A kinder, gentler market

If it doesn't bleed, to turn a familiar axiom from critics of TV news, it can't lead. Covering news in a market that went an entire year without a murder can be a challenge.

"That's one of the reasons I love living here," said Bob Miller, general manager at WKOW(TV), Quincy Newspapers-owned ABC affiliate in Madison, Wis. Miller is a 15-year veteran of the market in three separate tenures as a reporter, salesman and now general manager. "It means we have to do more enterprising news than simply breaking news."

"That took some time getting used to," said Jeff Clark, promotions director at Benedek Broadcasting-owned NBC affiliate WMTV(TV), who came to Madison from Rockford, Ill., where crime is a bigger, more constant story. "It's a much softer news."

Another market veteran, David Sanks, general manager at top-rated Morgan Murphy-owned WISC-TV, notes that "it's a market that outperforms its size. Madison is positioned well, sandwiched in between three major cities: Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago. Madison is a very steady market."

Even a steady market, though, has faced economic realities this year, and there have been layoffs at local broadcasters. "This year is one of the very few years this market's been hit hard, very hard, by what's going on in the outside world. We usually weather changes fairly well," says Sanks. "This year has been uniquely tough."

But the tough times haven't changed local collegiality. "The most unique thing in the market," says Sanks, "is that we all get along. We talk to each other, we go golfing together. There's plenty of competition, but nobody's ever done anything that's not quite ethical. No one's gone to the lengths they do in some markets. We get along. We may need each other some day."