Baltimore news on television
This month we’ve been taking a close look at how different media outlets are covering Baltimore’s biggest issues. In our first week, we focused on newspapers, wire services and magazines, then shared some of our findings about this local landscape of print media. Last week, we turned our attention to stories produced by Baltimore’s television news outlets.
To allow our community to view and comment on stories, NewsTrust Baltimore focuses on material that’s been made available on the web, but not every outlet places every story online. As a result, our snapshot of television news last week did not capture content from some interesting sources that also contribute to Baltimore’s news ecosystem. We didn’t find video from last week’s programming on Channel 75, Baltimore’s public access television station, but it is certainly part of the city’s information landscape. We noted one report on self-defense classes by a student journalist at Towson University’s WMJF, but it appears there are more stories that aren't online.
For the most part, however, Baltimore’s television news outlets now share video segments and publish story summaries online. Others have taken bigger steps into new media. WBAL, for instance, uploads content to its own YouTube channel. On some stories, online versions include additional background materials, invitations for viewers to share their views, and active discussions on social media platforms.
The news on television is usually constrained to one- or two-minute segments, but even sound bites and quick cuts can convey a lot. The nonverbal information contained in well-edited video and audio can pack an emotional and informational punch. A good television report can show what's at stake in a story. TV excels at conveying individual's voices, the textures of a neighborhood and strong emotions.
Last week, all the local boradcast TV stations covered a memorial service for homicide victim Phylicia Barnes. WBFF's Janice Park interviewed the victim's brother. Weijia Jiang of WJZ shared comments from police officials who have been immersed in the unsolved case. WBAL and WMAR caught other moments and words at the memorial service. Each outlet caught unique details of the event, but all conveyed something of the raw emotion of a major case in Baltimore.
Recurring themes in Baltimore's television news
There’s a well-worn stereotype that TV news is dominated by the motto “if it bleeds, it leads.” No doubt local news in Baltimore can sometimes seem like a steady drumbeat of crime and violence: “Hit-And-Run Leaves 2 Hopkins Students Hospitalized”… “2 CCBC Students Face Gun Possession Charges” … "Man Shot, Killed Outside of Pikesville Hotel" ... and so on. But even these segments give voices and faces to people who too often fade into the background in news stories. Television can grant more humanity to someone who might be described only as “a witness” or “a local resident” in a print story.
As part of a series of investigations of Maryland’s “cold cases,” WMAR presented a story on the forensic science used to crack some of these long-unsolved homicides. The report addresses a knowledge deficit about DNA testing in a straightforward and informative way:
Despite the inflammatory headline used on their website (“Cop Killer Rally”), this WBFF story provided an outline of the still-controversial case of Marshall “Eddie” Conway, a Black Panther Party member convicted of murdering a police officer in 1970. The evening news may be ill-suited as a forum for exploring such a complicated, historically freighted subject.
Race and racism were not explicitly highlighted in most of the stories we viewed last week, but it is a powerful current in television news. Unlike print journalism, which can appear "color-blind" unless a writer chooses to mention race, television inevitably displays the race and ethnicity. It's an interesting difference between the two media and a good subject for further discussion.
Local news stations have a long tradition of investigative journalism and consumer advocacy, and we saw some good examples last week. WBAL’s Barry Simms explored problems with Baltimore’s Housing Authority. WBFF pushed Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on outstanding arrest warrants for city workers and reported on a probe of the city's parks and recreation budget.
WBAL took advantage of social media to include viewer’s opinions in a report on proposals for new Inner Harbor attractions. In the broadcast, on Facebook, and on station's website, WBAL's Jayne Miller sought and shared comments from the public.
Cable television has a reputation for unbridled opinionating, but there seem to be few Baltimore-focused public affairs discussion programs. Maryland Public Television produces several interview shows, all hosted by Jeff Salkin. In one week he adroitly moved between such topics as the continuing woes of Maryland’s real estate market on Direct Connection, new training programs for small businesses on Your Money and Business, and the latest in Maryland politics on State Circle. The lengthier format of these programs provides guests with an ample opportunity to share their expertise and opinions and for Salkin to present polite but probing questions.
Join us in the hunt for good journalism
These are just a few of the stories and deeper themes that we found in the second week of our monthlong news hunt. We hope that you'll take a closer look at these stories and help us identify other examples of outstanding local journalism.
This week we're examining radio news sources in Baltimore. How do local stations and programs handle the city’s most pressing issues? What are we missing as we collect and review stories? We welcome your insights -- please join us in reviewing and posting stories on NewsTrust Baltimore.