News Director Report

Hey guys,

I know it’s been a long time since my last report and for that I apologize. There’s just been a whole lot going on and the extra time required to write these updates has been hard to come by. I promise you I will try to do a better job in the months to come.

Let’s get right to the stuff you folks care about. You’re going to be seeing a lot of new faces in new positions for the next little bit. If you don’t already know, we’ve lost a couple of people who have been major contributors to your news for quite a while: Carrie Apple and Jon Hardison.

Carrie is on her way back home to Versailles to become a stay-at-home mom. Her husband has taken a job with Whitaker Bank in Lexington. She’s been waiting for an opportunity like this for quite a while. Carrie has been a part of the WBKO team for quite a while. If you’ll remember, she left for a while to work at a radio station in Nashville and then returned in May of 2000 to Chris Allen’s side on AM-Kentucky. The chemistry between her and Chris has really worked to make AM-Kentucky one of the most popular local shows in the country. I know many of you will miss waking up with the Chris and Carrie every morning.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to adjust quickly to the Chris and Courtney show. That’s right Courtney Lassiter has taken over the morning show from Carrie. If you’ve seen Courtney on the couple of occasions when she has filled in for Carrie, you know that she and Chris share a similar chemistry. Courtney’s been anchoring the weekend shows for about a year now and really seems to have a great connection with the viewers. Her energy and ability to not take herself too seriously should serve her well in her new position. She probably won’t make any of you forget Carrie, but I think she will be able to insure a smooth transition for the show.

Courtney’s move to mornings means there’s a new face on the weekends. Kelly Sparks will be taking over as the anchor and producer of the weekend shows. Kelly started a part time employee for the station almost three years ago and has worked her way up through the ranks. She’s filled in a couple of times for those shows and has really shined.

That’s brings us to her next departure, Jon Hardison. You probably know Jon best as our 10:00 anchor, but he has also been our go-to reporter on some of the biggest stories of the last few years. The stories he’s covered include the Mike Caudill crimes, the Davis Cooper thefts, the Convention Center debacle, and the Lucas Goodrum trial. He’s now taken a job with WFIE in Evansville as a reporter. Jon has aspirations of working in some big cities in years to come and this is an excellent career move for him. I’m not sure yet, who will be taking over the 10:00. Last week, I held auditions within my staff to see who will be fill the position.

All of this is part of life at a small market station; there are always comings and goings as people move along in their careers and their lives. Every time someone leaves us, it opens the door for new faces in our lives. I’ve got a couple to tell you about now.

One of the new additions to our staff is Fida Georges. Fida comes to us from Miami where she worked as an administrative assistant at the NBC station there. She’s been hired to be our new weekend reporter. Fida brings an international flair to our staff. She was born in Haiti of Syrian decent and speaks five languages fluently. She came to Bowling Green when her husband was transferred here. I hope that she will be a regular part of the WBKO staff for years to come.

The other new hire is Christopher MacDonald. He’s a Broadcast Meteorologist from Michigan who will be joining Shane and Chris on the WBKO weather team. He’ll be doing the forecasting primarily on the weekends for a while. I had quite an interesting dinner the other night with he and Shane. The two of them started discussing hurricanes. They were throwing out low pressure points, storm surges, etc. and comparing all the storms from the past several years as if those storms were old friends from high school. I knew at that point that he was the guy for the job. We wanted to make sure that we found someone who was as passionate about weather as Chris and Shane. I know that iron shackles won’t keep Chris or Shane from the studio when severe weather threatens this area. I think Christopher has that same desire to keep you informed when things get bad.

Now I want to move on to something else designed to keep you informed when severe weather threatens. I don’t know if you’ve seen the ads for our new StormCall service or not. We’ve offered the service for about a month and not many of you have signed up for it. I can only assume it’s because you’re not really clear about just what it is.

I’ve long thought that one of the biggest weaknesses in severe weather coverage is the fact that in most cases you have to be awake and watching TV or listening to the radio to know when a severe storm or tornado is coming. I’m sure many of you have stayed up all night before because you were afraid a storm would hit while you were sleeping and you would have no warning. Some of you have NOAA radios for this, but the problem with them is that they often go off too often. Most of the time, these are programmed to go off if a tornado or severe storm warning is issued for anywhere in your county. If you live in northern Warren County (Anna), for example, and there’s a severe storm in the southern part of the county (Alvaton), you would get the exact same notification as the folks in Alvaton. This is okay at 7:00 in the evening, but at 3:00AM it might be a little annoying. Some people only want to be notified if they are personally in immediate danger. For this reason, a lot of NOAA radios are turned off and never used.

We helped design StormCall to address this. When the National Weather Service issues a warning, it actually assigns the warning to a very localized area they call a Warning Polygon. Currently most warning systems fire off if any part of that Polygon falls into a particular county. For example… if there is a tornado along the Green River in northern Warren County, warnings will be issued for Butler, Edmonson, and Warren Counties. That means that everyone in nearly 1,300 square miles will be placed under a Tornado Warning. However, the tornado may only be a real threat to the folks in the thirty or so square miles near the river. StormCall is set up to only warn those folks in the Warning Polygon or, in other words, those in the immediate path of the tornado.

