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Tuned In: New WPXI GM relishes local ratings 'dogfight'

Thursday, February 14, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

After spending 15 years as a news director, Ray Carter said it was a job he could almost do in his sleep. But as the new general manager at WPXI, he's still learning.

"[As news director], I knew the secrets of the trade," Carter said. "Coming in as a general manager, I don't have all those secrets yet, but I'm getting more comfortable. Sales is obviously a fairly new area for me."

In previous jobs, Carter got experience supervising TV stations' programming, marketing and production departments.

"A lot of this comes down to common sense. If you have solid business principles, those same principles apply to sales, just as they would to marketing or news or production," Carter said. "I feel pretty comfortable now, in large part because we have a management team that's very experienced."

Carter, 42, who was most recently news director at flagship Cox station WSB in Atlanta, said he won't meddle in the news operation, but he will be involved.

"The last thing they need is the new general manager running the newsroom. At the same time, it would be a mistake to take 15 years of experience as a news director and put those on the shelf and not have any involvement," Carter said. "I won't be in there every day, but in terms of some of the management direction, I'm involved. I can't help it."

He described WSB as an unchallenged "800-pound gorilla," a different situation from what he inherited with WPXI in Pittsburgh's ultra-competitive TV news market.

"Almost every newscast is a [ratings] dogfight, and it's invigorating," Carter said.

He said he has few concerns that former WPXI news director Al Blinke -- whom Carter replaced at WSB -- is applying some of the Channel 11 formula that emphasizes so-called "breaking news" to KDKA's coverage. "This is a position WPXI carved out for itself, and it is known for that," Carter said. "One has to ask, does that fit the character and traits of the KDKA audience?"

Carter said Channel 11 will stay true to its roots, even if other stations attempt to redefine themselves.

"Are they a homegrown, slow-paced newscast, or are they bold and aggressive? You do run the risk of being a split personality to your audience and alienating all of your audience."

His immediate goals are simple: Getting to know the WPXI staff, the systems in place at the station and community leaders. But Carter is not content with Channel 11's current status, no matter how far it's come.

"We can go higher, no question," he said. "In every operation there are weaknesses that can be improved. Some of ours are not that visible, but there are still [time periods] we can improve in."

Reg Chapman leaving

Channel 11's Carter acknowledged reporter Reg Chapman's contract will not be renewed when it expires in April, but he wouldn't say why.

"What conversations may happen behind closed doors and what goals may be set for particular individuals we would never discuss publicly," Carter said. "Nor would we discuss any shortcoming we might feel applies to anyone, so we wouldn't go into any details about Reg except to say he's a terrific individual. We have fond personal feelings for Reg, and it's entirely possible he could stay within the [Cox] company."

Chapman's position won't be filled immediately ("Some of it is budgetary, that's fair to say," Carter said) and he'll stay at the station a few months beyond his contract's end.

"This is not a bitter parting of the ways at all," Carter said. "He's a gentleman, and because of that we're handling this in a more liberal fashion than we might normally."

Chapman did not want to comment on particulars of his situation at Channel 11, but he praised Cox.

"They have treated me like family, and I'm not in a rush to leave the company," he said.

Breaking news

For the most part, early coverage of Tuesday's convention center truss toppling was sensible and calm.

WTAE's Scott Baker did a nice job of anchoring coverage, and Channel 4 was the only station, at least initially, to carry an impromptu press conference live an hour after the accident. But during the 6 p.m. news, the station got cocky and touted Sheldon Ingram as the first reporter at the scene to go on the air, an unnecessary, unseemly bit of self-promotion.

WPXI was on the air first and smartly went in and out of coverage and switched to the Olympics at 4 p.m., by which point there was really no more breaking news (although coverage continued for a while on PCNC).

KDKA stayed on the longest (Are they still trying to make up for Wilkinsburg? If so, this is going overboard), which gave anchors little choice but to fill the air with speculation while pre-empting "The Rosie O'Donnell Show."

Ken Rice raised the idea of whether the accident was caused by a rush to complete the center before the RV show opens but then quickly added, "Let's just remind everybody how early this is." John Shumway was the voice of reason, explaining that the portion of the center that collapsed was nowhere near the area that will be used for the RV show, so there would be no reason to rush.

A co-worker here at the PG wondered which anchor or reporter would make an inappropriate comparison between the convention center accident site and Ground Zero in New York. I didn't hear a broadcast journalist do that, but Pittsburgh City Councilman Bob O'Connor did.

'Boston Public' rescheduled

Monday night a leak in the coolant system at WPGH's transmitter knocked the station off the air from 6:42 p.m. until 9:25 p.m. Because "Boston Public" was pre-empted in its entirety, the station got permission from Fox to air it Sunday at 6 p.m. "Ally McBeal" was only partially interrupted, so it won't get a replay.

Two "Simpsons" reruns will lead into "Boston Public" Sunday, and that block of programming will pre-empt a scheduled showing of "Dirty Harry."

'The In Crowd'

Despite a less-than-stellar track record when it comes to veracity, ABC News correspondent John Stossel shines a much-needed light on popularity and bullying in "The In Crowd and Social Cruelty" (10 p.m. tomorrow, ABC).

Though the subject doesn't quite fill the hour -- after about 40 minutes it starts to feel stretched when Stossel interviews his high school classmates and then "Survivor" winner Richard Hatch -- most of the program is informative and instructive.

In talking to middle school kids, psychologists and other behavioral researchers, Stossel lays out the key factors that determine popularity. "The In Crowd" also looks at the reasons bullies develop and what can be done to curb bullying.

A visit to a school in Johnstown shows how role-playing helps children understand how it feels to be bullied and why it's important for schools not to let bullies slide, even if they're popular. For school administrators and parents of both popular and unpopular youths, "The In Crowd" is essential viewing.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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