Tuesday, January 25, 2022 Jan 25, 2022
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How a newsroom fell to bureaucratic bungling, lousy pay, pitiful morale, inadequate equipment, sensationalized reporting.. .and an editor who couldn’t even find Mesquite.
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KDFW-TV REPORTER Philip Bruce could hardly believe it. Hadn’t his station, Channel 4, screwed up enough in the last few days? Weren’t the bosses sufficiently embarrassed over the bungled coverage of the arrest of Remsen Wolff as a suspect in a string of Fort Worth murders? Was somebody deliberately inventing new ways to make the station look stupid? If it hadn’t been so bizarre, Bruce might have laughed.

His instructions were serious, though. No doubt about it. The assignments editor made it clear that, if Bruce wouldn’t do as he was told, he could look for another job. As News Director Wendell Harris liked to remind reporters, KDFW is not a democracy: It is a dictatorship. In this case, the Kremlin had spoken, and Bruce was appointed to the KGB.

Bruce’s orders were to rent a nondescript automobile and make like Jim Rockford. He was to tail his friend and fellow reporter Ed Dalheim to a meeting with a secret source. His mission, whether or not he chose to accept it, was to learn the identity of Dalheim’s informant on the Wolff story. A photographer would go along to record the rendezvous on videotape.

Apparently, Channel 4 management was fed up with the Remsen Wolff fiasco. Acting on information passed along by Dalheim from his anonymous source, Fort Worth police had arrested Wolff last January. Dal-heim’s inside role might have given the station an exclusive, a small but telling triumph. Instead, Harris and his editors overreacted. The evening news found Channel 4 reporters interviewing people who knew Wolff, asking questions the equivalent of, “How does it feel to live next door to a mass murderer?”

As police released Wolff for lack of evidence, Channel 8 and both Dallas newspapers chided KDFW for forgetting that a fellow usually is considered innocent until he’s proven guilty. At the same time, investigators sought the identity of the source so they could question him. Dalheim refused to reveal his source, and-publicly at least-Harris backed him. In defending KDFW at a forum of journalists, Harris conceded mistakes in coverage. But he repeatedly added, “We stand behind our reporter.”

Someone must have thought Harris said, “We stay behind our reporter.” Tail Dalheim was the order that went out to Philip Bruce.

“I asked for a couple of minutes to think it over,” recalls Bruce, now with KHOU-TV in Houston. “I used the time to phone Ed [Dalheim] in the Fort Worth bureau and explain the situation. He thought it was funny and told me to go ahead and follow him. I think he figured I wouldn’t be very good and he could lose me.”

Reporters who were there say Harris, the news director, was furious when he heard of the assignment. He had been bypassed in the chain of command, they say, by higher-ups who concocted the scheme. He angrily countermanded the spy order and told Bruce never to discuss it.

It is hard to imagine what the KDFW brass hoped to accomplish by having Dalheim followed. Did they plan to blackmail the source into talking with police in the desperate hope he could get Wolff convicted? Did they intend, perhaps, to air pictures of the man? Channel 4 officials repeatedly refused to comment on the incident or on other aspects of the news operations.

Whatever the intentions, the espionage order hardly seems rational. But many decisions at KDFW in recent years don’t appear to make much sense.

IN TELEVISION Camelot, they all had pizza and beer. The entire Channel 4 news staff crowded about the round table-actually oblong, in this case-to celebrate success and toast the future. “We’re on our way to number one!” shouted General Manager John McKay. “Drink up!”

It was fall 1982, and fresh ratings showed KDFW leading in viewers of the 10 p.m. news and crowding first place at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. for the first time in nearly seven years. With Clarice Tinsley and Chip Moody as anchors, Dale Hansen on sports and Wayne Shattuck reporting the weather, Channel 4 finally had pulled even with the Channel 8 leviathan headed by Tracy Rowlett and Iola Johnson.

