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Monday, November 7, 2016

Media Notes: Election Preview Edition


Another one of my guilty pleasures involves watching old network election night coverage on YouTube.  It seems there has been a flurry of new contributions.

One was recently quickly devoured by yours truly, and thank you to the person who posted it.  It was ABC News in November of 1980.  Two of my favorite broadcasters/journalists anchored that night:  Frank Reynolds and Ted Koppel.  It pains me to say it, but it was absolutely awful.  There was no chemistry, and they seemed to be out of rhythm for the entire evening.  You can't blame it all on the anchors.  There were technical problems.   That was evident.  A bad producer can wreck a broadcast, and the people in front of the camera get the blame.  I don't know what happened behind the scenes that night, but it was not ABC's finest hour.  It was the first presidential election night of a new ABC regime.  ABC stumbled, but later recovered.  I'm still big fans of Reynolds and Koppel.


By the next presidential election cycle, Frank Reynolds had passed away.  Peter Jennings was installed as solo anchor.  ABC welded David Brinkley to his side because Jennings spent so much time overseas.  Jennings really didn't know American politics, and Brinkley was worth his weight in gold.  That's the way it was at ABC until 1996, and it worked rather nicely.

Those stable network days are long gone.

Scott Pelley is anchoring his second presidential election at CBS.  Lester Holt is doing his first as main NBC anchor.  Brian Williams, who self destructed, is in exile at MSNBC.  I grew up with Cronkite and Rather.  John Chancellor was the NBC mainstay for a long time, and he never really received his due.  Looking back at old YouTube video, the man knew politics.

Consider Katie Couric for a moment.  In 2008, she presided, at CBS,  over the night the United States elected its first African American president.  Four years later, she was monitoring Facebook and Twitter over at ABC.  Ugh.  I assume she'll be live on Yahoo! tomorrow night.

ABC has yet another main election night anchor.  Tomorrow, it will be George Stephanopoulous.  Four years ago, it was Diane Sawyer.  In 2008, it was Charlie Gibson.   Peter Jennings did his last in 2004.

I really don't follow the cable networks, with their casts of thousands.

Me?  Being a morning creature, I don't work election nights.  I anchored one, many years ago.  It was great fun-- days of research and planning.  The key is to do the homework, then stick it in the back of your head.  Go with the flow and what is happening NOW.  Use your stored information when you really need it.  Don't spout off facts and history just to show how smart you are.  I've seen that done too many times, and the end result is a lousy broadcast.

Most of my election night reporting was on the radio, and radio can be a great medium on election night.  You're limited to the spoken word-- no whiz bang graphics that the TV people have.  While some may see that as a handicap, it's really an advantage.  There is more of a connection with the audience.  Describe.  Add color.  Take the listener to headquarters and ballrooms.  Talk with people.

One of my favorite election nights ever was the night I covered a congressional race in Luzerne County.  One candidate was at what used to be the Sheraton Crossgates.  The other was at the Sterling.  I spent my night going back and forth across North Franklin Street, getting the latest, phoning in reports on WARM, getting a handle on what was going on.  It timed out perfectly.  I got a concession speech on the air, and made it to the winner's headquarters just before his victory speech.

Winners this time around appear to be Chris Wallace of FOX News Sunday.  He did a great job on the third debate.  I've been a fan for a while.  If you're under the FOX banner, everyone assumes "conservative."  Wallace is tough and fair with people in both liberal and conservative camps.  He's also polite.

Megyn Kelly of FOX News Channel is another winner.  Donald Trump attacked her early in the campaign, and it helped turn her into an even bigger star.  Reports have Kelly signing a new, $ 20 million per year contract with FOX.

Social media did what social media does-- spread a lot of information, much of it false.  I still can't believe how many people take Facebook postings as gospel.

A 2016 loser is Brett Baier of FOX News Channel, who had to walk back a report of a possible Clinton indictment.

So called mainstream and traditional did OK during this cycle.  The true test will come tomorrow night.  I hope we don't have any 2000 Florida style debacles.

It's going to be a fun night, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out.