- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

There was plenty to find objectionable during Thursday’s breathless television coverage of the Washington Nationals’ home opener, but nothing was more troubling than the sight of reporters sporting the team’s logo.

The top news anchors, reporters and weather forecasters from the Washington area’s major TV stations reported from RFK Stadium that day.

None of the local sports anchors wore baseball caps or jerseys with the Nationals’ “W” signature — but some features reporters and weather forecasters did.

To be fair, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. Nats hats have become as ubiquitous as political bumper stickers in the D.C. area.

But at a time when journalistic values are under fire, isn’t it dangerous for TV newsrooms to be in the business of boosterism?

“As long as the reporting was accurate, I’m not sure it makes that much difference,” said Lee Wilkins, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. “And they’ve got to wear something, right?”

Deborah Potter, president and executive director of NewsLab, a nonprofit organization that helps TV newsrooms improve their storytelling, is also willing to cut the reporters some slack.

The prevailing wisdom in local TV news is that viewers want to see reporters who feel connected to the community in which they live and work. It would be disingenuous to expect the reporters covering professional baseball’s return to the District after 34 years to pretend to be neutral observers, Ms. Potter said.

“I’m tempted to say this is appropriate if it happens just this once,” she said.

But what about WTTG-TV (Channel 5), the local Fox station?

A News Corp. subsidiary owns WTTG and the Washington area’s UPN affiliate, WDCA-TV (Channel 20). The stations share the lucrative rights to air the Nationals games on television.

For the home opener, WTTG blew out its afternoon schedule to air a special two-hour edition of its 5 p.m. newscast, devoted primarily to baseball. In a nice display of corporate synergy, anchor Brian Bolter reminded viewers throughout the program that they could switch to sister station WDCA at 7 p.m. to see the game.

WTTG featured a clock in one corner of the screen counting down the hours and minutes to the first pitch. It looked like WTTG was using its news department to promote a sporting event.

Katherine Green, WTTG’s news director, did not return telephone calls for comment.

The station probably should have exercised a little more restraint, said Philip M. Seib, a Marquette University journalism professor. “You would like to see an extra level of care when there is a financial relationship involved,” he said.

On the radio, all-news station WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) provided extensive Nationals coverage Thursday, including reminders that listeners could hear the game on a sister station.

Radio is a business, and WTOP’s ability to offer play-by-play highlights during morning drive gives it an advantage, said Jim Farley, the station’s vice president of news and operations.

However, after a WTOP staffer showed up at RFK Stadium in a Nats hat, Mr. Farley sent the staff a reminder that the station doesn’t embrace boosterism. “We don’t want cheering from the press box,” he said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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