Meatier Media Moments

The News at Nine

Top Nines1. KOOP can't cooperate: The infighting among the staff of KOOP, the community station which is (supposedly) operated on cooperative principles, was one of 1997's big stories; this year, it wins the top slot for sheer political drama (and absurdity) if nothing else. To recap the many shenanigans: In July, the station's board of trustees fired Jenny Wong, who had been the station's only general manager since its inception in 1994, charging her with financial mismanagement, among other things. This act culminated a year of unpopular moves by the board, which had been alienating the larger body of KOOP members and volunteers with an overly p.c. attitude and a tendency to quickly brand anyone who disagreed with them (including this columnist) as racists, homophobes, and sexists. An opposition group named Friends of KOOP sprang up to oust the board and regain control of the station. After the Friends led the overwhelming majority of the station's members to a nonbinding vote of no confidence against the board, they organized a slate of candidates to run in the station's elections for the community board (the body which elects the board of trustees). The safe money was on the Friends' candidates, but before the results could be tallied, the trustees invalidated the election results, claiming that some ballots were missing and probably stolen. Station members cried foul at what they saw as an Orwellian delaying tactic, and last month, two members filed a lawsuit to have the trustees removed, citing alleged violations of state nonprofit law. (The suit was settled on Monday with a compromise between the two sides; see this week's "Naked City.") Got all that? "Media Clips" sincerely hopes that KOOP's station politics in 1999 will be too tame to make next year's list, but we're not betting on it.

Jenny Wong

photograph by John Anderson

2. The New York Times "breaks" the Lacresha Murray story: For the past two years, local mainstream news media paid only the scantest of attention to the protestations of Murray's supporters, who claim that the young teenager was wrongly convicted in the 1996 beating death of two-year-old Jayla Belton. But when The New York Times' Bob Herbert ran a six-part series condemning the sloppy and downright unethical manner in which the Austin Police Department and the Travis County District Attorney's Office conducted its investigation and prosecution of Murray, the story instantly became hot: The Austin American-Statesman, much to its own embarrassment, ran the series, and several national news programs -- including 60 Minutes, National Public Radio, and others -- began swarming around Austin to take a look into facts which were ignored for too long.

3. TV news veteran dies: In 1995, KVUE news director Carole Kneeland helped implement a visionary policy regarding crime coverage. Recognizing that too much of television news is devoted to sensationalistic, isolated acts of violent crime which ultimately have a small effect on the community at large, the policy set guidelines for crime reporting which mandated that the event in question only merited coverage if there was an ongoing danger to the community or if it otherwise had a broad impact on many viewers. The policy drew praise from media activists around the nation, including the hard-to-please Rocky Mountain Media Watch. Kneeland, 49, succumbed to cancer in January, leaving behind not only this policy but a reputation as a strong journalist.

4. KVET-AM goes all-sports: The fallout from KVET/KASE's sale to Capstar finally came in October, when KVET-AM abandoned its year-and-a-half-old attempt at news/talk and became an all-sports affiliate of ESPN Radio. While KVET's news/talk certainly fell short of excellence, it was still pretty good compared to most of what occupies the radio and television broadcasting airwaves. With news in the mornings and at noon, the conservative John Doggett in the afternoons, and a late morning slot that changed hands from liberal Eric Blumberg to Susan Powter and then (thankfully) back to Blumberg again, KVET devoted 10 straight hours to local issues. But the ratings never kicked in, and suddenly, poof! It was gone, and Doggett, Blumberg, and the news staff were out of work.

5. Mike Levy sells Texas Monthly: After 25years of independent ownership, Mike Levy's regional juggernaut was bought by Emmis Broadcasting Corporation of Indianapolis. Thus far, however, the effect seems to have been negligible: Levy and the rest of the publishing staff were retained and allowed to continue doing pretty much the same jobs as before the sale, so perhaps we can hold off on getting the rope.

Jim Hightower

photograph by John Anderson

6. Jim Hightower is gone again: In 1997, we celebrated Jim Hightower's arrival on Austin's airwaves. After a year of broadcasting from Threadgill's World Headquarters in downtown Austin and appearing on about 100 stations around the nation but not in Austin, the former Texas Observer editor and Texas Agriculture Commissioner had finally picked up a local carrier. But in February, KNEZ changed from news/talk to an all-Spanish format, and Austin is once again deprived of its liberal oasis in the right-wing world of talk radio.

7. Austin Music Network goes private: Because "Media Clips" mainly focuses on news media, we decided to leave coverage of this controversy to the Chronicle's music reporters, but it is nonetheless an important media story -- after three and a half years as a public access channel, the AMN was moved into the private domain by decree of the City Council. Supporters of privatization contend that it will save the city money; detractors fear the station may simply become another outlet for the music industry rather than for Austin's musicians. Regardless of its success or failure, eyebrows must be raised as yet another public resource is put into for-profit hands.

8. Local and regional all-news channels imminent: Time Warner Cable announced in Augustthat it will start an all-news cable station in the spring devoted entirely to Austin news, in the mold of CNN Headline News. At about the same time, A.H. Belo Corporation, the owner of The Dallas Morning News, began broadcasting its Texas Cable News (TXCN) on January 1, exclusively covering news of the state. And a controversy could be in the offing if Time Warner refuses to carry the potential competitor here in Austin. It remains to be seen if either station will actually be any better than the laughable news programs currently produced by our existing stations (or, for that matter, Headline News itself), but reports are that similar stations in other markets are doing a respectable job and even pulling in better ratings than CNN.

9. Texas Supreme Court investigates Nolo Press: While it would seem rather obvious that publishing legal information, like publishing any other kind of information, is protected by the First Amendment, that simple logic wasn't enough to stop Texas lawyers from investigating California's Nolo Press for possibly violating our state's Unauthorized Practice of Law regulations. The Texas Supreme Court's UPL Committee called Nolo's owners into Texas to ask them questions about their business, a meeting which has yet to happen because Nolo's lawyers demanded more info about the committee's secretive processes. At this point, there is no set date for a decision to come down on this. This story could be a minor blip in legal history, or it could evolve into a First Amendment slugfest.

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