The Friends of the Library in Carthage hold a used book sale 8 a.m. to 12 noon each Saturday. I picked up many a book at those sales and occasionally an album or even a 45. On one particular Saturday I picked up a videocassette that purported to have a couple of old Audie Murphy westerns on it.
For those unfamiliar with Audie Murphy, he was the most decorated veteran of World War II and starred in numerous movies during the 1950s and 1960s, including "To Hell and Back" the story of his World War II heroism and director John Huston's "The Red Badge of Courage" which Turner Classic Movies ran last Saturday night as one of its "Essentials" series.
As I put the videocassette in my machine, it was quickly obvious it was of poor quality, but since it had been more than 20 years since the last time I saw the movies, I kept watching. It had obviously been taped nearly 20 years ago, from KODE-TV, during the days when Tracy Stark was one of the anchors and Bob Phillips was still producing his segments on area history. The movies were complete with commercial after commercial, most of them promotions of the station's newscast.
Anyone who doubts that today's newscasts are superior to those days should watch that video. (I would loan it to you, but I donated it back to the Friends of the Library.) News coverage is better, graphics are better, and it is much easier to do live reports than it was in those days.
But at least we had three local stations competing with each other for news stories. The consolidation of the operations of KODE and KSNF does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. If Nexstar, the owner of KSNF and de facto owner of KODE, were to take the money it saves by combining news and sales teams and put that back into its local broadcasts, you could make a good argument in favor of it.
If Nexstar were to put it in writing that it would pour even half of the $1.3 million is asking from Cable One back into its local news programming, it would put itself back in the driver's seat as far as public opinion is concerned.
Tell us that salaries will be increased, efforts will be made to retain good news personnel instead of letting them drift off to other stations. Tell us reporters will be sent to seminars to help them learn their craft and pick up other useful skills, such as investigative reporting.
And for that matter, do some investigative reporting. Hire enough reporters that they have time to really dig into a story and provide the public with the information it needs to know.
If you have stations all over the country, then why not set up a small office in Washington. D. C. and have a reporter cover stories that are of particular interest to your affiliates?
Those things would be great, but they are never going to happen. If Cable One were to cave all of a sudden and give Nexstar everything it wants, it would be unlikely you would see anything different in the programming.
That, in a nutshell, is the danger of reducing the number of news voices in a community.
A quick examination of the websites for KSNF and KODE also gives an idea where Nexstar's priorities lie. When I checked this morning, the top two "news" stories on KODE's site, were Nexstar's open letter to its readers (again with no effort made to provide a balanced news report) and the story of the scam being pulled by people claiming to be selling satellite systems. KSNF' site leads its news area with the letter, then has another story, then uses the satellite scam as its third story.
Nexstar does not seem to recognize the value of an uncorrupted news department. When it uses its news department to shill for the business side it gives its credibility a black mark which will take a long time to be erased, if ever.
The viewer suffers, but so do the hard-working news people at KODE and KSNF, who do not deserve this shabby treatment.
Nexstar is banking on Cable One and Cox backing down and paying to carry the stations. In the meantime, advertisers are starting to pull away and are beginning to shift their affections to KOAM. It has already been guaranteed that the Nexstar stations will lose viewers since Cable One has made it clear they will not be returned to its cable systems in Independence, Kan., and Vinita, Okla. If FCC rules allowed, we would already be seeing alternate NBC and ABC stations on Joplin's Cable One, too.
If Nexstar's policies cost it advertising and viewers, it won't be long before more cuts are made at the local stations. I can guarantee you it won't be Nexstar Chairman Perry Sook giving up his $4.5 million bonus or COO Duane Lammers sacrificing any of his half million a year paycheck.
Of course, having television stations with distinctive news operations does not guarantee you will get different angles on local stories. Take the night of Jan. 29, 1988, for example. I was managing editor of The Lamar Democrat at the time and was sitting through an interminably long Lamar Chamber of Commerce annual dinner.
I was there long enough to see Tom O'Sullivan receive a plaque as Man of the Year and see veteran attorney Gordon Boyer receive a lifetime achievement award, but the event just dragged on and on, until suddenly a Lamar fireman burst through the doors of the Horton Building and said Liberal Elementary School was on fire.
I quickly jumped up and left, feeling slightly guilty that I was pleased to have a reason to leave the banquet. I followed the fire trucks to Liberal, arriving at the elementary school just before reporters from KOAM and KODE arrived.
I got my interviews with school officials and took my photos while the TV photographers were getting their footage. It was interesting to see how the reporter/photographers from KODE and KOAM worked. It was as if they were joined at the hip. Neither took a shot that the other didn't take, too.
Finally, the KOAM reporter asked me which one was the superintendent. I pointed out Dr. Garold Barney to him. I was amused by the reporter's question since he lived in Liberal, graduated from school there, and didn't even know who the superintendent was. As the reporters continued their Siamese twin act, I walked around the building where I found my story.
This was how I started my article in the Feb. 4, 1988 Democrat:
A cool breeze brushed across Karen Evans' face as she stood by the Liberal Elementary School building. A tear fell silently down her face as she stared at the kindergarten classroom where she had taught every weekday for the past six years. Her eyes were glued to the walls.
"The kids are going to be sick. They worked so hard to make those valentines."
Now there is no guarantee that either television reporter would have ever gone around to the back side of the building if they hadn't stayed so close to each other, but what a visual that would have been: two kindergarten teachers staring at their students' melted work.
I stayed at the scene for a little over an hour, then drove to Casey's General Store to grab a Doctor Pepper. As I was paying, a reporter from KSN pulled into the parking lot and ran into the store and breathlessly said, "Can you tell me where the elementary school is?"
I have written so many times about frivolous lawsuits filed by inmates that I failed to look at stories other than waste of taxpayers' money that might be presented by these lawsuits. A case in point is Martin Eck's $10 million lawsuit against Jasper County Sheriff Archie Dunn and the Sheriffs' Department for not providing him with proper dental care. While I took the easy route and wrote one of my typical sarcastic articles, KOAM did a solid story on the real problem faced by officials due to the large number of prisoners who come to jail with dental problems caused by use of methamphetamine. I can't remember having seen any stories on this problem in the electronic or print media, so once again, KOAM was ahead of the curve.
Speaking of Chamber of Commerce banquets, the annual Carthage Chamber of Commerce Banquet is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, at Memorial Hall. The agenda will include honoring the recipient of the annual Richard M. Webster Memorial Citizen of the Year award, and the presentation of Golden Apple awards to top Carthage teachers.
Parents in the Diamond R-4 School District who want to find out more about how drug testing for students would work will have an opportunity to listen to presentations by representatives of drug testing companies during a public comment hearing 7:30 p.m. Thursday according to Superintendent Mark Mayo's weekly newsletter.