In the next six months, the station would continue to sit on the post at 10 p.m. while also passing Channel 8 in the ratings for the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts. For a short time in the spring of 1983, Channel 4 could rightly boast, “We are Number One.”

For a network-affiliated television station, local news is everything. It is the station’s image, its prestige, its identity. Viewers may tune to a particular channel because it carries Dynasty or Dallas or Hill Street Blues. But research consistently shows that, when people think of a station as an entity apart from the network it carries, local news is the first thing that comes to mind.

A good local news show also is a license to print money. Typically, news provides 25 to 30 percent of a station’s revenues. In Dallas, the eighth largest market in the country, percentages often run higher. Advertisers with fistfuls of money clamor for exposure during and next to the news, which gives them a well-educated, affluent audience. KDFW rakes in an estimated $20 million to $25 million a year from its news operation alone-not a bad margin for a department with an operating budget of roughly $4 million. It helps explain why the station is often mentioned among the 10 most profitable broadcast properties in the United States.

A station’s ratings, of course, have a big effect on dollars. Advertising agency media buyers look carefully at A.C. Nielson and ARB (American Research Bureau) numbers when choosing stations and negotiating rates. Currently, in Dallas, a 30-second spot on the top-rated 10 p.m. newscast costs at least $3,500 and may go as high as $5,600, says a veteran Dallas media buyer. On the station rated third, the same spot goes for about $2,550. With as many as 16 spots crammed into a half-hour of news, ratings points can mean big bucks.

When Channel 4 marched into the number one spot, it must have seemed like Camelot, or at least the Wheel of Fortune. The station’s owners, Times Mirror Broadcasting, a division of the communications conglomerate that also owns the Dallas Times Herald, scooped up the cash. The news department tooted its own horn and also received glowing praise from critics almost every day. Reporters and photographers won first access to exposure-conscious sources. There was pizza and beer and a little champagne.

The old adage says, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But for some reason Times Mirror management started to fix it. In a matter of months, Camelot came apart. Ratings plummeted along with prestige and, presumably, profits. Now, when somebody asks, “Did you catch the news?” what they want to know is, “Did you watch Channel 8?”

THE FIRST STEP toward chaos, mediocrity and lower ratings, and the one that makes the least sense, was the dismantling of the anchor team that had taken the station to the top: Tinsley, Moody, Hansen and Shattuck. On March 25, 1983, the very day that Nielson listed Channel 4 as number one in all three major newscasts for the first time, The Dallas Morning News reported that Hansen had been fired.

Countless studies have been done on the importance of “on-air personalities” to viewer acceptance of newscasts. Some indicate that the anchors are as much as 60 percent responsible for determining viewer choice. Others claim the so-called “talent” accounts for only 35 percent, with “news presentation” weighing in at 45 to 50 percent. In the Camelot days of KDFW, the personality factor probably was high.

General Manager McKay deliberately built his news shows around the anchor team. He selected headstrong, quirky showmen like Hansen and let them be themselves on the air. Occasionally, the strategy resulted in silliness-Wayne Shattuck’s balloons, say, and the time Hansen wore a hog mask. But no viewer could miss either the individual identities or the team dynamics of the finished program.

“McKay understood that he could not compete head-to-head for news with Channel 8,” says Steven Reddicliffe, former Times Herald television critic. “He didn’t have the same kind of experienced news staff, and he was operating with about half the budget. His approach was to provide a clear alternative to the Channel 8 show. Rather than attempt to present an authoritative but relatively impersonal report, he gave you personality. Viewers had two distinctly different programs they could watch.”

Exactly why Hansen was fired is a matter of some dispute. Now a popular sportscaster with Channel 8, Hansen publicly contends that then-News Director Bill Wilson bore him a personal grudge. Wilson concedes he disliked the sportscaster because of a dust-up when they worked together at another TV station. But, he says, “I thought we could work it out. I wanted to keep Dale because we were doing well and he worked well with the other people we had on the air.”

