Sunday, July 26, 2009

Unreported Stories



One of the better reporters in Austin asked me, what are some of the under reported stories in Austin? Under reported in Austin? I'm shaking my head. Staffs have been cut, and the "beat" system may be dying in all media. KXAN TV (NBC), News 8, and KVUE TV (ABC) seem to have a beat system still. It takes a budget commitment. I'm a great believer in the beat system. Yeah, it's "old school", but it still works. It works if the report is on the right beat. Sometimes, management will think it is filling that slot only to find out that the reporter really wanted to do features.

Jim Swift (KXAN) is one of the last feature reporters standing. It's a dying breed nationwide. Make no mistake; however, Jim can cover hard news.

There is only one (1) health reporter in traditional media to my knowledge. She's at the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. What is, perhaps, the most reported issue at the national level right now? Health Care. Further, I'm aware of several health developments in Austin, but it is reporting via news release. That's not even a niche beat. Health used to be far more important. Perhaps it doesn't research well right now, but Austin never conforms to research elsewhere.

There are few, true education reporters. If a medium wants to grow an audience, produce compelling content about schools, not just the obvious ones like the closure of Pearce Middle School. There are few better pictures on TV than those of little kids. People always ask, why don't you show us some good news? There are many of these "good news" stories.

This leads me to say again and again that it IS legal to take pictures of students in the course of telling a story related to education. It's state law. SB 521 took effect more than a decade ago with the 1997-98 school year. It was signed into law by then governor George Bush. According to the bill, school districts are not required to get written parental consent before recording video or pictures, including a student's voice, if the recording is to be used only for media coverage of the school. If there are children in custody battles, etc., they can be identified easily, and removed from the setting.

The law allows wiggle-room for individual districts and campuses. Some, such as Eanes ISD, deny access to students. That means that Eanes does not the coverage that it once did. One thing I do find interesting--Eanes student athletes seem to get on TV a lot. Do we have our priorities right.

Another sadly under reported area is as they used to say “Under the Dome”. There are fewer and fewer members of the Capitol Press Corps. This is another area where, for many, is journalism by news release. Again, KXAN and KVUE have capitol reporters. This deserves more than a paragraph in a future post.

I'm a former crime reporter, and I think there is FAR too much crime coverage. We get enough violence in prime time. At one time KXAN did VO/Bites (voice-over/sound bites) on the crime and PKGs on some more meaty, related issue.

Under reported? Why does TV news leave it to the printed media to cover the music and entertainment industry in Austin. The moniker "Live Music Capital of the World" is wearing a little thin. City Hall reporters have done stories on the noise ordinance enforcement, most recently at the Unplugged at Shady Grove series. There have been other stories about a city Music Office. There are other under reported stories. Right now during the national debate about health care, maybe it's time for another story about health care for musicians? The minimum wage rose this past week as Austin musicians and singer/songwriters try to scratch out an existence. There isn't a reporter on that beat, and management apparently doesn't see it as an ongoing source of stories. It is, but, of course, I'm prejudiced.

Whenever someone moves on in a newsroom, that reporter's knowledge, contacts, and goodwill go too. Ideally, those beat positions should be filled with some overlapping allowing the new reporter a chance for some introductions.

Sure, there may be under reported niches. I think the media is straining to cover the basics right now.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Anonymous said...

That may be the truth on SB-521, but there are more than you probably can imagine, children in CPS protective custody, attending Travis County schools. Any event where said child can be clearly identified will bring a call of "please remove or blur" as it gets very sticky.

I have often said Austin may have been "Live Music Capital" but present lawmakers/leaders of Austin are more concerned with the real estate deals and high rises that occur downtown... is that "smart growth"? More than just a few gems in Austin have been jeopardized... Barton Springs, trees in Zilker, downtown nightlife overrun by crime/highrises and although I don't think it has that much to do with Austin, the hippie culture has faded miserably into the past. Crime has taken the spotlight away from the Austin creativity... only Jim Swift(KXAN) sees it still. It's only a matter of time before somebody ends up dead in the Green Belt... and everybody runs away from that. Austin city management tries so hard to be green and alternative etc. and finds itself woefully lost after mountains of cash later, they realize what they were attempting was only ideal in theory. The rail system still amazes me... 80+ million dollars and it ends up out in the country just North of Leander... although some may use it... will it ever be cost effective? Like the tollways, people are starting to realize projects started in the tech-rich heydays of the late 90's/early 2000's were less "above-board" than originally perceived.

You are correct... there are bigger/deeper stories in Austin... like... whatever happened to the real Austin.

Keep up the great work, Jim.

Wanting to be better said...

I think your summation pretty much covers it. We are spread extremely thin and doing the best we can.

You know why people do so much crime and features (myself totally included in the latter)? It's fast. It feeds the beast.

Our editors are extremely supportive of in-depth, watchdog journalism. But it's complicated, time-consuming work. We have to put something in the paper, so the fallback is quick and dirty stories.

It's a real balancing act and once that I personally don't perform as well as I would like.

RAIL FAIL said...

Anonymous is right, how about real stories on the failure of CapMetro? Elimination of the Dillo Service, cutting bus routes, etc... because they're broke from wasted dollars on a train to nowhere. Lyle Lanley has sold us a bill of goods. (see Marge vs. the Monorial).

How about the note in teh Spaceman over the weekend that the traffic idiots at city hall are putting reverse angle parking on 26th (Dean Keeton) and eliminating TWO lanes of traffic? What a disaster that will be.

How about Walmart charging $0.20 per plastic bag to carry your stuff to the car?

The list is endless and yet no one reports on it.

Anonymous said...

You reference KVUE as one of two Austin TV station's with a Capitol reporter. That reporter, Elise Hu, has announced she's leaving the station to join Evan Smith new venture, The Texas Tribune. Here's hoping KVUE will continue to cover this vital beat.
Steve Hall

Anonymous said...

KVUE is advertising for Elise's replacement, tho the ad says it's a hybrid Capitol/GA reporter. Also they're advertising for Tom Harris' replacement.

Anonymous said...


If you take away news conferences, news releases, spot news, and features from the list of possible items TV reporters could do for a story, you'd find many of them in the dark about where to get news.

Too many TV reporters have been used for general assignments, with little or no time to cultivate sources. So many of them have no meaningful sources.

Reporters who develop numerous sources at all levels and who know how to be persistent can break stories.

Anonymous said...

KEYE's capitol reporter for this legislative session was Alexis Patterson. Before that, Keith Elkins held that spot.