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Channel 4 keeps pounding police beat

Editor's Note: This is the second part of a four-part series in which News TV Critic Alan Pergament analyzes the three local TV news channels after watching the weekday 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts for the week of Oct. 22.


WIVB-TV is the crime station in more ways than one. Before and after all the popular CBS crimes series it carries -- including the three "CSIs," "Criminal Minds," "Cold Case" and "Numbers" -- News 4 Buffalo offers a steady diet of crime stories.

It was almost criminal to see the number of crime stories that the No. 1 news station in town ran during the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts on the week of Oct. 22. During the week, about 40 percent of the first 50 stories at 6 p.m. and of the first 50 stories at 11 p.m. were crime-related.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the first four stories involved a retrial of an old murder case, a stand-off involving a man who apparently had self-inflicted wounds, a home invasion and the stabbing of a taxi cab driver.

After stories involving the death of a 24-year-old man at a Bills game and the Bills' plan to play games in Toronto, it was back to crime with the story of a Niagara County man who allegedly came to a victims' impact panel drunk.

The newscast, anchored by solid veterans Don Postles and Jacquie Walker, sparked a weeklong trend that ended Friday with five of the first six stories at 6 p.m. either crime-related stories or accidents. At 11 p.m. Friday, it was the same thing. The first six stories were crime or accident-related.

It was almost like revisiting the 1970s, when Channel 7's Eyewitness News with Irv Weinstein dominated locally.

Of course, some of the crime stories deserve top billing. For instance, the 11 p.m. Friday report by Rob Macko about the teacher who was arrested and charged with "misconduct" at Sacred Heart Academy. Unfortunately, the teacher wasn't identified in the story and his alleged "misconduct" wasn't explained.

Eventually, an interview at a noisy restaurant with a parent, Amherst Town Board Member Shelly Schratz, correctly implied it involved sexual misconduct with a student.

Many of the crime stories were of the numbing variety -- the kind local news so often carries because they are so easy to report, and which may make viewers fear for their safety. They're the stories that usually make it to the inside pages of the newspaper, if at all.

The emphasis on crime which is much more pronounced than it is on hard-charging rival Channel 2 -- is in keeping with Channel 4 News' appeal as a conservative, almost stodgy news department. It has realized that it is in the 21st century, increasingly directing viewers to its Web site but not at the same rate as Channel 2, which is running first in the Web site game.

Some of the stodginess at Channel 4 is a good thing. It is the only station that still tells viewers how the stock market is doing daily, it de-emphasizes the stomach-churning self-promotion that Channel 2 has become known for, and it is responsible enough to avoid focusing on controversy at the expense of the big picture.

While Channel 2 led its 11 p.m. Monday dealt with the most controversial aspect of a public hearing in Amherst, Channel 4's voiceover report was more of a noncontroversial overview and was lower down in the newscast.

It led that night's newscast with a story that spoke to the station's reliance on crime and sometimes shaky news judgment -- a case of animal cruelty in Amherst involving the alleged shooting of a dog by a neighbor. That one-source story was followed by a story of five puppies being rescued at Delaware Park, where they were being sold.

After going to the dogs, Channel 4 returned to crimes involving humans who were shot or stabbed. Like its rivals, Channel 4 carries between 18-20 stories a night, with only a few deserving as long as two minutes.

Of course, many people think the Buffalo Bills' plans to move a regular season game to Toronto would be a crime. But a Channel 4 report at 6 p.m. Tuesday on those plans by reporter George Richert was a welcome relief from the crime stories.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, crime took a brief back seat for another scary story -- about the superbug called MRSA, reported by Lorey Schultz. But after a story about a woman living with MRSA, it was back to a school bus fight, a shooting and more crime.

When the station isn't focused on crime, it emphasizes the Bills and Sabres, and some uplifting stories that illustrate Buffalo is a city of good neighbors fill the newscast.

Like its rivals, Channel 4 did a story Tuesday on the return to Buffalo of paralyzed police officer Patricia Parete, which it proudly stated "we brought you first on"

Unlike Channel 2, a follow-up report Wednesday on the new specially equipped van being made for Parete didn't turn into an extended commercial for the car dealership.

Fortunately, Channel 4 has the area's most veteran news anchors in Postles and Walker, and a large and excellent staff of nighttime reporters that includes Rich Newberg, Michele McClintick, Mylous Hairston, Alysha Palumbo, George Richert and Ellen Maxwell.

Luke Moretti, the station's investigative reporter, wasn't in evidence during the week, possibly because he was working on some enterprise series for the November sweeps, which began a week later. There certainly wasn't any enterprise during this week.

While meteorologist Don Paul is widely considered the weathercaster in town with the best credentials, he isn't as ubiquitous as Channel 2's Kevin O'Connell, who can be seen at least four or five times during a newscast.

Paul doesn't quite have O'Connell's gift of blarney. Some of Paul's ad-libs can be more confusing than deciphering weather radar maps. You almost get the sense that he doesn't know where he is going with the unscripted stuff before it falls out of his mouth like raindrops or snowflakes. Smartly, Paul doesn't try to pinpoint forecasts to within one degree, giving a range within a forecast that is more informative and believable.

Channel 4's stodginess includes the performance of its sports director, Dennis Williams, who looks very young but gives an old-fashioned report. It is heavily loaded with reports on the Bills, the Sabres and the University at Buffalo football team. The Bills reports primarily played off news conferences that may have been seen or heard earlier. The hockey interviews belabored the obvious and the UB reports focused on news conference remarks made by UB Coach Turner Gill.

However, Williams and his producer get points for adjusting to big events and finding room for them. He was the only local sportscaster to carry a report on the big four-point night of Buffalo native Pat Kane in a Chicago Black Hawks hockey game, and to show highlights of Boston College's incredible football comeback over Virginia Tech.

Like all three local sports departments, Channel 4's coverage of local amateur sports during the week was pretty much limited to traditional coverage of high school football under "Friday Night Lights."

Of course, being traditional and old-fashioned has never been considered a crime in Buffalo, a city with viewers that are known to be loyal and to avoid too much experimentation.

That's what helped Eyewitness News dominate locally for decades -- and it appears to be behind the dominance of Channel 4 News today.

*Coming Thursday: A look at Channel 7


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