TV: What's an Election?
You might think that, with the war winding down and the most important municipal election in a decade on the horizon (with several crucial issues weighing on our city, including a $77 million budget deficit), coverage of the City Council races might be ubiquitous on local airwaves. Well, OK -- no, you wouldn't, and you'd be right. The Chronicle watched at least one local newscast every night from April 10 -- a week before early voting started -- until Election Day. The silence would have been stunning if it hadn't been totally expected.
Of the 35 newscasts we caught before the vote, 23 made no mention whatsoever of the election, and two only noted that early voting was starting. On the 10 broadcasts that featured actual election reporting, only profiles of mayoral candidates were offered -- we saw no examination of the Place 2, 5, and 6 races.
On the first day of early voting, KXAN's 6pm newscast spent one minute (total) profiling the four mayoral leaders, but 21/2 minutes interviewing fictional Greater Tuna character Vera Carp about the new voting machines. The mayoral majors also were highlighted by KEYE at the start of early voting. Total time allotted: Katz, 25 seconds; Nofziger, 25; Meltzer, 19; Wynn, 23. The best of the sorry lot was Fox 7, which offered two- to three-minute profiles of the mayorals. But quantity did not mean quality -- questions were lightweight, with predictable responses.
In stark contrast was News 8 Austin; the 24-hour channel sure tried to live up to its billing as "a public service" to cable subscribers. News 8 interviewed every single candidate, questioned them on the aforementioned crucial issues, and then archived the interviews at www.news8austin.com. The interviews weren't exactly hard-nosed, but were still light-years ahead of anything offered by the broadcast stations.