Traveling With the Denver Media
The process of researching virtually every article produces far more material than can possibly fit into the finished piece -- and a lot of the leftovers are every bit as interesting as the stuff that makes the final cut. That was certainly the case for the May 8 Message column, which dealt with cutbacks in travel being made by local news organizations.
Below, find additional information gleaned from conversations with six of the executives who play a big part in determining what news makes its way to you via traditional media means: Channel 9 news director Patti Dennis, who details planned Olympics coverage to be anchored by anchor Mark Koebrich (pictured); Denver Post editor Greg Moore, who expands on his theory about why the paper needs to send reporters to coverage major sporting events even if Denver teams aren't participating; Kris Olinger, director of AM programming for Clear Channel, who reveals the leanness of production teams that cover out-of-town games; Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple, who talks about the differences he perceives between TV sports coverage and the kind offered by newspapers; Channel 7 news director Byron Grandy, who concedes that he's seldom sent his personnel out of state of late; and Channel 4 news director Tim Wieland, who says his decision about whether to put talent on-site at the Olympics has a lot to do with which network has rights to the contests.
The only thing these extras lack is a commentary track:
Patti Dennis, Channel 9:
Why cover the Olympics? "There's huge interest, and not just because of the sporting events, although that's primary," Dennis says. "But there's also this global coming-together at a time when that's not easy to do on a political scale." Of course, the expense is tremendous, so Channel 9 is teaming with other operations affiliated with Gannett, its corporate parent. "Gannet is doing it as kind of a group thing," she reveals. "I think the total number of the group is twelve, and the total number from KUSA is three. But since we work as a group, we'll share content and set up a kind of giant newsroom that has the ability to share resources. It's a collaborative effort." The fact that NBC, Channel 9's network, purchased the rights to these games helps immeasurably, too: "When CBS had the Olympics for many years, we went, but not at the same level." The exception were the winter games in Salt Lake City. "We sent almost thirty people," she notes. "That was expensive, but it was much easier because the travel didn't cost so much. Airfare is unbelievable."
As for why she's sending Koebrich, a news anchor, as opposed to someone from the sports department, Dennis says the decision falls in line with past choices. "Two years ago, we sent [news anchor] Bob Kendrick, and two years prior to that, we sent [reporter] Adam Schrager. I try to send the people who are really good reporters. They understand that the days are extraordinarily long and that it's not a vacation. Mark is a terrific journalist, but also someone who works in the most efficient way."
Dennis adds that because the Olympics coverage is covered by a separate budget, the cash she'll spend in August won't hamper the station if there's a need to travel for other stories later in the year. "I've never been told, 'You can't cover the news if it's urgent and important,'" she stresses. "I've never been told, 'You can't go.'"
Greg Moore, Denver Post:
Moore doesn't send his reporters to every major national happening. "It's not like our paper is full of datelines all around the country with staff bylines," he says. "We don't do that." Budgetary concerns are certainly a factor; he points out that "over the last two-and-a-half years, almost every budget has been cut, from overtime to travel to telephones. Everything." Nevertheless, he goes on, "we still want to maintain our ability to be responsive, whether it's going someplace in Colorado or going somewhere out of state."
Much of the Post 's travel funds are spent covering area sports teams: the Broncos, the Avalanche, the Rockies, the Nuggets. In addition, Moore believes that his folks should be on hand at certain annual extravaganzas such as the Super Bowl whether local franchises are involved or not. In his view, the depth of future coverage would suffer if the Post took a pass. "It's about contacts," he maintains. "If you don't go to the Super Bowl, you don't get a chance to schmooze with the coaches and general managers. You might never know when somebody from another team might be coming to your team."
Kris Olinger, Clear Channel:
To state the obvious, radio isn't a visual medium -- but Olinger sent a reporter to cover recent fires in Ordway anyway, because of her belief that the blazes were close enough to impact metro-area listeners. But when it comes to fires in California, say, or campaign coverage, for that matter, she's more than happy to use material provided by other Clear Channel stations.
Of course, that's not possible for Broncos and Rockies contests, for which KOA, Clear Channel's flagship station in Denver, holds the broadcast rights. But the crews that provide play-by-play are hardly overstuffed. Only four staffers travel to out-of-town Broncos games: broadcasters Dave Logan and David Diaz-Infante, plus a sideline reporter and an engineer. And just three hit the road with the Rockies: Jeff Kingery and Jack Corrigan, who man the booth, and a producer. "We've been doing this for a long time," Olinger allows. "We're very efficient. We get it done."
John Temple, Rocky Mountain News:
The Rocky is arguably the Denver news organization most likely to pick up the tab for a staffer's reporting trip. "We're very strategic with our travel, but I don't believe we're traveling less," Temple says. "We were in Mexico to cover the killing of a CU student. [Columnist] Mike Littwin travels a lot for politics. [Reporter] M.E. Sprengelmeyer travels a lot. And we haven't cut back at all on our major team beat writers going with their teams."
Several local TV stations have, but Temple doesn't criticize them for this choice. "I respect that," he says. "There's no organization that doesn't have some limit on its resources, so you try to invest in areas that you feel best reinforce and strengthen your brand and your connection with your audience. And on a TV newscast, sports isn't the most important thing. That's why they put it at the end of the show." In contrast, he believes that "newspapers provide a layer of depth and expertise you can't get on a TV newscast, which typically just gives you the score."
Byron Grandy, Channel 7:
Although Channel 7 reporters frequently cover stories across the state, news director Grandy hasn't sent them further afield very often. Indeed, the most travel-intensive story that comes to his mind was investigator John Ferrugia's coverage of scandals at the Air Force Academy way back in 2003. More recently, 7News personnel covered fires in San Diego, but Grandy says, "That doesn't really count. I sent a crew over there mainly to help our local station there." Indeed, he admits, "I don't know if there has been a story in the last year where I considered sending a crew out of state."
Tim Wieland, Channel 4:
In comparison with Grandy, Channel 4's Wieland is more free with travel. For example, reporter Suzanne McCarroll went to San Antonio last year to report about the daughter of missing Air Force nurse Nonnie Dotson. Still, he didn't consider sending his staff to China for the Olympics. "We've never traveled to the Olympics when they weren't on our network," he says. "The one exception was Salt Lake City, because it was so close. We could just get in a car and drive there, and if felt like a pretty compelling story to tell, with the Colorado connection to all of it."
When it comes to travel, Wieland believes that "news judgment has to win the day. These are changing times, but ultimately, if you sacrifice quality, nothing else matters." -- Michael Roberts