By David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun
11:50 PM EDT, June 24, 2014
If you wanted any real sense of what was going on in the first hour after primary election polls closed Tuesday night, you had to go online or, better yet, plug into Twitter, because TV didn't seem to be trying hard at all.
I am not talking about anything as bold and daring as the network affiliates actually interrupting or, God forbid, pre-empting reruns. I am talking about such basic business as putting tickers or crawls on the bottom of the screen with early vote totals as they came in.
I was seeing few of them as I kept switching among WBAL (Channel 11), WJZ (Channel 13), WBFF (Channel 45) and WMAR (Channel 2). Of the four, the channels with the most data at the bottom of the screen from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. were WJZ and WBAL. But even there, it wasn't much.
Meanwhile, Twitter was flooded not only with the shifting numbers, but also with the almost instant sense that Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown had handily defeated state Del. Heather R. Mizeur and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler in the Democratic race for governor. Twitter also owned the first news in the Democratic attorney general's race that state Sen. Brian E. Frosh was running well ahead in the early going against Del. Jon S. Cardin and Del. Aisha N. Braveboy.
If you love politics and wanted a backstage sense of what was happening on election night, TV wasn't even in the game.
Twitter, meanwhile, had the first news of the heavy-handed way that the Brown campaign was treating reporters — including Twitpics of reporters cordoned off from the celebration and a reporter being shown that she would need an escort from the campaign staff to use the bathroom. Wow.
Bruce Leshan, a reporter at WUSA (Channel 9) in Washington, was the first to tweet it by all the feeds I saw. The Baltimore Sun confirmed the cordoning off and the need for bathroom escorts.
In terms of what viewers saw on their TV sets, Channel 13 general manager Jay Newman says his station ran election results at the bottom of the screen "approximately five times" between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. WBAL news director Michelle Butt says her station had its ticker up three times in that period: at 8:21, 8:31 and 8:48.
That matched my channel-hopping impression: WJZ was on air the most, but WBAL was in the game and had the best presentation. A frame on the left side of the screen showed all races with results from the Associated Press, while a frame on the right highlighted the most important races.
WBFF general manager William Fanshawe, meanwhile, confirmed that his station's election crawl didn't start running on air until 9:25 p.m. I didn't see any on WMAR from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. The station did not immediately respond to an email asking if and when it aired anything.
I understand the low turnout and the perceived lack of enthusiasm among voters for a primary held in the summer. And given that digital and social media have been eating bigger and bigger pieces of legacy media's pie for years, I don't want to overstate the significance of what I saw on the screen Tuesday night.
But the willingness by Baltimore TV stations to cede that first hour after the polls closed to social media fits too neatly with the lack of interest by some local affiliates and owned stations in hosting TV debates during this election. Even if your reporters are engaged in social media, you don't just stop doing TV.
The final straw of political indifference came for me came at 10:30 p.m. when Brown was giving his acceptance speech.
The only Baltimore station carrying it live was WBFF, which was in its normal 10 p.m. newshour. WJZ, WBAL and WMAR were carrying their summertime network programming.
I don't care how the stations try to spin that, perhaps saying that viewers would be seeing the speech in replay some 30 minutes later during the 11 o'clock news. That unwillingness sends a message that electing even a governor isn't important enough to interrupt our entertainment.
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