Monday, April 16

If it Bleeds...Then What?

In the early 90s, as News Director for WCIX-TV (now WFOR-TV), the CBS O-and-O in Miami, I sat on a panel with all the news directors in the area, discussing television news with members of “Leadership Broward.”

You know about these “Leadership (Fill in the Blank)" groups, right? Civic organizations made up of the leaders of tomorrow—educators, doctors, lawyers, politicians, civic leaders, other professionals—designed to open a dialogue between the up-and-comers and the “establishment” of today. “”Leadership Broward” took in the entire Ft. Lauderdale area.

The heaviest of the “heavy hitters” on the panel was Joel Cheatwood, the man credited (blamed?) for WSVN’s “If it Bleeds, it Leads” crime-heavy, glitzy, flashy, Miami Vice-style newscasts.

You can argue with the concept, but you have to give Joel credit: WSVN was (maybe still is) the most “on-message” TV station in America. WSVN staffers know what their newscast is and the roles they have to play, and they are RELENTLESS about pushing their product. They are who they are—and there’s no mistaking WSVN for anyone else. They do more news than any other station in town, and they do it in a way that has been imitated around the country.

So here we are, sitting behind a table in front of a group of Ft. Lauderdale’s best and brightest, taking questions, when a woman rises. She is striking: not just looks, although you can’t (for lack of a better phrase) overlook her looks. But she is impeccably dressed, she carries herself with supreme confidence, and when she speaks she commands attention. This is obviously a well-spoken, intelligent woman who is every inch a leader of tomorrow.

She stands, she looks Joel Cheatwood straight in the eye, and she addresses him directly:

“I…DO…NOT…watch your newscasts. I …WILL…NOT…watch your newscasts. I consider what you do to be pandering. I consider your efforts to be bordering on the pornographic. In aiming for a ‘lowest common denominator’ audience you have demeaned and degraded the very people you pretend to serve, the people you are licensed by the federal government to serve.”

(The rest of the news directors are trying not to grin.)

“For example: on Monday you covered these stories…on Tuesday you covered these stories…on Wednesday you covered these stories…”

Jeez, the woman never watched anything BUT WSVN.

And it was Joel Cheatwood’s turn to try to suppress a grin.

People will frequently say what they think they should say, but will always do what they want to do. That’s why no one will admit to ever eating a Twinkie, but your local 7-Eleven can’t keep them in stock.

Here endeth the lesson.

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