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Why national TV coverage of Freddie Gray hearings seemed slight

Why national TV coverage of Freddie Gray hearings seemed slight
Cameras surround protesters gathered at the courthouse prior to the first Freddie Gray hearings. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Network and cable TV outlets devoted less daytime coverage to the Freddie Gray hearings in Baltimore than I expected -- especially cable.

It might be tempting to say there was a lot less coverage today compared to what there had been in April because there was a lot less violence. But the explanation is not that simple.

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The cable channels, at least, were well represented for what one show host described as an "innocuous" court hearing.

CNN and Al Jazeera America, for example, had two crews each in Baltimore all day. Fox News had one here as well.

As for the networks, the ruling by Judge Barry Williams that the six officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray would be tried separately made the "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt."

And all three cable channels sent at least one reporter who had covered the unrest in April and knew something about the city. In the case of Al Jazeera America, the reporter was Adam May, who worked at WJZ-TV and still lives in the city. He will have a special report, "Saving Baltimore," airing at 10 p.m. Friday on the channel.

May did reports on the morning and afternoon shows for Al Jazeera America, and was expected to be on in the evening as well.

CNN had Miguel Marquez and Jean Casarez in Baltimore for appearances in the morning and afternoon shows.

But most of the news during the day took place in the courtroom, and Judge Williams kept a tight lid on the use of any electronic devices or transmissions out of the courtroom while the proceedings were under way.

One producer, who asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to talk about coverage, said it was "frustrating" to have "radio silence" from the reporter in the courtroom much of the afternoon, while nothing he considered newsworthy was happening on the street.

A spokesperson for CNN expressed a similar sentiment in saying that strictly enforced "court guidelines of no devices inside the court" made it impossible for the channel to have anything new to offer viewers during the afternoon session in which Williams ruled on separating the trials.

Earlier in the day, Williams had ruled in favor of State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, saying her office did not need to be recused from the case, nor would the cases against the six police officers be dismissed.

The other reason that coverage during the day seemed slight, one producer insisted, is that I was in part comparing it to April, when the screen was filled with around-the-clock saturation coverage. No one at the cable or networks who I spoke to last week expected the news out of Baltimore today to warrant sending in show hosts like Chris Cuomo or Carol Costello to anchor out of the city.

Early in the evening, news out of Baltimore did appear to be getting more night-time coverage.

On Fox News, Greta Van Susteren had a live report from Leland Vittert in Baltimore and talking heads dissecting the rulings made by Williams.

While she allowed that the number of protesters in Baltimore Wednesday might seem relatively small compared to the contigents in April, Van Susteren thought it was a lot for an "innocuous" court hearing. Her guests agreed and expected even more interest on the hearings Sept. 10 to determine if the trials would be moved out of Baltimore.

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