Officially, McKay did the firing. But insiders say the order actually came from Times Mirror Broadcasting President John McCrory, who oversees Channel 4 and six other stations from offices in suburban New York. Some reporters suggest, in fact, that McCrory’s meddling in the Hansen affair was a major reason that McKay left K.DFW seven months later.

Many KDFW decisions don’t make sense, but allowing Chip Moody to leave last year seemed almost designed to hurt the station. “God, was that stupid,” sputters Wilson. “Everyone in the industry questions that decision,” says Joe Saitta, a former Times Mirror Broadcasting vice president for news now in the same job with Metromedia Broadcasting (Channel 33).

According to Saitta, Moody was the franchise. With 13 years in the Dallas market-nine at KXAS, Channel 5, and four at Channel 4-he was an old friend to viewers, Saitta says, and the reason they tuned in. “We brought him over from Channel 5 because all of our surveys showed he was dead even with Tracy Rowlett in popularity. That put him well ahead of any other news anchor in the city.

“I can understand why Channel 8 let Iola Johnson leave,” Saitta says. “Her survey numbers were down and she was no longer worth the money to them. But Chip’s numbers just kept getting better and better. They should have paid him whatever it took to keep him.”

Moody says executives with A.H. Belo, which owns Channel 8 and The Dallas Morning News, frankly admitted they wanted to get him out of town because he was tough competition. That is one reason, he says, that Belo offered Moody his current job as co-anchor at KHOU in Houston, another Belo station. It also is part of the reason Dallas media watchers predict Moody will be back in town as a Channel 8 anchor if Channel 4 or Channel 5 begins a ratings surge. But Channel 4 apparently saw Moody, like so many others over the years, as expendable.

“I didn’t want to leave Dallas,” says Moody. “Dallas had been my home for a long time and my family and I were comfortable there. I went to Channel 4 and told them I had an offer for Dan Rather’s old job in Houston. They asked how much I had been offered. I told them it didn’t matter. I didn’t want a bidding war, and it wouldn’t take as much to keep me where I was. They opted not to make an offer.”

In August of last year, Wayne Shattuck was demoted to weekends. He told Dallas Morning News TV writer Ed Bark at the time that he had no idea why management was unhappy with his work. Pointing out that his contract would soon expire, he added, “I get this vague feeling that they won’t ask me to stay on.” They didn’t. Shattuck is now the weather anchor for KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City.

By the time the elephants paraded into the Dallas Convention Center to open the Republican National Convention last year, only Clarice Tinsley remained from the team that had made KDFW number one in local news. Ratings were on a long slide. Critics and others were puzzled. What had happened to Channel 4? It didn’t make sense.

DOES ANYONE remember Chris Ped-die? At Channel 4 they call him the three-day wonder, the man who was allergic to Dallas. He came to town as an anchor and left again before anyone but the tiny cadre of loyal Channel 4 watchers knew he was here.

Peddie was a relatively inexperienced news anchor hired out of Baton Rouge to fill the chair left vacant by Chip Moody. He was introduced on the station’s 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts on Tuesday, July 31, 1984. Wednesday, he feinted while trying to line up a bank loan and was unable to work. Thursday, he was on the air but feeling ill. Friday, he returned to Baton Rouge.

“It turned out that the pollution in the air reacted with an upper respiratory medication I was taking and caused an allergic reaction,” says Peddie, now with KVCT-TV in Victoria, Texas. “I didn’t know what it was at the time, because it had never happened before. My doctor figured it out after I went back to Baton Rouge. I tried to call Bill Baker [the general manager who replaced McKay] and explain, but I guess he didn’t want to talk to me.”

Newspaper reports lumped Peddie’s here-he-comes-there-he-goes tenure in Dallas with word of Shattuck’s impending departure. Despite the unusual circumstances, the revolving-door policy at KDFW had become so routine that the whistle-stop anchor did not rate a separate story.

