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Friday, March 11, 2011

KTTV News Director on His Tsunami Coverage, and How Others Underplayed It

(Photo: Kyodo News)

Local Los Angeles stations hit the airwaves earlier than usual this morning, as more news emerged about the impact of a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan (and tsunami waves threatened both Hawai'i and the west U.S. coast).

At Fox-owned KTTV, the station returned to wall-to-wall coverage at 4 a.m., just two hours after signing off from a marathon four-hour broadcast (10 p.m. to 2 a.m., led by anchors Christine Devine and Carlos Amezcua) the night before.

KTTV's decision to stick with earthquake/tsunami coverage long after L.A.'s other local stations returned to normal programming impressed several pundits out there, including me (see below) and The Hollywood Reporter's Matt Belloni.

"Tsunami coverage on LA's Fox 11 is far better than on CNN right now," Belloni wrote on Twitter last night.

KTTV news director Jose Rios (right) told Franklin Avenue that he was a bit surprised that L.A.'s other stations didn't stick with coverage.

"I thought it got underplayed last night," Rios said. "To me it was just a huge story."

KCBS, KABC and KNBC went back to regular programming at 11:35, after their local news, while KCAL stuck with coverage until 12:30. (KCET ran Al Jazeera English coverage until midnight, while KSCI's digital 18.2 ran a feed of NHK World.)

"It was a big quake for one, and for us in earthquake country, that resonates broadly for us," Rios said. "And while people think that the cable channels will be covering, the fact is, not everyone has cable. We thought it was a public service that everybody would be interested in."

Rios said KTTV attracted a much larger than usual late night audience right up until 2 a.m.

By going wall-to-wall last night and again this morning, KTTV blew out commercials . Rios expected to be back to normal programming by 1 p.m., as the threat of a tsunami in Southern California subsided. But he has no regrets.

The coverage kudos is likely a big morale booster for KTTV's news team, which has been hit hard by huge layoffs in recent years. Given the station's limited resources, Rios said he was "proud of the news team. Everybody worked hard."

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