Eighteen months after the filming of LOCAL NEWS, what's become of the station -- and the people -- at the heart of this documentary?
LOCAL NEWS... One station fights the odds... ends on a festive, hopeful note on New Year's Eve, 1999, as WCNC-TV helps Charlotte, North Carolina, ring in the New Millennium. But the story told in this new five-part series -- which premieres on PBS this October -- is far from over.
As the series reveals, the station and its news team are on a quest to increase their journalistic standards, as well as ratings.
This is no small task, since the local TV news system presents stations with constant moral and practical dilemmas, including serving the community with coverage of important local concerns without producing "boring" stories; constantly evaluating the appropriate parameters of crime coverage; handling the complexity of race-related stories (as well as internal race and diversity issues); working within airtime constraints and still reporting stories in depth; and coping with a frequent turnover among news personnel -- a fact of life that can hinder a collective understanding of community affairs.
Throughout the series, the station and its staff confront these obstacles -- but 18 months have passed since the point at which the series ends. Here's what's happened since:
- Awards -- In the past year, WCNC has won more awards for journalistic excellence than any other station in North and South Carolina. WCNC won two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio and Television News Directors Association, including the award for "Overall Excellence." WCNC also picked up more North Carolina Associated Press awards than any other station, including the awards for "Best Newscast" and "Outstanding News Operation." In the Midsouth Regional Emmy Competition, WCNC received 21 nominations and won Emmys in five categories, including those for News Writing and Community Station Project. WCNC was a national finalist in the National Press Photographers Association "Station of the Year" Competition. Dan Robbins, who is seen covering hurricanes at the coast, was named the NPPA's regional "Photographer of the Year."
- Ratings -- There has been slow but consistent ratings growth over the last 15 months, which allows the station to promote itself on-air as "Charlotte's fastest-growing newscast." Although still behind in overall ratings, in several specific measures that are important to advertisers, WCNC has pulled even with the CBS affiliate and is vying for second place in the market.
- A.H. Belo continues to invest in WCNC's long-term success. New hires increased the newsroom staff to 90, placing the previously undermanned station on a more equal footing with its competitors. In the process, ethnic diversity has increased overall -- an essential change for the highly diverse community the station serves. When Belo bought the station in 1997, fewer than 20 percent of news personnel were African-American, Hispanic, or Asian. That number has increased to 30 percent, and includes three of the station's nine news managers.
A cinéma vérité portrait, LOCAL NEWS puts a human face on journalistic issues by focusing on key staff members and how their presence, departure, success, and failure affects the functioning of the station. Here's where they are today (in alphabetical order):
Ultimately, WCNC hasn't given up its fight or its hope. Connors hopes that the station's increasingly crowded awards shelf -- the "recognition of our peers" -- forecasts increased recognition by Charlotte viewers, and thus higher ratings and revenues. But for now, turning the tide in TV news is a complex, ongoing task -- and WCNC remains "one station against the odds."
- Alicia Booth -- the talented, hard-working anchor who was demoted to field reporter because of market research that said the attractive blonde had low appeal among women. Booth left WCNC and found a place as weekend anchor and reporter at WOIO/WUAB, the CBS affiliate in Cleveland.
- Keith Connors -- the news director who took on the challenge of balancing business and journalism. (Connors joined WCNC in early 1998 after stints in Norfolk and Rochester.) Though the average tenure of a TV news director is under two years, Connors remains at WCNC still working to fully achieve his original goal. Since the series' completion, he was honored with a regional "News Director of the Year" award from the RTNDA of the Carolinas.
- Glenn Counts -- the conscientious crime reporter who, in episode five, is questioned by police for an alleged trespass while reporting on a child murder. Still at the station, Counts continues to struggle to counteract the growing industry-wide pressure to over-hype crime coverage.
- Rick Keilty -- the station's general manager, seen in episode two spearheading a charitable community event and confronting angry community members. Keilty left WCNC for Dallas, where he is now Senior Vice President of A. H. Belo's Television Group.
- Mike Redding -- the star features reporter, seen dutifully braving a hurricane in episode three. He continues at WCNC pursuing his personal journalistic mission: to report "real people" stories that reflect Charlotte's unique character.
- Wanda Johnson Stokes -- an African-American news producer who resigns in episode one, feeling she has hit a glass ceiling. Stokes is now executive producer for news at WHNS Fox 21 in her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina.
- Beatrice Thompson -- a longtime fixture on Charlotte TV whose departure spraks a community protest in the series. A year after she left WCNC, Thompson has found renewed prominence in radio. She is now the public affairs director for two Charlotte stations, WBAV and WGIV, and also hosts two weekly programs: STRAIGHT TALK WITH BEATRICE THOMPSON AND PEOPLE ARE TALKING, a live call-in show.
- Sterlin Benson Webber -- the dedicated education reporter who is seen in the series challenged by racial divisions in the city and the time constraints of broadcast news. Having recently renewed her contract, Webber is still at WCNC championing her beliefs.