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Then There Were Five

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This is News 14 Carolina. It's one o'clock."

With that voiceover, the newest member of Charlotte's TV news pack debuted June 14, as Time Warner Cable's News14 Carolina went on the air after months of building a news operation from the ground up.

To cut to the chase, with some adjustments here and there and settling into their 24-hour news grind, what viewers are getting is well-produced and has a clean, uncluttered feel.

It will take time to work out the kinks and glitches, but since you don't run a graphic on-air that says, "have patience, we just started," here are a few elements that were working -- and not working -- during the debut.

You've got the look. A recovering newsie like myself is very picky about this stuff. Presentation was straightforward and sensation-free, though the news of the day on Friday wasn't earth shattering. I dig the graphics, which have a clean look, and are identical to the Raleigh version of this operation. Anchors were upbeat and got right to the business at hand, without too much fanfare. And the visuals of the newsroom behind the main anchor "money shot" show off an impressive physical plant. Show it off more.

Who are these people? The News14 Carolina honchos apparently want to make information the focus, not the anchors. But with just three anchors grinding it out on-air during weekdays, I'd like to know who they are, more often.

More live, please. In case you didn't know, the News14 Carolina operation is very high-tech, with reporters and producers able to edit material and put shows together on PCs. But being able to switch and flip news stories with anchor lead-ins attached to keep the 24-hour wheel rolling has its flaws, mainly losing the feel of immediacy. In other words, it doesn't always feel live because it isn't.

It was confusing, after you figured out (and I cheated, I used my VCR) that the two anchors tossing to a commercial break were on tape. I know, because only one anchor was working the actual newscast, and I saw the same people in the background going up the newsroom stairs twice in the span of an hour or so. The anchors also used the same inflections and hand gestures on the toss.

Weather on the Ones. The ancient radio concept of weather reports at one minute after the hour, 11 minutes, 21 minutes, etc. will serve the station well. The concise and frequent reports will become a habit if TWC viewers just want the weather. Chief meteorologist Chris Phillips holds the distinction of being Charlotte's only mustachioed weather guy.

Faces to watch. As far as the on-air staff goes, some high, and not-so-highs from the initial viewings. Phillips has great pipes and does his thing, no frills, and no tension. Mai Shiozaki, who's the weeknight anchor, was the best of the crop on Day One. Reporters ranged from good to green, with John Agresti and Diana Rudd standing out.

And the news part? Debut day was a light news day, as I mentioned before, but the local news bases were covered, with a Salisbury house fire, the Hezbollah trial, and a gas spill on South Boulevard as top stories. Repetition is the name of the game for 24-hour news machine, but by late evening, morning video of the gas spill was looking old and needed updating.

Overall, though bases were covered, and reporter news stories went beyond the minute-fifteen on many of Charlotte's other stations. Features about family, fitness, and business were fine, but don't watch too much, or you'll see them over and over again.

News14 Carolina is quite an accomplishment for these new kids in town and will likely become a habit for a quick news fix for TWC viewers.

*****

Proposed Mecklenburg County budgets cuts have led to the demise of a program on WTVI, the county's public television station. Charlotte Tonight, a Thursday night local issues program hosted by Chris Clackum and produced by Von Kinloch, is ceasing production.

WTVI vice-president and station manager, Elliot Sanderson, tells me that despite the show's "excellent service to the community," a county budget cut estimated anywhere from $160-180 thousand dollars is the reason the show is going away.

"That's what we're basing our budget cuts on," Sanderson says. "Even in good times, it's not easy to sell programs, and PBS is becoming tougher on sponsorship, with regard to underwriting (a program) versus commercials. And we can't run commercials."

Production costs for an average in-studio program at WTVI can run in the $50,000 range. That pays for everything from the host, to producers and researchers, and even the videotape shows are recorded on.

The lone local issue show remaining on WTVI is Final Edition, the weekly gabfest starring Charlotte-area journalists.

*****

An unusual media get-together on June 6 launched a Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte project coming this fall.

That's because women in local media only were the invitees to hear the announcement of Charlotte's Women Build, a project that will see three homes built by women only this November.

Women publishers, reporters, anchors, and sales and promotion heads from Charlotte's print and broadcast community were all in the same room for once. Wonder why there's not a social organization that does that for them on a regular basis, anyway? Count me in.

Stay tuned... *

E-mail story tips and feedback to Shannon.Reichley@cln.com.

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