to record the victim arriving at the hospital.

Of course, they could have waited until later in the newscast to report the details of the incident, when more information might have been available. But Shafer said it was an "important, compelling" story and they wanted to get it on the air--even though, he admitted, they didn't know whether it was a drive-by shooting, an accident or some other type of incident.

"Why wait?" Shafer asked. "We are a competitive news team."

The story was sensational, since it involved a young boy, and that apparently outweighed any priority to give people the complete story.

"If we err, we err on the side of being aggressive," Shafer said.

In the weeks before tax day, representatives of the Internal Revenue Service will appear on KGTV's (Channel 10) "Inside San Diego," Roger Hedgecock's talk show and a Cox Cable forum. They'll even sit in a dunk tank as part of a radio station's "Dunk the Tax Man" promotion--but they won't appear on KNSD-TV's (Channel 39) "Third Thursday."

This month's edition of the forum show, to air at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, will focus on the workings of the IRS, including a tax attorney and a former IRS employee on the panel. Despite inquiries at the local, state and national level, the show's producers couldn't persuade anyone from the IRS to participate in the show.

"For us to get into a discussion of political ideas would be inappropriate," said Judith Golden, public affairs officer for the IRS' Laguna Nigel district, which includes San Diego. The IRS doesn't set policy, she pointed out, it just carries it out.

The IRS is only interested in participating in shows that help people fill out tax forms, Golden said.

The frustrated "Third Thursday" producers, who have been able to get representatives to represent positions on the most controversial of topics, say they only wanted to help people understand the IRS. A representative would gladly appear on the show for a one-on-one interview about filling out tax forms, they were told, but would not participate in a general discussion.

"Any public agency has a duty to appear in the media and explain what it is they do," said executive producer Kurt Snider. "To me, their demand that they be the only one on the panel points out the mentality that contributes to their problems, instead of helping to solve them."

After nine years of carrying the Easter Seal telethon, Channel 8, which by all accounts received a multimillion-dollar windfall recently when it signed a new affiliation deal with CBS, unceremoniously dumped the telethon this year, citing "financial commitments." The charity was forced to scurry to find a new venue, finally settling for a cable-only telecast. But success can be the best revenge. This year's cable-only telethon raised $401,000, $3,000 more than the previous year on Channel 8. . . .

The producers of "Bad Influence," Rob Lowe's new movie, specifically asked radio stations promoting the movie not to make light of the star's recent problems, i.e. his oft-replayed, videotaped romp with two young girls in Atlanta. But KGB-FM (101.5) simply couldn't resist. At the local preview screening sponsored by the station, the raffle prize was a camcorder. . . .

Construction started last week on Village Hillcrest, the Fifth Avenue complex that will include five theaters controlled by Landmark Theaters, operators of the Park, Cove, Guild and Ken theaters. The theaters, which will spotlight the type of eclectic fare common in Landmark's other theaters, are due for completion in the fall of 1991. . . .

It started as a joke, an off-the-cuff remark. In the midst of a session of the banal banter that characterizes most Channel 8 newscasts, weatherman/prankster Larry Mendte mentioned that he wasn't getting any mail, and--ho-ho--he wasn't getting any money in the mail, either. Sure enough, people started sending him money, mostly dollar bills, although one woman sent him $20. He also received some South Korean and Jamaican currency. Mendte said he plans to donate the money to charity. The larger question: What kind of person sends a television weatherman money? Maybe they were trying to tell him something about his suits. . . .

As part of an agreement between the stations, KLIT-FM in Los Angeles has agreed to drop its protest against KGMG-FM's (Magic 102) request to move its North County-based transmitter seven miles south. That leaves a protest filed by KGB-FM (101.5) as the main stumbling block to FCC approval of the move, which has been in the works for more than a year. . . .

John Murphy from KKRZ-FM in Portland, Ore., will take over the morning shift for KKLQ (Q106), replacing program director Garry Wall, who has been filling in since last fall when the team of Murphy and McKeever left for Atlanta. He is expected to debut later this month. . . .

Robert John, most recently of WMC-FM in Memphis, Tenn., is new program director at KKYY-FM (Y95). . . .

"Jeff and Jer's" switch to B100 was the worst-kept secret in town. The involved parties were still denying it Wednesday morning, but by that afternoon the official news was already being leaked to the media, and by Thursday afternoon Jeff and Jer B100 sweat shirts were being distributed.

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