30 Years After Jerry Springer, WLWT-TV Resumes News Commentaries
WLWT-TV latest to do broadcast editorials, which have aired on Cincinnati TV stations since the 1960s.
Have you noticed that editorial commentaries have returned to WLWT-TV?
Branden Frantz, Channel 5 president and general manager, has resumed the tradition last done regularly on WLWT-TV when Jerry Springer anchored newscasts.
"Our team collectively felt it was appropriate (especially in today's climate), to put added focus on important local issues that touch our communities," says Frantz, who has been general manager since January 2017.
Frantz presents a weekly editorial on WLWT Friday at noon and the new 7 p.m. newscast; Saturday at 7 a.m., 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.; Sunday at 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.; and on MeTV (Channel 5.2) at 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Doing TV editorials isn't a new idea.
In the 1960s, Sam Johnston and other WKRC-TV general managers did TV editorials regularly. (Some joked that the super serious Johnston inspired comedian Pat Paulsen's satirical editorials on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960s.)
Springer won several regional Emmy Awards for his weeknight commentaries on WLWT in the late 1980s and early 1990s before leaving in 1993 to devote full-time to his Chicago-based daytime talk show. Nick Clooney also did commentaries when he was WKRC-TV anchor in the late 1980s, after returning from KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.
In the early 2000s, WCPO-TV General Manager Bill Fee regularly did editorials, and Dennis Janson gave viewers his opinion after stepping down as sports anchor in 2013. For several years after that, when WCPO-TV had a robust online news operation (2014-2018), Channel 9 had an editorial board made up of station leadership and community leaders that formulated opinions "which would show up primarily on digital and occasionally on TV," says Jeff Brogan, Channel 9 vice president and general manager. "We decided to stop doing those editorials from that board several years ago to focus on other priorities like our enterprise reporting and streaming apps."
Until a few years ago, WXIX-TV viewers saw editorials by Debbie Bush, who has been vice president and general manager since 2015. "Currently I do not do editorials and there isn't a plan to add them," Bush says.
Of course, editorials have been a staple of newspapers for decades. However, as newspapers have adapted and downsized in the modern digital world, they’ve cut back on the frequency and size of opinion pages. The Cincinnati Enquirer, for example, stopped printing daily editorials more than five years ago, choosing instead to publish issue-driven editorials on major concerns and periodic thumbs up/thumbs down quick takes.
Which brings us back to WLWT-TV. Was it a corporate mandate from Hearst, the station owner?
"Hearst Television has a long history with providing editorial content on many of our stations across the country," Frantz says. "To answer your question, while we do not have a 'requirement' to continue this legacy in Cincinnati … (Hearst) leadership has strongly supported our position in producing engaging editorial content in Cincinnati."
David Seals, WLWT-TV programming and community affairs director, serves as the WLWT-TV editorial board director.
"We have built a six-person editorial board that is rich in diversity of people as well as voices at the table, which we know is the only way to be representative of all our communities," Frantz says. "In the end, we hope to inspire further conversations, hold ourselves and others accountable, and if possible – influence positive change. Some may not always agree, but we hope to give everyone something to at least consider."
I wrote a TV/Media column for the Enquirer for three decades. I know that producing opinion pieces are time consuming – selecting a topic, develop a viewpoint and voice, and writing and polishing a commentary.
"I agree with you on the time allotment these weekly discussions might take on," Frantz says. "So far, our group has reached a consensus fairly quickly on the items covered, which has allowed us to manage the workload very efficiently. Fortunately, there are a lot of very important topics that currently keep us very focused."