Local network affiliates adjust to wartime television coverage

March 21, 2003 | Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)

 | Page: 8 | Section: Nation/World
449 Words | Readability: Lexile: 1290, grade level(s): 11-12

While United States military strategists hoped Wednesday that the element of surprise would work in their favor in Iraq, it proved disastrous for ABC news affiliates across the country, including WTVC-TV 9 in Chattanooga.

ABC affiliates got a surprise shift in programming Wednesday night when the promised national feed was "dumped," or stopped, just before 11 p.m. newscasts.

According to NewsChannel 9 news director Steve Hunsicker, the local affiliate received word at 10:38 p.m. from ABC News that the network would continue its war coverage and that there would be no opportunities for "local cutaways (coverage)."

Then, Mr. Hunsicker said, "at 11 o'clock (actually 10:58:34), ABC dumped out." He said Channel 9 supervisors already had sent crews out "to cover the war and get reaction from people."

When the national news feed ended and the station's signal went black, Mr. Hunsicker instructed the remaining staff to run some promotional advertisements and then made the decision to rebroadcast parts of the day's 6 p.m. newscast, he said. The sports and weather segments were left out, he said.

Mr. Hunsicker said WTVCTV 9 was not the only station affected.

"I have heard from three other stations so far who got caught with their pants down," he said. "It was a major communication error."

Mr. Hunsicker said he received an e-mail from ABC Television President Alex Wallau and ABC News President David Westin on Thursday afternoon explaining ABC News was unaware that a communication had been sent regarding local coverage.

"This left many of you in an untenable position," the message read. "We deeply regret that we let you down last night. We are committed to earn back your trust."

How Chattanooga area television stations will cover the war in Iraq in coming days is unclear, though officials with local network affiliates each said they have a plan.

"It's changing every 15 minutes," WRCB-TV 3's news director Bill Wallace said. "It all depends on conditions, but we are prepared to do 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 (p.m.) newscasts."

WDEF-TV 12 news director Kyle Brinkman said he put together a 24-page "war plan" for the station in the weeks leading up to Wednesday's events.

"We can't do as good a job covering the war as the networks, so we will check with city leaders, health departments, TVA, anyone that might have security issues," Mr. Brinkman said.

CBS, which is carrying the NCAA basketball tournament, has announced that if the national news feed goes to coverage of the Iraq war game coverage will be shifted to either ESPN or ESPN2.

ABC has announced that Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony will take place at 8:30 p.m., but the normal preshow festivities, including the Barbara Walters special, will not be aired.

E-mail Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com

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