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We interrupt this program..

by Joe Donlon

Bio | Email | Follow: @pdxpeacock

Posted on November 23, 2005 at 12:04 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:34 PM

Before I moved to Portland, I had a job interview in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that remains to this day, one of my favorites. The news director took me to a Milwaukee Bucks basketball game, and we played "You Make the Call" for the next three hours. We ate a shrimp pizza (it was a Friday during Lent), and drank what looked like a small silo of beer (that is never forbidden in Milwaukee) as he laid out dozens of scenarios. Each was followed by a simple question: "What would you do?"

"A man with a gun walks into a school - and is locked in a classroom. Do you break into programming? What if someone calls from a cell phone inside the school, and tells you who the gunman is, do you go with that information?" And so on..

I had a blast, and I must have passed the test - because they made me an offer. Unfortunately, my agent apparently made a counter offer that put the general manager on a heart-lung machine.

Anyway, I thought about that experience this week, during our coverage of the Nike owned plane with landing gear issues. Do you break into regular programming with that news? Absolutely. The question here becomes, "How long do you go with wall to wall coverage of a plane that could be circling Portland for 6 hours?"

There are a couple of schools of thought with this. If we break AWAY from our coverage to show Regis and Kelly, we risk losing viewers to other stations that ARE covering the ordeal. If we stick with the coverage, we risk losing viewers who don't want to watch a plane dump fuel for 4 hours (this option also costs a television station a lot of money in advertising that gets dumped - along with the fuel).

Make no mistake, we hear from DOZENS of you - on both sides of that debate. Personally, I think we should use common sense. If there's something valuable to add to the coverage, great. If not, get me back to my program. I think our viewers trust us to let them know when something happens - or is about to happen. If it is truly THAT big of a deal, I will watch. If not, give me an update every now and then.

Ultimately, I don't make that decision. It's up to the managers to make that call, while we sustain our coverage on the air. It also brings to mind something an old news director of mine used to say, half jokingly: "Anything worth doing, is worth doing to death." Some of the storm coverage in Portland is proof of that!

Having said all this - it's almost a given that despite all the angry calls we get about our continuing coverage, our ratings the next day usually support the decision to stay with it. Does that make it right?

You make the call.