Concerns and Complaints
Our viewers are very vocal. We encourage your feedback. You will be happy to know we read every e-mail that is sent to us. I want to share with you a few recent concerns and complaints and then my thoughts. Hopefully, it will clear up some confusion or give you a better idea why we do the things we do.
1. This woman wrote to us complaining about a commercial. Here it is: "I have watched your news for years, but now, every time the news is on there is an ignorant commercial blaming the president for the price of gas (when it is a world market and lack of regulation on speculators that causes prices) I change the channel. I refuse to watch a program that offends me with political lies and nonsense."
Here is my response. The news department has no say or influence on what commercials are shown during our newscasts. That is handled by our sales department. They are two separate departments. The sales folks are located on the other side of our building. We don't have much interaction with each other. It's not that we don't like the sales people. We limit our interaction because we don't want either department trying to influence the other. The bottom line is no one at News 7 had a say on whether this particular commercial airs in our newscasts. It helps keep us impartial. I'm sorry she feels the need to switch the channel. That is her right of course but something tells me this commercial is probably airing on the other stations too.
This is also a good time to remind people we rarely limit political advertising. The management here at WDBJ 7 doesn't take sides. For example, let's assume the General Manager of WDBJ is a Republican. He wouldn't decide to air more pro-Republican ads just because he is a Republican. The same goes if he were a Democrat. In my twelve years at WDBJ, I can only recall a few instances when management refused to air a political ad. In those cases, the ad was too graphic or completely untrue.
2. This woman wrote to us complaining we show too much file video from the mass shootings at Virginia Tech. Here is what she wrote: "I know it is your job to report the news, but when reporting or updating the viewers on any story relating to the April 16, 2007, shootings at Virginia Tech (i.e., the lawsuits of two families suing the Commonwealth of Virginia), does WDBJ7 always have to show video footage of the police cars racing towards Norris Hall with the officers getting out of their cars? That same clip has been shown almost every time your station has a story related to it. I am only one of several staff/faculty members of Virginia Tech who live in the viewing area and was intimately involved on that horrendous day. Seeing the footage is a constant reminder of what we went through and it is certainly a reminder that we do not need."
Here is my response. She's right. We show the video too often. We sometimes forget that day was so dramatic for so many people and showing that video over and over just brings up too many bad memories. I'm not saying we should never air the video again but I think we can do a better job of showing it only when it's appropriate. I'm glad she brought this to our attention.
3. This guy wrote to us after the verdict in the Virginia Tech civil trial. You may remember the jury ruled in favor of the two families who sued the university over the April 16, 2007 shootings. Here is what he wrote: "It was so nice to see that the jury ruled for the familys in this case and did not let the local medias onair bias for Virginia Tech have any impact on there decision.There is still some true justice left in the world after all.Virginia Tech and The Commonwealth deserved this ruling if not more."
Here is my response. I don't know where to begin. This guy obviously has watched too many X-Files episodes. Virginia Tech doesn't dictate if and what the news media covers regarding the university. I am sure there are stories Virginia Tech doesn't want us to cover but that doesn't stop us. Just for the record, no one at Tech has ever said to me "Justin, you can't cover a particular story." This viewer also accused us of being biased towards Virginia Tech. I've never heard anyone in our news department say let's cover something a certain way because we favor Virginia Tech. We've done plenty of positive and negative stories about Virginia Tech. That is balanced coverage.
Those are my responses. If you have complaints or concerns in the future, please let me know. I'm always willing to listen but keep in mind I won't always agree with you.
It's time for a good ole fashioned rant. I haven't done one in awhile. My beef has been building for years. It has to do with education. I cover a lot of the education stories for News 7. It has long been a passion of mine. Over the years, I've heard the same complaint. People say we only cover negative news at the schools. Typically I let it roll off my back because I know it isn't true but the latest complaint really irked me.
The woman wrote "I am wondering why your news station does not support William Fleming Highschool Girls Basketball, These girls have been playing really hard and are on there way to play for state. The Roanoke Times is there every game. Our own news station in Roanoke, VA does not support our youth. But, if there is a crime in the school that has been commented you guys are there. Why cant you show positive things more. These girls are playing basketball instead of being on the streets. These girls are playing basketball instead of being pregnant. These girls have worked real hard through this tough Basketball season to make it as far as they have. This is a cinderella story and because it is not negative I guess your not interested. You guys need to support your hometown alot more that what you do. The sad thing is your news station is right behind William Fleming. It is being recognized by alot of viewers of yours on how much you do not support William Fleming Highschool.I need you guys to do better."
The notion that we only cover negative stuff at William Fleming is absurd. In just the past month, I covered an appearance by one of the Norfolk 17 and a workshop conducted by Opera Roanoke. My colleague Susan Bahorich covered a story at Fleming about a program that helps girls get more involved in math and science. These were all positive stories. This week, WDBJ 7 featured Patrick Henry High School's orchestra. They've been selected to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. That too was a positive story. The list goes on and on. It is obvious to me, this viewer isn't watching our news.
