KING-TV led the industry in diversifying news staffs and coverage. Some of its veteran journalists pass along advice to the current generation
Media coverage has changed quite a bit since KING- TV began in 1946. The company once owned a monopoly in the Seattle market and produced top-tiered talent in broadcast, film and publishing.
According to Peggy Holman, executive director of Journalism that Matters, which helps news organizations improve audience engagement, KING was decades ahead of its time in avoiding sensationalism and made it a point to hire smart, but diverse talent while winning several Emmy awards.
Holman said her history of KING came from her long time friend, Anne Stadler, a former producer at the station, who told her KING was already engaging its diverse community and audience back in the mid-1970s.
Currently, non-whites make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population but only 12 percent of U.S. newsrooms, according to a report released last year by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE). The organization also found that 90 percent of newsroom supervisors at organizations that participated in the study were white.
KING-TV plays a significant role in journalism diversity as owner Dorothy Bullitt was the first woman to buy and oversee a television station. Bullitt’s dedication to consistent efforts in public service led to the station becoming the first in the country to editorialize against the Vietnam War, also placing it ahead of its time with political coverage.
In a media landscape where online journalism seems to dominate, KING-TV has persevered. The company, which is now Gannett-owned, reaches Canada and parts of Alaska and Oregon.
Even still, KING is not without its challenges.
For one, as former KING reporter Wendy Tokuda noted, many get their news from mobile devices, causing broadcast television to lose viewership.
Tokuda began as a secretary within the Public Affairs department eventually learning how to work with video before becoming a weekend anchor. The experience, she said, gave her the opportunity to compete with newspapers and shaped her reporting.
Andy Reynolds, a former KING-TV reporter, said there was honor in reporting for KING.
“KING was going to get it right,” he said. “We were the standard bearers. Whatever we said, people knew they could take that to the bank. They knew we weren’t slanting it.”
News slant wasn’t as common as it is today, Reynolds said. It has led to confusion among audiences, yet another challenge for KING and journalism. It’s part of why Reynolds, now a communications consultant, left the industry, he said.
“I got out because of the move towards what is now called infotainment,” he added. “I don’t want an anchor’s opinion, unless it’s labeled so. Now so many anchors give you an opinion, and half the time they’re ignorant.”
Reynolds’ claims aren’t unfounded as CNN anchor Don Lemon and other TV news hosts have recently come under fire for blurring the lines between reporting and commentary. Reynolds also said a lack of knowledge about civics has contributed to poor reporting.
Tokuda echoed Reynolds’ sentiments, adding that most on-air talent yell at each other and avoid objectivity.
“I fear young people can’t distinguish what’s true,” she said. She encourages young journalists to “find news operations that adhere to rigid rules.”
She and Reynolds also encourage young journalists to become more self-aware.
Reynolds, who was active in the civil rights movement, says be honest and don’t be afraid of who you are. “It helps eradicate biases in your reporting,” Reynolds said, adding: “When you do this, you not only educate yourself, but you’re more willing to face racial issues head on.
“We all have our biases when we walk through the door,” he said. “We don’t lose them when we become reporters. One of the things people talk about is ‘unbiased reporting.’ I don’t believe in ‘unbiased reporting.’ I believe in trying to be fair.”
This also means not shying away from touchy subjects– especially if it’s meant to be told.
Tokuda, who works with the non-profit organization, Students Rising Above through KPIX CBS5 TV, stated there are underprivileged or marginalized individuals who are deserving of having their story told, no matter how sentimental.
“You must tell that story of one compelling individual that gets at poverty, race, the disparity of what kids are given and what the rest of America is living,” she said.
Reynolds suggested finding these stories yourself to give you much needed enterprise experience rather than relying solely on newspapers. Tokuda also pointed out that people typically don’t like bad news, thought it sells, so you have to be creative in how you get information to the public.
Perhaps most important in their advice to the current generation’s journalists is to read and talk to people. Even if it’s a simple conversation, Reynolds said.
This, he added, will broaden your viewpoints and allow you to connect to people while expanding your coverage.