published Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Gerber: Accusations swirl after story about meteorologist

A story about a TV meteorologist last week caused a thunderbolt response from one of the weatherman’s competitors.

Mike Costa, general manager of WTVC-TV NewsChannel 9, took issue with the Times Free Press’ Monday front-page story highlighting WRCB Channel 3 Chief Meteorologist Paul Barys, calling the story a “puff piece.”

The story, about how Barys reported on the devastating tornadoes of April 27, 2011, also quoted NewsChannel 9 Chief Meteorologist David Glenn, but focused on Barys, who was in the accompanying photo.

Costa said in an email that the newspaper favored Channel 3 because we are “marketing partners.” The Times Free Press and Channel 3 do have a partnership, but it is more about journalism than marketing.

Like many newspaper and television stations across the country, we promote each other’s work, share stories and video and collaborate on stories. We also link to each other’s online content. On occasion, we have shared news tips, information or sources or have bent each other’s ear on issues related to journalistic ethics and whether to run or air something.

When we write stories about the weather, we use Channel 3 meteorologists for information.

But that’s not why or how the story about Barys came about.

A reporter who was a member of the paper’s “tornado team” first proposed the story last April because she was hearing repeatedly in the field that many people credited Barys with saving their lives. Another reporter heard the same thing. Both said they heard the names of other local meteorologists mentioned, too, but that, overwhelmingly, Barys was the name that came up over and over again.

We didn’t get to the story in last year’s tornado coverage — there were more pressing life-and-death stories at the time — but as we weighed topics for our one-year anniversary coverage in a newsroom brainstorming session, a reporter again brought up the idea. This time, we decided to follow up.

The genesis of that story was what our reporters saw and heard from real people.

Costa doesn’t buy that.

“You have sold-out the integrity of what was a great paper for your ‘partnership,’” he wrote in an email. “Best of luck to you with your partnership.”

The truth is, reporters pitch stories based on what they hear anecdotally, what they see firsthand and what they find in research and reporting. They don’t throw favor to the newspaper’s partners or advertisers. Believe me, many of our advertising sales reps wished reporters were more inclined to get a comment from an advertiser than a non-advertiser.

But that doesn’t often happen and, when it does, it’s by coincidence, not design. And that’s good — news and advertising departments traditionally are separated by a “wall” in order to prevent those who have a business relationship with the newspaper from unduly influencing the news coverage.

It’s a tenet of journalism that, thankfully, the Times Free Press abides by.

Still, Costa feels we are favoring Channel 3 because of our agreement.

“Much like the tornadoes of April 27 affected a wide swath of our area, the warnings and coverage came from many different voices,” he wrote in another email. “The focus on WRCB ... sure makes it seem the marketing aspect of your agreement has bled into the body of the journalistic aspect of your agreement.”

Until two years ago, the Times Free Press had a similar agreement with NewsChannel 9. In 2010, we switched from Costa’s station to Channel 3.

The two stations are in a very competitive situation, vying for viewers.

The story also stated that WRCB’s ratings have jumped since last April, and that, since the tornadoes, the station has seen its best numbers in key demographics since 2003.

Channel 3 provided numbers to back that up. But Costa provided different numbers showing that NewsChannel 9 is outperforming Channel 3.

The problem is, both sets of numbers, from Nielsen Media Research, are correct. But they look at the ratings from different time periods so, essentially, to compare them is the old apples-to-oranges comparison. And the story didn’t compare the two station’s ratings. It just said WRCB had made gains.

Still, we appreciate Costa calling us to task as we appreciate any reader who raises concerns. Even when we do not agree, questions from readers always prompt discussions in the newsroom about how we do things and how we can improve.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com. Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfreepress.com.

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aae1049 said...

As a consumer of news, I view the depth and detail of TV Channel 3 news pieces as the best due to substantive and original content. I am simply amazed at the level of talent at Channel 3, they seem to have less resources, but produce a much superior evening news hour. Channel 3 will also research or investigate, where the competitors seem to parrot other sources.

April 29, 2012 at 12:22 a.m.
ldurham said...

Agreed. David Carroll is the best news anchor in town, Paul Barys is the best weather forecaster, and Callie Starnes is the best reporter. As for Mr. Costa at Channel 9, would you like some cheese with your whine? You lost, sir. Work harder and produce better results, and your station might get some attention too.

April 30, 2012 at 8:19 a.m.
librul said...

Most, if not all, of the "news" offered up by local TV is puff and fluff - USA Today TV. After the drone of video police reports, who got killed on our unpatrolled freeways and "what's happening in Boise, Idaho" we are left with the weather, endless commercials and watching four year-olds run the bases backwards. If that's what is supposed to pass for "video journalism" these days, going to bed at 10:30 to get an extra hour of shuteye seems the logical choice.

April 30, 2012 at 8:57 a.m.
rosebud said...

I read the column and laughed out loud. The big boss at WTVC-9 is upset because the TFP dropped his station in favor of WRCB-3, and is now surprised that the paper gives Channel 3 more space. Now that's funny. As I recall, Channel 3's weatherman trained Channel 9's weatherman. I'll go with the teacher, every time.

April 30, 2012 at 9:20 a.m.

I don't watch either one for their news. And certainly not from the weather which they just take off the NWS anyway.

April 30, 2012 at 9:07 p.m.
Rtazmann said...

THEY ALL DO happywithnewbulbs,,,SO ISN'T THIS FOOLISH FOR GROWN MEN TO BE ARGUING OVER?? NONE ARE CLOSE TO 50$ SO WHAT IS THE ISSUE..BUILDING INSPECTORS SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRST NOT WEATHER MEN.YOU CAN'T STOP STORMS BUT GOOD WORKMANSHIP WOULD HELP.

May 1, 2012 at 2:01 p.m.
John_Proctor said...

News Channel Slime, with its "If it bleeds, it leads" philosophy has no standing to whine about the TFP's coverage of what Costa alleges was a "puff piece" on Paul Barys. Slime's specialty is "guilt by accusation supported by biased reporting." Their reporting during the Tonya Craft persecution was biased against her and was a form of electronic yellow journalism at its worst.

Channel 3 has better reporters and less bias than either of its competitors. The TFP tie in is just icing on the cake.

May 3, 2012 at 12:27 p.m.
Downtownman said...

Personally, I'm stunned that people actually have a preference among the stations. The local tv news is all about car crashes (whether or not people were hurt, our cameras were there to record the non event), lurid sexual stories (usually leads a newscast), rah rah Chattanooga's so great puff pieces (God bless the Tennessee Valley residents, the most generous people on Earth)and pandering viewer polls (should this serial killer be set free. Duh, I wonder how people will vote) Channel 3 depth? They are as bad as the others, plus you get at least 2 or 3 mispellings or misidentifications per newscast. The print media is the only place you will get actual journalism in this town.

May 3, 2012 at 1:58 p.m.
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