No-fluff newscasts fall flat with Chicago viewers


Associated Press

CHICAGO – Do good stories. Tell them well.

That mantra set the tone for Chicago’s experiment with a newscast that shunned fluff and ambulance sirens for a no-nonsense approach that tried to stress substance and depth.

It lasted nine months.

The general manager of CBS-owned WBBM-TV, Walt DeHaven, said he pulled the plug on anchor Carol Marin’s highly publicized but sometimes drab news show Monday because it lacked one essential element – viewers.

“I don’t look at it as a failure,” Marin said today. “I understand that in ratings terms it wasn’t a success fast enough. But I believe it might have been if given more time.”

The program will be replaced by one with a two-anchor team. Marin moves to CBS News, where she will add reporting duties for “60 Minutes” to her regular contributions to “60 Minutes II.”

WBBM launched “The 10 O’Clock News: Reported by Carol Marin” with great fanfare in February as the station, mired in last place in the ratings, sought to capitalize on Marin’s reputation for serious journalism.

It was an attempt to win viewers over from cookie-cutter formats and newscasts that often gave more airtime to stories about the right makeup or hairdo than to stories about taxes or schools or air pollution.

Some viewers appreciated the no-nonsense approach used by Marin, who once quit her job at another Chicago station rather than share a news desk with tabloid TV host Jerry Springer.

But Marin, who anchored the show solo, was seen by many as too serious and some viewers who felt she was lecturing them.

“They were trying to get away from gimmicks so much that they failed to allow friendliness to get through,” said Craig Allen, associate professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

After an initial ratings jump that was attributed to viewers’ curiosity, the newscast sank.

“We had really gathered a small but very loyal audience,” said Hank Price, who was general manager at WBBM when the program went on the air. “But we also lost a lot of traditional viewers who simply couldn’t accept it.”

Price, who had persuaded Marin to take over the anchor chair and persuaded corporate officials at CBS to try the idea, left the station in July. His departure, Marin said, was the first real sign that the experiment was probably doomed.

DeHaven said the tone and style of the station’s newscast will change, along with the anchors, but “the same people who were reporting the news are still reporting the news.” The kinds of stories broadcast and the way they are presented won’t change, he said.

Carl Gottlieb, deputy director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said viewers do have an appetite for serious journalism.

“I reject those who say this is the end of good journalism, because they aren’t looking around the country,” he said.

Marin sees no great legacy in her newscast. She said the attention it drew provoked good debate, but “I don’t believe the rise and fall of this newscast determined the outcome of local newscasts for this country.”

Price said he believes the newscast raised the consciousness in newsrooms.

“I would hate to see this as a referendum on whether quality works,” he said. “There are different ways to do it. We never claimed to have all the answers.”

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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