Collected together, those who have left KDFW news in recent years probably could staff a network. They include former general manager McKay and news directors Bob Henry and Bill Wilson, and Chip Moody, Quin Mathews, Marlene McClinton, Barry Judge, Ray Walker, Judy Jordan, Dick Johnson, Jocelyn White, Wayne Shattuck, Dale Hansen, Bret Lewis, Alan Stone, Lee Martin, Knox Nunnally, Nann Goplerud, Dave Tracy, Philip Bruce, Tim Healey, Nancy Montoya, Cheryl Belknap, Robert Elliot, Denise Tickner, Tom Jordan, Lorel Kane, Kenny Bowles, Gary Stokes, Kelly Lane, Jim Ruddy, Chris Huston, Rosalind Soliz, Caryn Carlson, Dr. Ann Wildemann, Carolyn Fessler, Cheri Pressley, James Jackson, Nancy Valenta, Pat Wormsley, Susie Rob-bins, Walt Zwirko, Glen Moyer, Fred Mays, Lisa Parisot, Jerry Gonzalez, Steve Cope, Laura Meyers, Phil Johnson, Stan Matthews, Holt Holyfield, Allen Levy, Wayne Nelson and Sid Allen. CBS Sports commentator Vern Lundquist, formerly of Dallas, insists he can recite from memory at least 40 sportscasters among recent cast-offs of Channel 4.

Personnel changes-both on and off camera-are hardly unusual in the TV news business; television is not a secure vocation. But what has happened at KDFW in recent years is remarkable even within the industry. Current and former employees interviewed for this article unanimously agree that Channel 4’s turnover is but one symptom of monstrous employee dissatisfaction.

“We all had these little scenarios in our heads for how we would resign,” says a former TV-4 staffer now with another Dallas station. “It was how we got through the day. We tried to imagine ways we could quit that would cause the biggest problem. The dream was to all walk out at once.”

“You bet I want to leave,” says a well-respected reporter still with KDFW. “I don’t want to go to some podunk place like Cedar Rapids, but I’d be out of here in a minute if I had an offer from a major-market station. I have four headhunters and two agents working on finding a job for me right now.”

Again, Channel 4 officials refused comment on their personnel problems, but the clearest indication of unrest in the newsroom at 400 N. Griffin St. came early last year when Channel 4 became the city’s first unionized news operation. By a vote of 24-6, reporters, producers and anchors elected the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to negotiate for them with management. The vote followed an acrimonious organizing effort, which included a National Labor Relations Board suit against the station and a memorable speech by Group President McCrory.

Known to reporters as the 10-10-10 speech, McCrory began his talk with the assertion that, “There are 10 of you here who are with us, 10 who are against us and 10 undecideds.” Then he went on to discuss complaints against management and to promise conditions would improve if the union was defeated. But the way he said it annoyed everyone who was there.

“I think he was right,” recalls one reporter. “The room was evenly divided when he walked in. But he talked like he thought we were all stupid, like we didn’t understand what a union was or what our rights were. By the time he finished, all of the undecideds and some of the anti-union people were ready to vote for AFTRA. The final count speaks for itself.”

Adds former 5 p.m. news anchor Quin Mathews, now anchoring a 7 p.m. news program on Channel 33, “John McCrory was the best union organizer I ever met.” When the vote was tallied, Mathews joined Chip Moody and other KDFW staffers in a victory celebration. Together, they bellowed union songs, ignoring the long-standing rule forbidding singing in Joe Miller’s tavern.

The issues that brought AFTRA to Channel 4 were common ones-salaries and overtime compensation. Despite its high profit margins, the station is perceived as stingy by many employees. With reporters at other local stations averaging about $40,000 a year, TV-4 recently hired news staff from smalltown outlets for as little as $18,000. Peddie, who had never worked in a large city before his ill-fated stint in Dallas, says he hired on with a contract for $65,000 a year. It was a clearance-sale price, less than half what Moody, Rowlett, Channel 5’s Brad Wright or any other major market anchor would reasonably expect to earn.

