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Gore visit presents coverage challenge to local TV, radio

By ERIC DEGGANS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 7, 2000


As the national TV networks jockey to be first to name the country's next president, local television outlets face a more parochial concern: How do you cover a visit from one of the candidates on Election Day?

That's the challenge facing some local TV and radio stations after Vice President Al Gore's planned visit to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa at 4 a.m. today.

Though many plan some sort of coverage, some say they will shy away from live reports or overlong footage, wary of swaying voters on the day of a close election.

"Our policy is, on Election Day, we're not interviewing candidates (until the polls close)," said Elliott Wiser, general manager at 24-hour cable news channel Bay News 9. "Otherwise, you get into accusations of unfair advantage."

Rick Stone, news director at WUSF-FM 98.7, expects to report briefly on Gore's appearance. "A big Gore story on Election Day wouldn't make much sense," he said. "The fact that he's here makes more of an impact than anything he says."

Other area TV broadcasters say they will be careful to balance footage of Gore this morning with reports on Bush. But WFTS-Ch. 28 plans coverage on the vice president's visit just as aggressive as the ABC affiliate's coverage of rival George W. Bush's stop at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

"When a candidate . . . chooses your town to wrap it up, you've got to cover it," said Jeff Godlis, the news director. "It's a special event."

Gore already barnstormed a few local media outlets Monday, conducting a satellite interview with Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13 and appearing on WFLZ-FM 93.3's M.J. and B.J. morning show, while running mate Joseph Lieberman talked to WFLA-AM 970.

Talk at the national TV networks has turned to exit polls, spot studies that can predict results before voting ends.

Networks say they will not use exit polls to predict results in a given state until most of that state's polling places have closed. But once either candidate has earned enough electoral votes to win the presidency, networks will announce a victor -- even if the news comes while West Coast voters can still cast ballots.

"It's our responsibility as a news organization," said John Schneider, spokesman for ABC News. "Of course, we want to be the first to report that to our viewers."

With several close races expected locally and nationally, TV viewers have lots of options for coverage.

The big three networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- will begin continuous election coverage at 7 p.m., lasting at least until midnight; PBS starts at 10 p.m. Local affiliates will offer live "cut-in" reports during the national broadcasts, two or three times per hour.

WTVT will present local election coverage from 7 to 8 and again from 10 p.m to 11:30 p.m. or until major races are settled. Fox will also offer a two-hour simulcast of Fox News Channel coverage at 8 p.m. -- a first for the network, which aired the movie Beethoven during the 1996 presidential election.

NBC's WFLA-Ch. 8 will offer continuous coverage of local races from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on WUSF-Ch. 16, with portions of those reports aired as local cut-ins during NBC's coverage. WFLA takes over from NBC at 11 p.m., at least until midnight.

ABC affiliate WFTS and CBS station WTSP-Ch. 10 also plan live reports during their network broadcasts, with WTSP using exit polling information to call races more quickly. And every local TV outlet will also offer information online through its Web site.

Bay News 9 begins continuous election coverage at 6 p.m. today, with much of its reportage focusing on local races in seven counties. The telecast will be simulcast on WTAN-AM 1340.

Elsewhere on cable, CNN kicks off continuous coverage at 7 a.m., pausing only for an election-themed Larry King Live at 9 p.m. MSNBC begins coverage at 7 p.m., while C-SPAN plans to pick up local-station coverage of key races.

There's also lots of news on radio, where WUSF-FM 89.7 will air National Public Radio's reports from 7 tonight until the 5 a.m. start of Morning Edition on Wednesday, with local journalists providing "cut-in" stories. WFLA-AM offers results beginning at 7 p.m., broadcasting until midnight or later. WTBN-AM 570 will simulcast WFLA-Ch. 8's TV coverage from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. to midnight, airing CNN news from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

-- Times staff writer Pamela Davis contributed to this report, which used information from Times wires.

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