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When the News IS the News

(page 1 of 3)

There’s a story going around local TV newsrooms about a reporter for one of the new teams in town. Both the Fox and Warner Bros. affiliates launched news shows last winter, flooding the market with eager 20-something anchor wanna-bes. This one cub reporter, the story goes, asked District Attorney Paul Pfingst during a press conference, “Now, what does the district attorney do?”

District attorney spokeswoman Gayle Falkenthal swears she can’t recall that particular incident, but she acknowledges its underlying truth. “These folks need it from square one,” she says. “Many of these reporters don’t know that [radio talk host] Roger Hedgecock was once the mayor of San Diego.”

These are strange days in the trenches of San Diego TV news, and it’s not just the two new stations and their kiddie corps of reporters. Almost every channel has been going through massive changes. Stations are changing anchor lineups like drunken baseball managers desperately looking for the right combination. Veteran reporters are suddenly sent to the cornfield, banished from the airwaves. Helicopter journalism rules. Everything is shiftng.

And more than anything, there is a new intensity to the competition—a sense that this isn’t laid-back San Diego anymore. “We’re looking like L.A.,” says Channel 8 consumer reporter Bob Hansen. “You go to a press conference and there are six or seven cameras there.”

XETV (Channel 6), the Fox affiliate, laid its scent for the competition in the February sweeps—its first major ratings period—by offering features on penile implants, Tantra sex techniques and a man accused of sexually assaulting sheep. Fox news stories usually feature neck-wrenching camera moves and lightning-fast edits, driven by a steady rock beat.

“You don’t have to be bored to death to receive information,” says XETV news director Alberto Pando, who has a shaved head (and a baseball bat behind his desk). “The other stations don’t go to the extremes we do because they are afraid to fail. We’re not afraid to fail.”

He makes no apologies for the sweeps features, penile implants et al. “We’ve gotten about a hundred e-mails asking for the doctor’s name,” Pando says. “We’re providing a service.” It’s not clear if he’s kidding.

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