Overtime compensation was scarcer than Channel 8 T-shirts before the union arrived. One story, perhaps apocryphal, tells of a camera crew covering a Texas Ranger game that went to extra innings. A photographer who asked for overtime pay was told, “Overtime has to be approved in advance.” No one explained how he was to know the Rangers could possibly hold out for more than nine innings. An AFTRA suit concerning the overtime issue is pending.

With the union in place, news staffers file grievances at the drop of an assignment slip. The result is a divisive us-against-them working environment, but reporters contend it is the only way to get the bosses to listen. And communicating through union channels has had some unusual side effects.

One Sunday night in late April, Channel 4 viewers watched a half-hour of news and weather. For some, apparently, that was enough. But a few who called the station asked the obvious question, “Where the hell is the sports?” Well, folks, the answer is, there isn’t any.

According to KDFW Sports Director Paul Crane, this “isolated incident” resulted from a confluence of unlikely circumstances, including a labor grievance. Crane says he was on a take-it-or-lose-it vacation and reporter Kevin McCarthy was working a story in Portland. On the three-man sports staff, that left only reporter Mark Lewis to handle the broadcasts. But Lewis had worked 11 straight days. Apparently, he figured News Director Wendell Harris would pay no attention if he simply asked for a break, so he filed a grievance through the union.

Lewis wound up with a weekend off. An assistant news director and an executive producer wrote a sports report for Saturday’s newscasts, and co-anchor Barbara White read it. But no plans were made for Sunday’s sportscast, so while Dale Hansen presented his expanded sports special on Channel 8, KDFW viewers didn’t know the score. Again, it didn’t make sense.

POLITICAL REPORTER Vickie Monks returned from a vacation last fall only two weeks before the November election. In her absence, she discovered, Channel 4 news had reported barely a word about the U.S. Senate contest between Republican Phil Gramm and Democrat Lloyd Doggett. As she reconstructs the incident, a conversation with News Director Harris went like this:

“Shouldn’t we be doing something with the Senate race, Wendell?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s very important.”

“Well, I’ve been reading in the national news magazines that this race in Texas is considered a bellwether for the country.”

“I don’t care. I don’t think there’s anybodyin Dallas who hasn’t heard enough aboutPhil Gramm and Bob…Bob… Bob “

“You mean Lloyd Doggett?”

Perhaps the story stretches the point, but it is not much exaggerated to say that, even within the oxy moronic confines of television journalism, no news is Channel 4 news. Information not reported and stories not covered could fill a magazine by themselves.

“Their news coverage is a joke,” says Robert Elliot, a former TV-4 reporter now with NBC. “It’s not even up to the standards of a lot of small-town stations. It’s a disgrace when you have Channel 8 to compare it with. It’s hard to believe those two stations can be in the same market. It would be ridiculous to say they compete.”

“We do our best not to rely on Channel 4 to supplement our coverage,” says a CBS news executive who refuses to be identified because KDFW is an affiliate. “They seem to have a lot of problems knowing what a story is and how to get it. They have a talented staff, but their news management is, to put it bluntly, incompetent.”

Shuffles in news management may be part of the trouble. Harris, who came here from Austin last fall in a fruit-basket turnover among Times Mirror stations, has no inside knowledge of the Dallas area. Most of the assignment editors who report to Harris are people he brought in from other cities and states. As a result, important stories sometimes are missed simply because no one in charge really knows the territory.

Several staffers remember the tornado that hit Mesquite last year. Instead of dispatching reporters, they say, the Channel 4 assignments editor wasted valuable minutes searching a huge map of Texas and wondering aloud, “Where’s Messkit?” Meanwhile, Channel 8’s veteran editor Bert Shipp rousted every reporter on his staff. Of course, 8 was there first and had the better coverage.

