Bring TV reporters in from the cold

The Baltimore Sun

Let me begin by emphasizing that I have nothing but respect for our friends in local TV news, who do a bang-up job bringing us breaking stories, weather and sports, along with the obligatory shocking videos of a bear jumping over the side of a bridge and a precocious 6-year-old taking the family sedan out for a spin.

Oh, I'm hooked on all four stations. I love the palpable sense of excitement in the ABC2 News Storm Center when the forecast is dicey; the panoramic shots from WJZ's Sky Eye Chopper 13 piloted by Capt. Mike Perry; the I-Team swinging into action over at WBAL, ferreting out malfeasance and corruption; the Crime and Justice Team at Fox 45 keeping an eye on the bad guys for all decent citizens.

But that's not what I want to get into today.

No, today's topic is this: Why do these stations insist on reporters doing live stand-ups at the scene of a murder, say, or a car accident or whatever, when the incident took place hours earlier and now it's all over and there's absolutely nothing of interest happening there?

We've touched on this before in this space, but it seems to be getting worse.

Case in point: the big story a few days ago about the Hunt Valley hotel's skylight collapsing.

OK, you heard about that: atrium glass skylight comes crashing down, metal beams and glass go flying everywhere, but somehow nobody gets hurt.

Anyway, this happened around 2 in the afternoon.

But when I clicked on WBAL's 11 o'clock news that night, sure enough, there was reporter Kerry Cavanaugh doing a stand-up in front of the hotel, which was, naturally, deserted.

I say "naturally" because it's been my experience that most hotel guests tend not to want to remain in a place where the roof has just collapsed and sent shards of jagged, killer glass raining down from eight stories up.

So not only had the guests relocated to other hotels, but the place had been declared unsafe by structural engineers and closed.

OK, so there wasn't anyone around or any activity taking place as the reporter did her stand-up.

Also, it was dark, this being 11 o'clock at night, a time when darkness traditionally envelopes this area.

Oh, and one more thing: It was raining.

So let's recap: poor Cavanaugh was out there doing her stand-up in front of a deserted, dark hotel, while holding an umbrella over her head. Understand, this is in no way a shot at Cavanaugh, who does a great job; she did a fine report.

But the question is: Why was she even out there?

Presumably, she was there just so the station could say: We're live at the scene. We're on this. We're live, local, late-breaking, blah, blah, blah.

But, memo to WBAL news honchos: There was no scene outside the hotel! At least, none that we could see.

There didn't seem to be any late-breaking stuff happening, either. About the only thing happening was that the Outback Steak House down the street had just closed for the night.

So would it really hurt the newscast if, instead of saying "We go now live to Kerry Cavanaugh out in Hunt Valley," the anchor were to say: "We go now live to Kerry Cavanaugh in the newsroom for more on the hotel skylight-collapse?"

And, instead of seeing her in front of a dark, deserted hotel in the rain, we saw her sitting at a desk, nice and warm and dry, maybe sipping a cup of hot tea with lemon as footage of the damaged hotel is shown?

Would this really be a bad thing?

Would it be an automatic ratings killer?

I don't think so.

Yet the TV news people do these after-the-fact live stand-ups all the time.

How many times have we seen a story of a shooting in a dicey neighborhood, and the shooting took place at, say, 3 in the afternoon?

But there, on the 11 o'clock news, they go back out to the neighborhood for a "live report" and there's the reporter standing all alone in the dark, with not another soul around, looking like she might catch a bullet herself at any moment.

The TV stations even inflict this kind of torture on their sports guys.

How many times have we seen this, too: the big game ends at 6 in the evening. But on the 11 o'clock news, there's the sports guy standing outside a darkened stadium, recapping the game and giving us the rest of the day's scores.

Would the viewers really mind if these people were reporting from the studio, instead of standing in the dark with nothing going on?

It's the story about the 6-year-old tooling around in his old man's Buick - that's what we're waiting for, anyway.

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