She also mentioned that our station is located near Fleming. It is unreasonable to expect us to cover every event at the school just because it is down the street. WDBJ 7 covers 26 counties. There are probably hundreds of schools in our viewing area. The reality is, we don't have enough time or people to visit every single school.
The complainer took us to task for not covering the accomplishment of the girl's basketball team. Did you ever think maybe we didn't know about it? How about an e-mail telling us about the story rather than one that trashes us? You certainly have the right to complain but you have a better chance of getting coverage if you ask nicely.
What the girl's basketball team has accomplished is pretty amazing. The players deserve a pat on the back. But I don't understand this notion that someone's accomplishment isn't validated until they are featured on the news.
Finally, do we cover plenty of negative news in schools? Yes. I don't make any apologizes. News is news. Our job is to report the good, the bad, and the ugly. But do we cover nothing but negative news? No. I think if you watch our news over one week's time, you will find plenty of positive education stories. I just think folks tend to remember the negative ones rather than the positive. Let me leave you with this thought. If something cool or interesting is going on at your school, let us know about it. Don't assume we already know.
Are runaways news?
We've received several recent e-mails and phone calls from people angry at us over the issue of runaways. They feel it is our responsibility to report and help find these people, even though they don't want to be found.
First of all, we rely on police to tell us whether someone is a runaway or is actually missing. Media organizations, WDBJ 7 included, typically don't report on runaways. There is a good reason for it. People runaway everyday. If we were to run stories on them, they would become such a common occurrence people wouldn't take them seriously. We try to save our air-time for the most serious cases, when someone is missing or kidnapped. The amber alert system works in a similar way. Authorities only issue an amber alert when a child is missing or has been kidnapped. They don't issue an alert for a runaway.
I think we are seeing more pressure to cover runaways because of social media. Family members post pleas and pictures on sites like facebook and they expect us to follow suit. We check out every case that is brought to our attention. Again, we rely on police to tell us whether someone is missing or is a runaway. Not everyone likes our explanation. People have sent us e-mails saying we don't care. That is untrue and quite frankly silly. Of course we want to see everyone return home safely.
However, an argument could be made if our viewers want us to cover runaways, shouldn't we? It's something we may have to reconsider in the future, especially if enough viewers demand it. But I am not totally convinced. What's next? Should we report on missing pets just because you want us to? Don't laugh. We get calls all the time asking us to do just that. While you may not like my explanation about runaways, I hope you appreciate the honest response.
Oscar Predictions 2012
Since I was a kid, I've been watching the Oscars. My friend and I would place bets on who would win every year. More often than not, I came out on top. Since I couldn't stay up late, my dad would write down the winners and slide them under my door. They would be waiting for me when I got up in the morning. The last few years I've made a point to watch all the nominees in the major categories. It is a hobby of mine. It isn't easy. I read blogs and the trades to see who has Oscar buzz. Thankfully, the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke plays a lot of these movies making my job a lot easier. I must say this year wasn't the greatest year for movies. But without further adieu, here are my annual picks!
Best Actor: This seems to be a race between George Clooney and French Actor Jean Dujardin.
George Clooney for The Descendants- I wasn't in love with this performance. I thought Clooney was much better two years ago for Up in the Air. He was nominated then.
Demian Bichir for A Better Life- Great performance, great story but have you seen it? No chance of winning.
Gary Oldman for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy- Oldman is a great actor but this role isn't Best Actor material in my book.
Brad Pitt for Moneyball- I am not a huge Pitt fan but I really liked this performance. I actually believed he was Billy Beane.
Jean Dujardin for the Artist- A moving performance and he doesn't even say a word.
Will Win: Clooney.
Should Win: Dujardin
Was Robbed: Michael Fassbender for Shame should be here. That was the best performance of the year.
Best Actress: This seems to be a race between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep.
Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady- What can you say? Another great performance by Streep. Unfortunately, the movie was terrible and I think that will hurt her chances of winning.
Viola Davis for The Help- Great performance by a great actress.
Rooney Mara for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo- I wasn't in love with this performance. She wouldn't get my vote.
Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs- I realize Close has been nominated several times and has never won but this character was so weird I couldn't vote for it. She's good in this movie. She plays a woman pretending to be a man. But I've never bought her as a man.
Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn- A great actress who will one day win an Oscar. This year isn't the one.
Will Win: Davis
Should Win: Davis. However, I won't be upset if Streep wins.
Was Robbed: Don't think anyone was overlooked
Best Supporting Actor: This seems to be a shoo in for Christopher Plummer.
Christopher Plummer for Beginners- Great performance
Kenneth Branagh for My Week With Marilyn- Great performance. Too bad he is up against Plummer.
Nick Nolte for Warrior- Great performance but did you see it? No chance of winning
Jonah Hall for Moneyball- Good performance. Not sure it is Oscar worthy.
