WJZ and WBAL dominated early coverage of the breaking news of Mayor Sheila Dixon's mid-day conviction Tuesday, and that is not surprising, because they are the only stations in town with noon newscasts.
By the time WMAR got to its 5 p.m. newscast with Mary Beth Marsden at the anchor desk, WMAR's coverage had a coherence and focus that it previously lacked. And WBFF, which seemed to be in control of the story even though it offered less initially than Baltimore's two leading news stations, was stronger yet at 5:30 with its first-string team up and running. But no one was going to catch up with WJZ or WBAL by dinner time.
Of the two, WBAL was the more aggressive from the get-go when news that a verdict was about to be delivered came down shortly after noon. The three reporters on the ground at the courthouse and City Hall — Jayne Miller, Dave Collins and Kate Amara — were all over the story.
Miller and Collins moved the story forward outside the courthouse by examining the statute that could force Dixon to step down as mayor based on the single conviction from the jury.
It was exactly where the story needed to go following the flurry of questions for Dixon and her attorney, Arnold Weiner, during a news conference on the courthouse steps as to whether she was going home or back to the office.
WJZ, meanwhile, was furiously gathering reaction in and around the courthouse from the likes of attorney Warren Brown and WOLB radio talk show host Larry Young, a self-described supporter of Dixon's. And WJZ stayed on the story up until prime time with an additional newscast at 7:30 p.m. that went into the issue of how long Dixon will be able to stay on the job and how would succession work. (WJZ and The Baltimore Sun have a content sharing partnership.)
If there was any doubt in anyone's minds why WJZ and WBAL are the two most popular news operations, Tuesday's breaking news of this major story offered a clarifying snapshot.
But while WMAR General Manager Bill Hooper said most of the station's problems early Tuesday afternoon on the "raw" nature of streaming online feeds and not having a noon crew on-hand for coverage, Scott Livingston, the news director at WBFF, said neither was a problem for his station.
The local Fox affiliate also streamed video of its reporter, Joy Lepola, who was at the courthouse, but only on a delayed basis, in part, for reasons of "editorial" control, Livingston said.
Had WMAR delayed that way, perhaps viewers might not have heard coarse language or seen such confused coverage. WMAR's Hooper said it was intended to be "raw and live" by definition for an online audience.
WBFF used Twitter and social network sites to let viewers know when its inserts were coming Tuesday, and Livingston believes such co-ordination and use of new media helped it target coverage to its audience — one of the youngest in Baltimore in part because of its Fox affiliation.
Of the four, WBAL chased the story the hardest at city hall -- with Amara. The city does face a crisis in terms of whether citizens will accept Dixon's leadership now that she was found guilty, and Amara was the reporter questioning Dixon's actions Tuesday at city hall the loudest.
As for WMAR, it could, perhaps, take some comfort from the act of pulling itself together by 5 p.m. and looking so much more organized on-air. Except Wednesday is Marsden's last day at the station. After 21 years as the face of TV2, she is leaving on a buyout offer after the 6 p.m. newscast.