Live - sorta - from Bangor
By Al Diamon
Created Aug 28 2007 - 6:47pm
August 27, 2007
WVII-TV, Channel 7, begins its 6 o'clock newscast with a flat-out lie.
"News for Bangor," an announcer proclaims, "live from Bangor."
Well, some of the newscast is live. But not the weather. Which is taped. And isn't from Bangor.
Other than that, Channel 7 is pretty much what you'd expect to see if you decided to watch TV news done on an ultra-low budget. Stories are short and sometimes vague. There's lots of file tape. There isn't much actual reporting. And big scoops are often absent from its airwaves.
WVII doesn't rely on flashy technology. If there's a live van, it didn't get much use while I was watching. Graphics are - to put it politely - restrained. They reminded me of the way newscasts used to look in the 1950s. And the station doesn't have an Associated Press wire, relying instead on Metro Source, a less costly competitor with a single reporter in the state.
WVII has a small staff. There's no news director. The operations manager oversees news - and just about everything else that goes on the air. Only one reporter, although the two anchors do some interviews. A couple of sports guys. And no meteorologist. Instead, the station uses AccuWeather, a service out of State College, Pa.
Channel 7's operations manager, George Thomas, admitted that "technically," the weather isn't live, as advertised, since it's taped 30 to 45 minutes before airtime. Nor is it from Bangor, as the announcement claims, since the meteorologists are "technically" at AccuWeather's studio in the Keystone State. But, Thomas said, the meteorologists get mail at the Bangor station, and most viewers don't realize the difference.
That's a little hard to believe, since the lead-ins from the news anchors to the weather segment are often clumsy. And on one recent night, meteorologist Jim Kosek twice ended his forecast by handing off to the wrong person. Nevertheless, Kosek fits in well with WVII's Eisenhower-era broadcast, re-creating the persona of the `50s hucksters that used to be a staple of TV forecasting. He whoops. He hollers. He makes bad jokes, often involving his sponsors.
Which is another odd thing about Channel 7's news. The weather folks do ads. Right on the set. Each of their segments begins with them extolling the virtues of a Bangor business, about which they clearly know nothing. I'm not aware of any other TV station in Maine that allows members of its news team to do ads during its broadcasts, but Thomas has no problem with the practice. "We don't see, as far as the weather forecast goes, any conflict of interest," he said.
Thomas said WVII doesn't devote as much time to statewide stories as other stations, instead emphasizing news from Bangor and northern Maine. But on the nights I watched, that didn't seem to be the case.
On August 14, the station was apparently unaware that environmental activist Roxanne Quimby had that day announced she'd acquired a huge tract of land near Baxter State Park. Instead, viewers were treated to a story about a drowning in a nearby lake (with file footage of the lake), a piece about problems in the logging industry (lifted from the previous day's Portland Press Herald and, again, accompanied by file footage), reporter Katie Daly's report on testing the water quality of the Penobscot River (minus any mention of the controversy over local Indian tribes' unsuccessful court action to prevent the state from regulating that work, although that omission was almost obscured by one of Daly's interviews in which we learned that fish can't breathe oxygen from the air) and a promotional item on a Bangor taxi company that uses Mercedes automobiles (described as "unique" and "even more unique"). There was a competent live report from the Senior League World Series, going on in Bangor, in which sports director Evans Boston displayed above-average TV reporting skills.
On August 20, the station had nothing in its 6 p.m. broadcast about the Bangor Theological Seminary selling its property after 186 years, and it missed the news that more University of Maine students had been cited for illegal music downloading. It did offer three-day-old information on the half-millionth returning soldier being greeted at Bangor airport and a two-day-old bulletin on a shortage of donations to the upcoming American Folk Festival in Bangor. A story on a study of the cost of doing business in Maine was likewise a leftover from the previous week's newspapers. There was extensive video of a dog show held two days before and hosted by one of Channel 7's news anchors.
The August 23 newscast was much the same: only a passing mention of a proposal by a prominent businessperson to build an east-west toll road across northern and central Maine, file footage of Mount Katahdin accompanying a story about a large donation to Baxter State Park, a piece that reassured us there'd be "security on site" for the American Folk Festival and a sports report mostly devoted to coverage of the previous night's Red Sox game (but lacking the news the Sox had sent pitcher Jonathan Lester down to Portland for one start). The highlight was again Evans Boston's fine work, this time a well-written, crisply edited high-school football preview. Boston is clearly bound for a bigger market and soon.
Most of what's wrong with Channel 7's news can be blamed on a budget that seems to be too tight to permit quality journalism. With a little more money, what's bad about this broadcast could become mediocre, and what's mediocre could become average.
And if there was enough cash left over to hire a meteorologist, what's false - "live from Bangor" - could become true.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
Footnote (October 4, 2007): Just call me psychic. Channel 7 sports director Evans Boston is scheduled to file his last report for WVII on October 5. He'll start work the next day as the weekend sports anchor-reporter for WGME, Channel 13 in Portland.
Boston - yes, that's his real name - is from York. He began his broadcast career in Ohio in 2004 and shifted to the Bangor station in January of last year. He said moving back to southern Maine to work at a station he grew up watching "really is one of my goals."