R.I.P. WGBH’s TOCN: Commercial Compeitors as Subjects

I won’t say the packages that aired on WGBH’s Ten O’ Clock News was inherently a hit-job to Channels 4, 5 or 7 and 56 for the time; I’d say the tone of the stories on the local commercial media was mildly jealous?

This story was on if the local media (Boston, that is) that reports negative crime stories in certain neighborhoods would reflect that said locale badly as a whole. I think it’s a no-brainer for confirming such theory.

In the 1988 First in the Nation Primary, Channel 2 sent their crew to follow CBS News’ setup up here. The audience of the PBS world is a bit different than the commercial world; meaning that most average viewers who consumed commercial broadcast media at the time; kinda knew the behind the scenes and many of the PBS type of viewers still thought news was still “filmed”. I’m just speculating, since the story was in a way “educating” those very upper crust people how the news is produced, while us lower end peeps just know or just do it.

This package around 1989 was on the subject of local weather on commercial TV. While TOCN did do a weather segment in the form of a text based Chyron of the next 36 hours; following the live on set interviews before either anchor would walk back to the anchor desk, around 18 after; this package seemed to show what it was like to prep for a weather piece for that time.

Obviously this was for apparent big-weather events, like coldsnaps, blizzards and snowstorms, and those once in a generation hurricanes like Gloria in 1985 and Bob, just a few months after the end of the program in August of 1991, and the no-name hurricane in Halloween of that same year.

30something years later, “Weather” is the very reason why I do not watch local news. The weather department for a lot of ways was fused into the news department, and the news is dependent on even trivial events like downpours. WCVB these days love to promote “we are following the timing for your weekend/morning commute.” If it impacts my life or property (like a random unpredicted thunderstorm) you better damn well put it on the a-block!

Interesting the reporters at Channel 2 had guts to interview lower average people for those man on the street interviews. I suspect given how big the Boston market is, and how say Middlesex County as a whole has more people than the residents of Boston, that most people who lived in Boston then and as they do today, are not in tune to the average media consumer. With the no-answers on the weather guys in 1988 should say a lot!

In 1990, a woman named Pamela Smart had an underage student of the school she worked for kill her husband. Described by Christopher Lydon as “quaint” Derry, N.H… I am not sure if that should be taken as a complement or an insult. I turned 4 when the trial took place and this story didn’t just impact Manchester, but the Boston media as well. TOCN had even gave the alleged-star reporter Bill Spencer at WMUR-TV in Manchester face-time, as he had plenty of face-time across national programs like Geraldo‘s daytime talk show, and Bill O’Reilly’s Inside Edition.

Other reporters did MOS (really teenagers) closer to home, and it’s interesting how school age students could have a voice before FERPA, over protective mama bears, and other privacy policies forced no cameras allowed to easily tape students, especially giving them a voice when the 90s came to a close.

I cannot confirm if this was the only time WGBH ran with this story; but for the competition this was one of their first wall-to-wall stories they carried live and uninterrupted. Channel 9 OTTH had even the audacity to do a nightly recap of the events. I also felt in the Boston area, the Pamela Smart events gave them the open license to cover any sex or standard crime without any careful editorial judgement. Don’t read me wrong, I’ve done stories on BCOP-TV, that was completely more edgier and kinkier, but it never ran at the top of the A-block at 6:00. Some of those crazy sex stories would be at the end or somewhere in the B-block. Anyways back to “reality” I have suspected that after the trial, for WMUR-TV, they would cover any sex or murder story or trials that followed in almost a very raw and special-snowflake type of coverage, for decades after.

I actually know someone who once knew Pamela Smart professionally, I can see both sides to the coverage and what happened. She’s guilty of the crime, but the specific details is where both the Manchester and Boston press went too far, and that’s where the sensationalism began, and the facts got lost. Ironically, given what Bill Spencer had acted, that I suspect after this trial, he hadn’t been seen on local TV since. I don’t ever recall seeing him. I recommend that people watch the 2013 HBO documentary on the trial, and how the subjects indicted the media; which I would concur. 

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