Purported news outfit closes door to reporters

Editorial from the Lewiston Morning Tribune

By Jim Fisher
Lewiston Morning Tribune
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Television station KTVB in Boise calls itself “Idaho’s news channel,” but it acts like anything but a news organization.

Last week, the station taped what it called a debate among candidates for the Republican nomination to succeed Larry Craig in the U.S. Senate. But it did so behind doors closed to members of the public and to news organizations other than its co-sponsors in presenting the program, which you will not see identified as a debate on this page.

Those excluded weren’t on the approved guest list, explained Bryce Quarve, director of conferences and events for Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, where the program was taped. Quarve said KTVB News Director Jim Gilchriest told him to block passage to anyone not on that list.

Those excluded include reporters for the Associated Press and for the state’s largest newspaper, the Idaho Statesman at Boise, as well as Rex Rammell, an independent candidate for the same office sought by those permitted in. The reporters left outside apparently thought they were going to cover a news event.

Shame on the Idaho Press Tribune of Nampa, the Idaho Business Review, KREM-TV of Spokane and KPVI of Pocatello for their participation in this affront to the mission of journalism. Their willingness to go along with KTVB’s exclusiveness made them look more like elected officials ducking behind closed doors to conduct the public’s business than like news organizations committed to the widest dissemination of information.

Thanks to those closed doors, there was only one print story about the program, from the Idaho Press Tribune – which appeared in Thursday’s Lewiston Tribune – and it was well short of exhaustive.

After people from other news organizations complained about the privacy of the event, Doug Armstrong, president and general manager of KTVB News Group, boasted in a written statement that his station’s taped programs promise to be “the fairest in the land.” And he charged that “other media comments unwittingly promote media homogeny [homogeneity?] and discourage media independence and diversity.”

The statement failed to explain why Armstrong’s station stiff-armed other journalists, but did sneer at actual debates such as those televised live statewide by Idaho Public Television, and co-sponsored by the Idaho League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Cub.

“While other debates may probe fewer issues, ours provides information viewers may not get elsewhere,” he wrote.

Armstrong’s brazenness adds another chapter to the decline of what was once the Bullitt family’s great KING Broadcasting empire of Seattle, from which Belo Corp. of Dallas acquired KTVB and its sister stations – including Spokane’s KREM – in 1997.

At one time, KING-TV challenged Seattle’s newspapers for news leadership, broadcasting breaking news and investigative stories as well as incisive commentary from people like Charles Royer, who later served as the city’s mayor. Today, KTVB is reduced to asserting its superiority from behind closed doors instead of demonstrating it where it matters: in the ungated news community where quality is proved by competing with, not by silencing, others. – J.F.

Editorial from the Lewiston Morning Tribune

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