News Directors Report

Hey guys,

This is an exciting day for us here at WBKO-TV. One of the things I’ve wanted to do for quite a while is to find a way to get our emergency weather coverage out to people who might not have access to a television during severe weather. During any major storm, there’s going to be a lot of folks on the roads or without power who need to know what’s going on. Today, I met with the heads of one of the area’s largest radio groups to discuss that very thing. I can’t say much about it yet because the I’s are not dotted and the T’s aren’t crossed. Hopefully, by the next time I write I’ll be able to tell exactly you what channels to tune in to when the weather gets rough and there’s no TV around.

Let’s move on to something I can talk about: the “You Pick the News” segment on the website. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do. I have listed 15 different investigative stories we’re considering doing and I am asking you to vote for your top five. I think you’ll see that all of them are good stories that are directly relevant to your lives. The problem is they are also stories that will take a lot of man-hours to turn. As a small market station with a small staff, we don’t have the luxury of much extra time to do many deeply investigative pieces. Most of our resources are required to cover the day-to-day news. That’s why I want to make sure that any time we can devote to investigations is spent on those stories which are most important of interesting to you the viewers. I appreciate your help with this venture. If you know of any people who we might want to talk to in connection with any of these stories please let us know at stories@wbko.com. Also if you have any other ideas you think should be investigated let us know at the same address. I’ll be taking your votes on this until noon on Friday July 1, 2005.

Also on the website, you‘ll see the icon for our St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway. It’s about half way down the page on the left side. We’re pretty excited about this. If you click on the icon, you’ll get all the details about how you buy a $100 ticket to possibly win a $250,000 home. There’s only going to be 6000 tickets sold, so your chances aren’t bad.

As I have mentioned before, one of the other things I would like to do with these newsletters is answer some of questions you might have about the industry and the decisions we make here in the newsroom. As you can probably imagine, I get a lot of emails here at the station. Many of them ask questions about why we did this or how did we decided on that. Sometimes these are quite heated, sometimes they’re just inquisitive, and sometimes they are supportive. I always try to answer these as honestly as I can; sometimes folks don’t like the answers. I want to start answering more of those in this forum rather than simply responding to individual emails. I figure if one or more people are curious enough to write there are probably numerous others who want the same answers.

This week I’ve gotten emails about two different recent news items: police roadblocks and the protest at Friday’s military funeral.

You’ve probably noticed that around every holiday we do stories announcing when and where the police are planning to set up traffic roadblocks. This year is no exception; on our website you can find the location for all of the Kentucky State Police checkpoints for the July 4th weekend. Inevitably, there will be several emails and calls from people demanding to know why we are providing that information to people who might be planning to drive drunk on the roads. They say we’re helping the bad guys avoid the law.

There is no doubt that some people will see our stories and avoid those locations. However, we do these stories at the request of the police departments. They send us the information and ask that we get it out to the public as much as possible. The reason they do this is to help make the roadblocks legal. The constitution does not allow for law enforcement to stop and check people just for the heck of it; there has to be probable cause. That means they have to have a really, really good reason to believe that a crime has occurred before they can stop you. However, the courts have ruled that if adequate steps are taken to notify the public about a roadblock that roadblock becomes legal. Law enforcement can then stop vehicles and check them for violations. The assumption is that if you know about a roadblock and still choose to travel that road that you are agreeing to being stopped. Now that’s an overly simple explanation of the laws, but I guess it’s close enough. Simply put… if the roadblocks aren’t publicly announced any arrests from them probably would not stand up in court.

I’ve also been asked this past week about our coverage (or lack thereof) of a protest at the funeral of Ky. National Guardsman Michael Hayes. Hayes was killed in Iraq and buried here in Bowling Green last Friday. Last Wednesday, I was notified by email that an anti-government group was going to be protesting at his funeral. Basically this is an extremist religious group that claims that Hayes’s death (and that of other American soldiers) is the result of God’s vengeance against America. The group claims that God hates America (and anyone who serves America) because as a nation it does not actively condemn homosexuality. The group’s literature stated that it was at the funeral “in celebration of his entry into Hell”.

When the funeral came, there were 6 or 7 protesters there with signs. I chose not to show them on the air or even mention their presence. You might think that is censorship and perhaps it is. I certainly can’t say definitively that I didn’t allow my personal feelings about this group to enter into our decision about the coverage. I don’t believe I did, however.

If this had been an actual protest of the war or even of Hayes himself, we definitely would have covered it. One of the jobs of the media is to give a “voice to the voiceless” and to make sure that someone is not silenced by the masses and that all perspectives are heard. There is certainly enough anti-war sentiment out there to warrant coverage of a legitimate anti-war protest regardless of how unpopular such a protest might be in this part of country. That wasn’t what this was. By its own admission, this group chose this event to “protest” entirely because its members knew the media would be there. It had nothing to do with Hayes or the war; it was simply a chance to exploit the media to further their cause. I decided not to allow us to be used in that manner.
On top of that, I though any attention given this group would be a slap in the face to a family that was already going through a very rough time. From all indications, this Michael Hayes was a heck of a guy with a fiancé and a whole bunch of friends. Why should they suffer any more because this group chose this opportunity to get exposure?

Was it the right decision to not cover them? Who knows? One station out of Nashville chose to focus most of its funeral coverage on the protestors. Sometimes you just try to do what you think is right and then hope you’re right.

Anyway, that’s it for now. As always, if you have any questions about the industry or our coverage feel free to email me at john.preston@wbko.com. Just a reminder, if you want to see previous News Director's reports you can go to our "news" page and click on the "ND Report" icon on the left side of the page.

Until next time,

John Preston
News Director


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