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Stations have helped drivers avoid snarls

Thursday, May 06, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Chicken Little, the road is closing! The road is closing! Local stations went into full panic mode last Thursday as ramps to the Fort Pitt Bridge were closed for construction and detours took motorists in every direction. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, and for that, local stations deserve at least some of the credit.

By getting information about alternate routes to the public, they averted major traffic headaches.

WPXI added traffic reporter Katina Forte to the in-studio morning show cast (she's usually just a disembodied voice) the same way Ellen Gamble appears at the news desk on WTAE.

WPXI's Darieth Chisolm did a good job with a gimmicky, but useful report during the evening news, driving one of the detour routes while on the air live. WTAE's Nina Pineda did the same thing, albeit a little safer. Pineda said she wasn't driving while reporting on a cell phone, while Chisolm was in the driver's seat. (Haven't I seen a sweeps report somewhere about "Dangerous Drivers: The Cell Phone Menace"?)

Safety was also a concern with some of the reports from the construction area and detours. While it was clear some reporters, including WPXI's Newlin Archinal, were in locations that wouldn't cause further traffic complications, that wasn't always the case. Why was KDKA's John Shumway walking alongside cars interviewing motorists on one of the bridges? That said, Shumway's advance reports on the ramp closings were thorough and clear.

How convenient that the ramp reconstruction coincided with the first day of the May sweeps rating book (makes you wonder if Penn-Dot and the TV stations are in cahoots). But this wasn't the only story to appear on more than one channel.

WPXI's Becky Thompson reported on "Fighting Back Against Telemarketers" during the evening news, and Yvonne Zanos did the same story for KDKA at 11 p.m.

Which was better? Too close to call. The stories were pretty similar, although I thought the main interview subject in Thompson's piece was more representative of average folks. I also liked the way her report ended with a visual checklist of things consumers can do to prevent telemarketers from calling. (Channel 11 is the best when it comes to ending stories with helpful sidebars like this.)

Zanos apparently had an error in the first of her two reports, saying telemarketers had to respect your desire to be on a "do not call" list for two years. In her second report it changed to 10 years, the same figure Thompson cited. But I was glad to see Zanos include brief comments from a telemarketer.

When it comes to investigative reports, WTAE's "Loafing on the Job" by Jim Parsons made the biggest splash, catching public works employees goofing off while claiming to work.

DID YOU EVER NOTICE... Every time I turn on a KDKA newscast, the station seems to be doing another story on the Pennsylvania lottery, whether it's winners getting a check, a large jackpot or a new game. I get the feeling KDKA does more lottery stories than any of the other stations.

What? You say KDKA broadcasts the lottery drawings? Gee, do you think the two are connected?

Whether or not you agree with my impression that KDKA hypes the lottery more than its competitors, there's at least some news value in the lottery since it's a state-funded contest.

Alas, that's not the case with WPXI's "Watch 11 to Win" contest, and that makes last week's news report on how past winners spent their money a complete waste of time. It's one thing to have station-sponsored contest winners appear in promotional spots as they do on WTAE, but by crossing the line into news Channel 11 continued to tarnish its image.

ASSAULT CONTINUES: I wonder if WTAE really wants anyone to watch its newscasts. Don't they realize how frustrating it is when graphics obstruct video?

It happened again the other day during a report on the tornado devastation in Oklahoma. Channel 4 showed the video, but viewers couldn't really see what was happening because the lower one-third of the screen was obscured by a graphic. It's like the station is begging for viewers to switch to another channel.

NEW WEB 'NEIGHBORHOOD': "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" has a new address and a new look on the World Wide Web at www.pbs.org/rogers.

The revamped site debuted Tuesday and features animated characters in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe section, lyrics from popular "Mister Rogers" songs and a timeline of the history of the show and its host. "For Neighbors of All Ages" is an area designed for adults and students who watched the show as children.

WINNER OF THE WEEK: Last week in this column a reader complained about WPXI anchor David Johnson's alleged "facial contortions" during the news.

A good sport, Johnson mugged for the camera during PCNC's "Night Talk" show Tuesday, twisting his face while claiming no idea what the reader was talking about.

WE'RE TO BLAME: UPN announces its fall schedule in two weeks, and if there's a weekly prime-time wrestling show on we'll have only ourselves to blame. Local viewers helped make last week's special "WWF Smackdown" a hit for the fledgling network.

Nationally the wrestling show beat ABC programming and scored UPN's highest Thursday night ratings in 14 markets, including Pittsburgh.

VOTE: Don't forget to vote in the Post-Gazette's "Kill 'Em or Keep 'Em" poll at www.post-gazette.com/tv/. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page. If you tried voting over the weekend you may have had trouble because the computer wasn't letting anyone vote. That's fixed; please try again.

To chat about local or national TV programs or personalities, click on PG Online Talk.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412 263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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