A good friend of mine pointed me to a story suggesting I blog about it. KMBC, the #1 rated news operation in Kansas City, the first television station to hand me a paycheck, sent a reporter to Chile to cover the mine disaster. My own initial reaction to it was, publicity stunt. Then I quickly recovered and thought, My God, local television stations used to do this kind of coverage all the time.
The true market leaders in local television news back in the 80's and 90's would never hesitate to send a reporter across the country, or even across the globe, to cover a great story. We used to do it all the time when I produced in Phoenix. We chased hurricanes, plane crashes, earthquakes, you name it. I can remember my current colleague Dale Schornack, heading to cover the unbelievable crash of a DC-10 in Sioux City, Iowa where the remarkable actions of the pilot kept loss of life to a minimum. That was more than 20 years ago.
Even when I worked in tiny Fargo, North Dakota just ten years ago we went to New Mexico, New York City, Washington, DC, Kosovo, Turkey, and other destinations important to our viewers. That was just a decade ago but I know KVLY doesn't travel like that anymore. That simply doesn't happen anymore in local news or more importantly and the point of this blog, cable news. The bean counters have destroyed the business. They've gutted our budgets and made traveling to stories that truly have an impact to our local viewers almost impossible. It's happened to cable news and the networks as well.
The Chile mine disaster shows what cable news used to do on an almost weekly basis. Deliver the power of an emotional story, either tragic or as in this instance, positive. Look back six weeks ago to what happened in San Bruno, California. Five years ago CNN or even FOX would have been on this disaster from the moment it broke bringing viewers wall to wall coverage, even if it meant simply showing the local stations covering the explosion.
If you were watching cable news the night of September 9th, you wouldn't have known the horrific blast in San Bruno until almost 11 p.m. The explosion happened about 9:30 p.m. eastern time. I kept an eye peeled on CNN waiting for them to break in. I was dumbfounded and FNC didn't do squat either.
The Chile mine rescue was tailor made for the networks and cable news. They had plenty of time to plan and to get their people into place. If a major earthquake hits the west coast God knows how long it will take before the rest of the country really gets the kind of coverage we used to see 10, 15, 20 years ago. I remember the Bay Area quake in 1989 and CBS was all over it. They went wall to wall shortly after 8 p.m. eastern. We did our own hour of coverage in Phoenix beginning at 10 p.m. and on the following day we had our own satellite truck in San Francisco with our own anchor and reporter on scene to tell the story. It's sad to say those days are long gone.