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The News Becoming TV News


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Bounty System?

All three local newscasts at 11 p.m. Sunday led with the story about former Buffalo Bills Coach Gregg Williams apparently having a bounty system here that may have been similar to the one the National Football League has accused Willliams of having when he was the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints.

The TV placement of the story said one of two things about the placement of a story across the front page of The Buffalo News Sunday morning with the headline: “Bills bounty system alleged.”

TV news validated the placement of the newspaper story. Or it validated the idea that the Sunday News is becoming more and more like TV news.

I’m going with the second choice.

I was shocked when I picked up the paper Sunday. Not about the contents of the interesting story by reporter Tim Graham, who has done several sports stories and sports chats since rejoining the paper. Graham did his job and did it well. He didn’t make the shocking decision to place it across the top of the front page, alongside a complementary column by Bucky Gleason.

I had read the Graham story online about 1 or 2 in the morning Sunday after watching the Buffalo Sabres beat the Vancouver Canucks.

It is a sports story so when I awoke Sunday morning I expected to see it across the top of the front page of the sports section or perhaps at the bottom of the front page of the paper if it was a slow news day and tornadoes weren’t ravaging the South and Midwest (page A5) and Rush Limbaugh (Page A4) hadn’t given an unapologetic apology for disgusting comments that cost him several advertisers. I didn’t think the football story was deserving of being the main story in the paper worth half of the front page even if it was a local story with national implications and player safety and concussions are big issues these days.

As well as Graham did his job, the story didn’t give enough perspective to warrant its placement. It was hard to understand what to make of it. It was difficult to know how big a deal it was going to be with the league and former players or what exactly Williams was accused of doing here. The main source, former Bill Coy Wire, former Bills linebacker Eddie Robinson and other unnamed players were all over the place in their explanations of what happened and whether Williams or teammates were the main advocates of the system here.

In the old days before online reporting and Twitter, a reporter might have gotten more time to nail the story down before it went to print. Those days are gone. You go with what you have when you have it now. As a result, the story had more heat than light and even contradicted itself at times.

It was designed – like team coverage on TV – to make a splash and it did. It was like all the attention-getting stories in the newspaper and on TV news about the casino altercation involving State Sen. Mark Grisanti. The Grisanti story was initially very newsworthy and interesting but it became the most overblown story in recent memory, blending fact and fiction and possibly damaging his reputation unfairly.

By mid-day Sunday, two things happened. Wire, who Graham reported will soon have a book to sell, went on Twitter and tweeted, “I had the honor of playing for Gregg Williams. He’s one of my favorite coaches of all time. I respect him even more now for admitting faults.”

His intention in that tweet was hard to decipher. Then I noticed that News editor Margaret Sullivan was defending the story in her News blog. Her intention was not hard to decipher. The blog suggested that enough readers thought the coverage was overblown that she felt the need to react. (Noticeably, there is no big, locally-produced follow-up story in today’s paper).

The late Johnny Carson used to say after some of his jokes bombed that when you have to explain the joke then the joke doesn’t work. In a similar vein, when you have to explain why a story is important it probably isn’t that important.

The Grisanti and bounty stories suggest The News needs an ombudsman who would critique its controversial coverage as much or more than it needs an editor’s defense of her own decisions. Of course, The News isn’t as big as Williams in admitting faults so that’s an idea that has as much chance of happening as the Bills winning the Super Bowl in 2013.


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3 responses to "The News Becoming TV News"

  1. Rob says:

    Some thoughts while wondering what happened to Jerry Azar

    What bothered me about this story is how the local print and broadcast news made it look like the Bills were the centerpiece to this investigation when in fact it was focusing more on Williams time with the Saints. Are the news outlets that desperate for the “local connection?” How small minded can you get?

    • Dave says:

      The story is a “Hey, Martha” at best, and sometimes those end up on the front page.

      I agree with your observation, Rob, that it smacks of desperation for a “local connection.”

      I was perplexed last week when Channel 2 sent a reporter to cover the school shooting in Ohio. It was a story best left to NBC Nightly News, not sending Michael Wooten to try to “localize” it. None of the victims or shooters had WNY ties, so why send someone to cover it? So they can use it in commercials about how they “cover the big stories” and are “On your side.”

  2. Gman says:

    Coy Wire? Coy Wire? Now there’s a man who’s lucky to have played in an NFL game. Now news agencies (CNN) are doing interviews with Coy Wire about Bounties???? This problem has been going on way before Coy Wire was even born. Please get a better source than Coy Wire for this story.

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