Sensationalism in TV News: WOIO 19 Action News

If you are a Northeast Ohio native like me, you are probably familiar with the local TV newscast known as 19 Action News, which operates on WOIO CBS 19 in Cleveland.  If that’s the case, you probably also know how controversial they are and have been for the past eight years or so.

When I was interning at Rubber City Radio Group and WAKR-AM in Akron this past summer, as a smaller news organization, we often looked to local newspapers and TV stations as sources for information in some of our stories.  The one TV station I was advised against using as a source was 19 Action News because of their controversial mentality.

Much like Fox News Channel, 19 Action News seems to be a news source which exaggerates news stories to make them look like something bigger than it really is.  They have also become infamous for using sensationalism through shocking and sometimes graphic video and imagery to boost ratings, even more so than Fox News.  It also doesn’t help that infamous investigative reporter Carl Monday (look him up on Google or Wikipedia) recently joined the station.

Here is an example of their sensationalized news stories that have made them look bad in the eyes of many journalists and viewers in general.  Notice how in this video, they mention the story is “so shocking, we’re setting an age requirement to watch”–a blatant attempt to attract more viewers.

It’s one of those stories where repetition of these news story promos is also the key in getting attention.  You might watch the primetime programs on CBS and see 19 Action News advertise this same story over and over again.  Although in this case the promo gave a clear indication of what was to come at 11 p.m., sometimes the station (and others for that matter) will run teasers for stories and make them look like it is a big deal, only for you to later find out during the newscast that it really was not worth staying up late for.

As disturbing as that news story was, this was not the station’s most infamous case of sensationalism to boost ratings.  In 2004, artist Spencer Tunick made his infamous painting of nudists gathered together in Cleveland in a photo.  Long-time 19 Action News anchor Sharon Reed broke this story saying she was one of those people who posed nude for this picture.  The promo for this news story gives an idea of how exactly 19 Action News covered this.

While I myself did not see this on the news (I was a teenager back then, so my parents probably would not have wanted me to watch it), my understanding was the video of this story was presented uncensored during that evening’s 11 p.m. newscast.  Reed was even interviewed on “The Late Show with David Letterman” regarding this infamous story.  Somehow, after all this, she is still working with the station to this day.

Once again, it seems like now more than ever, sensationalism seems to be the key to attracting viewers to your local station.  If that is the case, broadcasters in smaller organizations like Rubber City Radio Group in Akron (or at just about any TV or radio station for that matter) have to seriously question the reliability and accuracy of bigger stations like WOIO, so in this case, my colleagues and I made a smart move to not use 19 Action News as a source of information for any of our stories.

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About thebroadcastdiaries

I am a senior at Bowling Green State University majoring in Broadcast Journalism. I have had experiences in broadcasting starting in high school, continuing on into college and interning at a local radio station in Akron. My goal for this blog is to explain the broadcasting business to the average reader as I continue to study and pursue my broadcasting career.
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