A Hawk’s Eye for News

Related: Staying Power

There are markets with political activity, and then there’s Des Moines. Politics are the pastime in Iowa, home of the bellwether caucuses, and Des Moines is its capital. Dave Busiek, news director at market leader KCCI, was supremely suited to cover the many key elections going down last month. KCCI produced four Senate and Congressional debates. For those candidates wishing to speak directly to voters, there’s the KCCI.com feature In Their Own Words. Gov. Terry Branstad was among many who took KCCI up on its offer to cut a video.

Hearst TV stations are committed to produce at least 12 minutes of daily political coverage leading up to Election Day, but Busiek—a former political reporter—took it several steps further. No one in DMA No. 72 with a TV or internet connection could claim they were in the dark on the local issues.

Busiek, 60, has been news director at KCCI for 25 years, but he’s the one sitting in the front of the room at group news director meetings—taking notes, asking questions, continuously seeking to better his craft. “He never thinks that, since he’s been doing it 25 years, he knows everything,” says Barbara Maushard, Hearst TV VP of news.

It’s been a lively year in Des Moines, including appearances by both Iowa and Iowa State in March Madness, a flash blizzard that crippled an evening commute, tornadoes and, of course, the torrid mid-term political activity. Branded “Iowa’s News Leader”, KCCI was just that—Busiek sent two crews to New York to cover Iowa State’s Sweet 16 hoops action, tackled the vast election landscape head-on, and broke in immediately when severe weather struck.

“When weather hits Iowa, people turn to KCCI both on-air and on all digital platforms because they know and trust their coverage,” says Jordan Wertlieb, Hearst TV president.

Facing tough competition from Tribune’s WHO, KCCI—emphasizing great storytelling from skillful storytellers—put up a whopping 13.4 household rating/33.3 share in the May sweeps’ late news race. KCCI grabbed an estimated 40% of the DMA’s revenue in 2013, according to BIA/Kelsey, and is on track to repeat for 2014.

Maybe it’s all the note-taking at the news meetings, but Busiek has KCCI cranking on the digital platforms; combined online and mobile traffic is second in the group, trailing only WCVB Boston. A weather app tallied 15,000 downloads in its first month. There’s an app just for tornado coverage. “We really emphasize digital,” says Busiek. “It’s the most fun part of the job, watching it evolve.”

Busiek is increasing KCCI’s non-news programming, such as the slice of life specials called This Is Iowa. “He’s found a way to tell stories, and tell them in an impactful way,” says Brian Sather, KCCI president and general manager.

Perhaps Busiek’s strongest attribute is hiring quality people and instilling in them KCCI’s culture of integrity and excellence. While KCCI has sent plenty of reporters and producers on to major markets, Hearst stations have at times been rebuffed when trying to lure a staffer, finding them reluctant to leave Busiek’s newsroom.

“He’s really the total package,” says Maushard. “When you want to be a news director, you kind of want to be Dave Busiek.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.