Local Kentucky TV Station Wants To 'Un-Hype' The News

Sick of the hype that desperate local TV news programs use to try to draw viewers, a station in Louisville, Ky., is making a bold promise: If news isn't breaking at that moment, the station won't call it breaking news. It is part of a new compact with viewers and advertisers not to hype the news.

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In local TV news, one of the most basic ways to appeal to viewers is to constantly promise breaking news, but one station in Louisville, Kentucky, is taking a different approach. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik tells us more.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The spot is for WDRB television in Louisville.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Breaking news is seldom actually breaking and quite often isn't even news. At WDRB, we never use that term. We believe the relationship you have with your television station shouldn't begin with a deception.

FOLKENFLIK: Deception? Bill Lamb is general manager at WDRB, the Louisville Fox affiliate.

BILL LAMB: We kind of looked around and saw that the other guys were playing a marketing game with breaking news, and we were taking an approach of better journalism, and we were hiring journalists who were better writers, better storytellers.

FOLKENFLIK: Lamb's station actually makes a 10-part promise.

LAMB: Well, we will not hype our product, and our promotion will always be truthful. We'll strive to present reporting that's bias free. You know, that's a difficult thing to do when human beings are putting together the news.

FOLKENFLIK: Lamb and his news director Barry Fulmer came up with this approach six years ago after they concluded their station's story on a school bus driver's arrest in her own car for DUI the night before, well, no laughing matter, was not news and not breaking. Only last month, however, did they start that promotional campaign, explicitly taking direct aim at Louisville's ratings leader, WLKY.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Continue to stay with WLKY, live, local, late breaking.

ANDREA STAHLMAN: We've built a position of leadership in the market based on our belief that, you know, Louisville news viewers think that breaking news and weather coverage is important, and that's what we deliver.

FOLKENFLIK: Andrea Stahlman is news director for WLKY, a station owned by the Hearst Company, which has promoted its brand across the country.

STAHLMAN: We cover what's happening in the community. We cover crime stories. We cover events. We do investigative pieces. I mean, we cover severe weather.

FOLKENFLIK: WDRB covers a lot of the same news as everyone else - crime, politics, traffic, weather and even an occasional salacious expose as well. Yet, around town, a half dozen people told me they liked what they heard from WDRB. I met Tommy Feldman(ph), a retiree, down at Louisville's Waterfront Park by the banks of the Ohio River.

TOMMY FELDMAN: I like what WDRB is doing...

FOLKENFLIK: You do.

FELDMAN: ...because I get very tired of the breaking news because it's not.

FOLKENFLIK: But TV consultant Dave Smith, CEO of SmithGeiger, says local stations have to convey urgency and maybe even be a little bit breathless because they now face so many new challenges, such as text alerts, Yahoo! News and Twitter.

DAVE SMITH: It's not a choice that the television industry made. It's not a choice that news departments or cable news channels made. It's a choice that the audience made. There's no way to stop this onward march of technology and how it's affecting the delivery of news and information.

FOLKENFLIK: Whatever the platform, Bill Lamb argues people are eager to discern a different flavor in their news diet, and so far, he says it's working. The station is preparing to build an extension for its newsroom to handle all the new hires. David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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