Max Von Sydow for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close- Great performance. Too bad he is up against Plummer.
Will Win: Plummer
Should Win: Branagh
Was Robbed: Patton Oswalt for Young Adult
Best Supporting Actress: This seems to be a shoo in for Octavia Spencer
Octavia Spencer for The Help- Wow, she practically stole the show. Bravo!
Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids- Good to see the Academy honor a comedic performance. She was very funny. Too bad she is up against Spencer
Jessica Chastain for The Help- Great performance but how can you ignore her co-star Spencer?
Berenice Bejo for The Artist- Love this performance. She was cute and playful. Too bad she is up against Spencer.
Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs- Great performance. Like Glenn Close, she also plays a woman pretending to be a man. Unlike Close, I actually bought her as a man.
Will Win: Spencer
Should Win: Spencer
The Artist- A silent movie that was actually entertaining. How can you beat that?
The Help- A great movie but it seemed too polished for me. The fact the director isn't nominated hurts its chances
Hugo- This movie bored me to tears. Wouldn't get my vote
The Descendants- Good movie, not the best of the year
Midnight in Paris- It is a Woody Allen film. Not a huge fan of his movies. Wouldn't get my vote.
Moneyball- Great story with great performances.
The Tree of Life- Hated this movie. Can you tell me what it is about?
War Horse- Good movie, not great. Steven Spielberg has made better movies.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close- Have mixed emotions about this movie. Didn't hate it, didn't love it. Wouldn't get my vote.
Will Win: The Artist
Should Win: The Artist
Was Robbed: Contagion. This was a better movie than it got credited for.
Lee Jackson Day vs. MLK Jr. Day
News 7 received a few complaints from viewers regarding our coverage of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They felt we covered too many MLK events, basically that it was overkill. They also felt we didn't cover enough Lee Jackson Day celebrations. The implication is News 7 favors MLK Jr. Day over Lee Jackson Day.
Lee Jackson Day continues to be a controversial holiday. Some feel those who celebrate it are racist. News 7 hasn't taken a stance, nor would we. No one at News 7 has ever said we can't or won't cover Lee Jackson Day celebrations. In fact, we reported on Lee Jackson events Friday and Saturday in Lexington and then another event in Roanoke several days later. Overall, it is true we covered more MLK Jr. Day events than Lee Jackson. Why? Simply put, I think it's because more communities hold MLK Jr. events than Lee Jackson events. There is no conspiracy on the news media's part.
I also received a few complaints about my coverage about the Confederate flag controversy in Lexington. Last Friday, Sons of Confederate veterans lined the streets of Lexington to protest the city's new flag ordinance. We interviewed several Sons of Confederate veterans as well as a shop owner who defended their right to fly the Confederate flag in Lexington. I also interviewed a Lexington resident who basically called the Sons of Confederate veterans racist. Needless to say, some Sons of Confederate veterans weren't happy I aired that interview. The reality is Americans are still debating the cause of the Civil War 150 years later. Some feel it was about state rights, others feel it was about slavery. My job as a journalist is not to take sides. My job is to present all sides. I make no apologizes for interviewing the man who called the Sons of Confederate veterans racist. I think if you watched the piece as whole, it was pretty balanced.
I end with this thought. Can't we put an end to this Confederate flag controversy? The Civil War happened 150 years ago. It is time to move on. What's the solution? I'm not sure but I am tired of hearing about it.
There's been a lot of debate lately about Tim Tebow's religious displays during football games. Last weekend, he painted John 3:16 across his face. Some love it, others hate it. Honestly, it doesn't bother me. If he is religious and wants to show it, so be it. If athletes can sign million dollar endorsement deals to wear Nike, why can't Tebow wear his religion on his sleeve? If the cheerleaders can wear scantily clothed outfits on the sidelines, who am I to say Tebow can't display his religion? What's next? Athletes can't wear crosses around their necks?
There are downsides to Tebow's public displays of faith. If he ever gets into trouble, say a DUI or caught on camera swearing, he will face more scrutiny and news media coverage than other athletes. We as a society love to see famous people fall. It reminds us we are all human. If you wear your religion on your sleeve and then do something wrong, you come off as a hypocrite. Is it fair? No but you open yourself up to that criticism.
I have a big problem when Tebow supporters say God is obviously on his side. They argue that's why he is doing so well on the football field. I don't buy this logic. If something bad happens to you, does that mean God doesn't like you or doesn't like what you are doing? Let's face it, bad things happen to good people. If a christian gets cancer, I guess that means God isn't on their side? You can't have it both ways.
I wish Tim Tebow the best of luck...to a point. Since I grew up not far from Foxboro Massachusetts, I will be rooting for the Patriots this weekend. But I won't hate Tebow just because he loves his faith.
I am well rested after more than a week off from work. I spent some of the time visiting family near Boston. During my break, I saw a lot of movies. Some I saw here, others in Boston because it will take awhile for them to get to this area. Here's my take.