“I think it is essential to have veteran editors,” says WFAA News Director Marty Haag. “Before they send a reporter to cover something, they can visualize what the area is like and what will be needed to work the story effectively. A new reporter may not know how to pronounce Mexia, but our editors do.”

At Channel 4, the editors may not even know how to pronounce Bubba Taylor, but experienced reporters do. Unfortunately, Harris has decided, for some reason, to take most of them away from the subjects they know best. In a move that drops the station about 15 years behind contemporary theories of news coverage, Harris recently eliminated the beat system among reporters. No longer is there a political reporter, a business specialist or a person assigned to consumer issues. Instead, any reporter may cover medical research today and the court system tomorrow. No one specializes in a particular area.

“Harris never told us we weren’t going to cover beats,” says a reporter. “We found out about the change when we read it in the paper. When we ask him about it, he says, ’You don’t need to know anything about a subject to cover it. A good reporter can cover anything. I can pick up a phone and cover any story in half an hour.’”

Adds the reporter, “That’s true unless the story happens to break in Messkit.”

“In a sense we are all dilettantes in the news business,” says Haag. “Our knowledge is about 1,000 miles broad and an inch deep. But to do the right job, we have to develop some deeper knowledge. The beat system gives reporters a chance to learn some particular area inside out. A beat reporter will know the sources and how to dig. And a beat reporter will hear about stories an editor would never discover.”

There’s room for more than one philosophy of news coverage, of course. Haag has a theory; Harris apparently has a different theory. Only the ratings-and the advertisers-suggest who’s right.

“The way a station covers news is very important,” says a local media buyer. “We look at the professionalism, at whether the news is serious or tabloid journalism. Sports coverage is incredibly important. So is a good weather report. Business coverage is important here. Our clients want the ratings, but they also want to have their ads appear in a quality environment.”

Another thing this media buyer looks for in a network affiliate is strong reporting of statewide issues touching business and consumers. In Texas, that means reporting from Austin. But Harris has all but wiped out KDFW’s state government coverage. Viewers this spring learned little about the intricacies of the repeal of the blue law, new legislation requiring seat belts or indigent health care. Was there a special session of the legislature? If you watched Channel 4, you would hardly know. It doesn’t make sense.

IF YOU ASK Times Mirror Broadcasting President John McCrory about his role in running KDFW, he may tell you, as he likes to tell his station executives, “I am the thought leader.” Or he may say, as he often does to reporters, “Each station in our group is autonomous: You’ll have to ask the general manager.”

Chances are, he won’t tell you anything. Despite the inherent absurdity of a media company that won’t talk to the press, it is McCrory’s long-standing policy to refuse comment. He permits no one in his organization to discuss Times Mirror stations, at least not on the record. So to find out how a station works-and who is behind its problems-you have to ask someone else.

Do that, and the answers take on a monotonous tone. All are variations of the response from former KDFW News Director Bill Wilson: “Times Mirror is a personal broadcasting group. John McCrory is the person who influences every single aspect of its operation. I don’t think that’s any way to manage or any way to live.”

John McKay, now owner and president of Channel 27 in Dallas, puts it this way: “John McCrory is the Kremlin. When he says KDFW General Manager Bill Baker is autonomous, it’s like Gorbachev saying Jaruzelski in Poland is autonomous.”

A company president, of course, is expected to monitor operations closely. But the anecdotal evidence suggests that McCrory sticks his fingers much further into routine operations than may be good for individual stations. For example, at KTVI, the Times Mirror station in St. Louis, former General Manager Paul Wischmeyer claims McCrory insisted on writing promotions for the station. At KTBC in Austin, a former executive reports that McCrory often dictated coverage or placement of stories in a newscast. At KDFW, reporters recall McCrory personally heading story conferences to plan a series on the Dallas newspaper war.

Insiders say it was McCrory who cut loose Hansen, Moody and Shattuck. Apparently, McCrory also brought in Peddie and later hired current co-anchor Steve Bosh, a respected veteran who may help rebuild Channel 4 news-if he stays around long enough. According to Wilson and others, McCrory reviews audition tapes from every on-air candidate and makes the final decision on whether to hire or to look some more.

