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End of manhunt leads to missteps in local coverage

The pressure of being on the air live undoubtedly contributed to poor choice of words from Ed Drantch on Channel 7 on Sunday, when escaped prisoner David P. Sweat was captured near the Canadian border.

Drantch first referred to the escape plan by Sweat and Richard W. Matt more than three weeks as “courageous,” which certainly isn’t the word you would expect to be said about murderers. Drantch found the right word in his next reference a few minutes later when he called the escape plan “elaborate.”

When I noted Drantch’s poor choice of words on Twitter, a follower of mine added “Could be worse. News 4 Buffalo killed him” and sent along a screenshot of a graphic that had a photo of Sweat with the word “killed” alongside a photo of Matt, who had been killed two days earlier. The follower added he captured the inaccurate screenshot before Channel 4 deleted it.

According to a Channel 4 source, the mistaken graphic only briefly appeared on the station’s website and never made it on the air. The same source said the station mistakenly concluded that Sweat was killed because two sources had said he was “gunned down” and that led to the conclusion he was dead rather than in critical condition.

Channel 4 also had to be disappointed and frustrated that its 6 p.m. newscast Sunday was pre-empted by a golf tournament carried by CBS that included a playoff that ran the entire news hour.

Normally in situations like that, Channel 4 would move its newscast to its sister station, WNLO-TV. But a station source said that move had to be prescheduled and it wasn’t, because the anticipation was that the newscast would be carried on Channel 4.

On a news night like Sunday, that was very unfortunate for Channel 4.

Channel 2 and Channel 7 were the primary beneficiaries of Channel 4’s frustration. Channel 2, which primarily relied on a NBC reporter for its coverage of Sweat’s capture, had a 10.9 rating at 6 p.m. Sunday. Channel 7, which wasn’t carrying a live sports event and spent the most time in the afternoon with live coverage, had a 5.6 rating. Channel 4 was third with a 5.2 rating.

At 6:30 p.m., “The NBC Nightly News” on Channel 2 had a 10.9 rating, ABC’s national newscast had a 5.6 on Channel 7 and the golf tournament had a 4.9 rating on Channel 4.

At 10 p.m., Channel 4’s first newscast of the night on WNLO-TV had a slight advantage over Channel 2’s newscast on WUTV, 4.1-4.0. It wasn’t because of Channel 4’s content.

Channel 4’s Nalina Shapiro and Jenn Schanz both had reports via phones on their way to Albany and Malone, respectively, that provided more unintentional laughs than information about the capture and condition of Sweat.

Shapiro “reported” that she was looking at the Albany skyline and “we are trying to get there as quickly as we (I presume someone else was driving) can, while going the speed limit, of course.”

Of course.

Then she speculated on Sweat’s medical condition with two doctors who weren’t treating him.

When Schanz was asked by weekend anchor Callan Gray what she and her driver were seeing from the car she was in on the way to Malone, the reporter said: “We’re not seeing a lot. … We’re seeing a lot of dark road.”

Now there’s a headline: Channel 4 in the dark.

I’m not blaming the reporters. It was the fault of whoever decided to put them on the air with the full knowledge they hadn’t gotten to their destinations yet.

Needless to say, Channel 4 would have been better off just telling viewers that it was sending reporters to the two scenes and waited until the 11 p.m. news to ask the two reporters questions.

At 11 p.m., Channel 4 was out of the dark – and out of third place.

Channel 2 was the big ratings winner again with an 8.0. Channel 4 was second with a 5.9 and Channel 7 in its customary third place with a 3.5.