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Syracuse GM Defends Magazine Show

Editor: In his Airtime guest commentary "Disguising Ads as the Local News" (3/3, p. 40), Dow C. Smith of the Newhouse School asserts that Granite Broadcasting's launch of Central New York Live
violates journalistic ethics. This serious charge is groundless, and Mr. Smith's position is greatly uninformed by history and reality.

When Granite purchased WKBW in Buffalo in 1995, it happily continued to produce the highly popular AM Buffalo… a refreshing "magazine" entertainment program. … Granite expanded this product in Buffalo with a 4 p.m. local program called Western New York Live—another entertainment program with news inserts. …

Then it was Syracuse's turn. Central New York Live! was conceived … not as a news program but as an entertainment program—locally originated, locally involved, uniquely serving the community.

Mr. Smith ignores this history, accusing us of attempting to fool our viewers into thinking advertiser-supported segments are legitimate news stories. This canard does not give our viewers credit.

The program does not claim to be a news program. It is titled Central New York Live!
to avoid comparisons with the traditional news that precedes it in the time slot. We moved the show to a new set minus traditional news desks and chroma keys in favor of a living-room look. We determined that none of our news anchors would ever be involved in ad-based segments.

Most important, every time we broadcast an advertiser-paid segment, we identify the content as such with a lower-third on-screen disclaimer.

Networks routinely "interview" stars from their own television shows on morning "news" programs, as well as promote movies in which they have a financial interest. Just last week, the local Syracuse newspaper published "Spotlight on Business," in which local businesses could have articles written about their operations. This section felt and looked like a regular section of the newspaper. In relatively small letters at the top, it said "Advertising Supplement." Typically, these sections do not contain significant layout differences from the other "news" sections, other than a small disclaimer. We do the very opposite by changing the "layout" to avoid confusion.
[Many] stations use retailers as sources in stories they present as legitimate news, complete with anchor participation. Mr. Smith says we are selling airtime, then packaging it like news. To the contrary, this does not look like any newscast I have ever seen. We took great care to produce a show that would include news updates but also would be perceived as an entertainment/informational program.

If our intent was to try to fool viewers, we would be doing what far too many stations already do in compromising otherwise legitimate news stories. WTVH(TV) does not do that now and never will. We take our responsibility to the Syracuse community very seriously.

Jon Lawhead, President/general manager, WTVH(TV) Syracuse, N.Y.