“That isn’t the way it is usually done,” says one unsuccessful candidate. “Sometimes you find someone who may not look that good on tape but who is a real quality reporter. It is more important to find people who can get information than it is to hire pretty faces and deep voices. Besides, the news director and the general manager are the ones in the best position to know what they need to meet their local competition.”

If, indeed, McCrory is given to long-distance management, KDFW seems the most likely focus of his attention. The Dallas station is the flagship of the Times Mirror Group. It serves the biggest market and accounts for at least half of the $124.7 million in revenue and $65.4 million in operating profits reported by the seven stations. It also was the first station in the company chain, and it serves the most competitive market.

Perhaps more important, though, KDFW is the station where McCrory cut his teeth. From 1970, when Times Mirror bought KDFW in a package deal that also included the Dallas Times Herald, until 1979, when he moved up to head the broadcast group, McCrory was general manager at TV-4. He helped turn it into the money-maker that it is today, and he built the news operation into a competitor. He is justifiably proud of the station. It’s his baby.

To the people in Los Angeles, the top brass who oversee all of the Times Mirror Co., McCrory must seem like a miracle worker. Their main business is newspapers -broadcast television brought in only 4.2 percent of the $2.99 billion corporate revenues in 1984-and they are pleased by the 18-percent profit margins their highly successful newspapers produce. They must be overwhelmed by the 53-percent margins McCrory routinely turns in.

But the love of the bottom line seems to be the root of Channel 4’s problems. Poor salaries and parsimonious overtime policies created the adversary environment that opened the door to AFTRA. The same factors figured in the collapse of the anchor team. The size of the news staff-12 reporters compared to 25 at Channel 8-also suggests miserly management.

Though the station recently invested in Betacams, the latest in videotape camera technology, Channel 4 crews must pass their equipment from one shift to the next. Not only does this mean there is little time for maintenance and repairs, it also wastes manpower. “I frequently had a crew working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a crew working 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. assigned to the same camera,” says a former assignments editor. “For several hours a day, that meant I had two crews on paper but only one available to go out on the street and cover a story.”

When a reporter in the Channel 4 helicopter was the first to spot a fire in a cluster of vacant condominiums near Lake Ray Hubbard, he was unable to present a live report because the chopper’s transmitting unit was in use someplace else. At Channel 8, broadcast equipment is a permanent part of the helicopter outfit.

PEOPLE WHO HAVE watched KDFW since the Camelot days of 1982 and 1983 contend the station was successful then because McKay was a general manager willing to stand up to McCrory. McKay listened respectfully to his boss, they say, but then he did as he pleased. Reporters frequently covered stories around the state and, occasionally, went to Washington or a foreign country to report a major news event.

Such costly enterprise has become scarce under General Manager Bill Baker. The elimination of the Austin bureau and Channel 4’s increased reliance on other CBS affiliates to cover major events outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area are among the signs that the emphasis now is on improving profit margins. “I think they discovered it costs a lot more to be number one in news than it costs to be number three,” says Elliot. “Channel 4 is no longer interested in competing with Channel 8.”

As a short-term strategy, cutting costs may supercharge profits. In the long run, however, viewers likely will figure out that they are not getting their half-hour’s worth. When that happens, ratings will drop further and ad dollars will dwindle.

“There is some feeling that viewers don’t know the difference between a good newscast and a mediocre one,” says Saitta. “And maybe they don’t if they watch very casually. But most viewers figure it out. They want substance. They want content. Eventually, they turn to the station that gives it to them. You can’t fool viewers forever.”

Says a TV-4 reporter now considering a career in a different business: “It is very frustrating to work in news when you don’t have the resources to keep up with the competition. I like working in television. I even like working for Channel 4.I just wish they would spend the money to do the job right.”

That would make sense.