Basically, you go to our website and click on the StormCall link. You’ll give the StormCall folks your address and phone number. They assign longitude and latitude coordinates to your home and you will be phoned whenever you are in immediate danger. The system is set up for tornadoes, flash floods, ice storms, and terrorist attacks. There is a cost for the service; it’s three dollars a month ($36 a year). To me, that is very cheap insurance to guarantee you and your family get warned if a tornado is heading your way. Once again, you will only get called if the threat is in your immediate vicinity.

We are the only television station in the country currently offering this service and you don’t have to live in the South-Central Kentucky area to sign up. I’m actually planning to give a StormCall subscription to some of my family for Christmas gifts. I hope they never need it, but it will certainly pay for itself if they do.

Now that we’re talking potential gifts, let’s talk big. We’re now less than two weeks away from our big St. Jude’s Home Give-Away. We’ve sold over five thousand tickets for the home; that means less than one thousand remain. The house is now open to the public for viewing. If you haven’t heard about this, we’re giving away a brand-new $250,000 home. Tickets are $100 each and we’re only going to sell 6,000 of them. All the money raised from this event will go to the St. Jude’s children’s hospital. I will say, I think we overdid it on this house. I’ll bet if actually had it appraised, the value would be well over $300,000. Whoever wins will be responsible paying the taxes on it, but it’s still going to be a very cheap expensive home. I guess in the worse case scenario, whoever wins would have to sell the home to pay the taxes. They’d still come out a couple hundred thousand ahead.

And finally, I want to take a moment to put in my two cents worth on a national issue that has not gotten nearly the public attention that I think it deserves. Last week, New York Times journalist Judith Miller was released from jail after spending 12 weeks there for refusing to reveal her source in a story she was working on concerning the C.I.A. She was released because her source told her she could reveal his identity. This whole ordeal has really been troubling to me. It was troubling that she was sent to jail for doing her job, but it’s been real troubling to see how apathetic the American public has been to the whole ordeal.

I apologize if I’m about to jump up on a soapbox, but I think this is very important stuff. I don’t know if you guys realize this or not, but journalism is the only profession protected by the U.S. Constitution. The folks who founded this country believed that the only way you can have a true democracy is if there is a free flow of information to the public. It was not a coincidence that the amendment protecting the press is the very First Amendment that was made. Many of the founding fathers almost refused to sign the U.S. Constitution because the free flow of information wasn’t a part of the original draft. Americans can’t be self-governing if they don’t have complete access to the workings of our government and to information relating to the important issues of their lives. I certainly recognize that there are bad journalists out there; there are also people calling themselves journalists who are certainly sticking their noses where it doesn’t belong. However, information concerning how American tax dollars are spent or how our elected leaders are leading (regardless of party affiliation) must be available to the public. If it isn’t, how can we as citizens ever be expected to make good decisions.

I don’t know all the details of the Miller case; I don’t know if anyone in government was actually doing anything wrong or not. That’s not my concern. What worries me is that a federal judge decided to throw the Constitution out the window and ask the question, “Who told you that?” When Miller refused to answer, she was jailed. It’s like the playground bully who demands to know who tattled on him to the teacher. The bully is not asking that question so he can pat the guy on the back for being responsible.

We as journalists recognize the enormous legal risks to ourselves if we choose to report information we receive from an un-named source. If that information turns out to be false, we open ourselves (and our employers) up to a whole plethora of libel and fraud charges. Even if the information is true, we often can’t report it because the only proof we have comes from a source we can’t name. It’s all part of the business. However, protecting the public from corruption or incompetence in government (or anywhere else) requires that sources feel free to be honest and open with journalists without the fear of retribution. Without that protection it is impossible for us to provide the checks and balances that our forefathers built into the system to insure a true democratic government.

Several states around the country have Shield Laws to protect journalists in these situations. Most of those laws are based indirectly on the federal constitution, but there is no Federal Shield Law. There are laws to protect lawyers and doctors from releasing information. While those professions are certainly important, neither is protected specifically by the constitution. The laws relating to those positions are designed to protect the rights of individuals (clients and patients); journalism protects the rights of all citizens.

The country should be outraged, but for the most part no one’s noticed. I’m afraid that we are getting more and more comfortable with the idea of forfeiting some of our rights as Americans. I hope you don’t think I’m implying that the current administration is corrupt; I am certainly am not doing that. I just think we have to be constantly vigilant to protect the system that protects our rights. Every time that system is weakened, we make ourselves more vulnerable to public corruption in the future. Every time we give up a right, we make it virtually impossible to regain that right back in the future.

Once again, I apologize for the quite lengthy tangent. I got into this business because of important role I think it plays in the continuing greatness of our country. I take it very personally when I see that role eroded.

Thanks for indulging me…. I promise not to be so lecturing next time.

John Preston
News Director