THINK YOU'RE INFORMED if you watch television news on commercial channels?
Some, maybe-but not enough. At least in the view of Maryland Public Television (MPT), which is launching what it calls a "public affairs in-depth news series" called "Newsnight Maryland."
The half-hour show, which will be the only nightly news program reaching the entire state, will begin airing on Monday, November 3 at 7 p.m., and will continue on weekdays in that time slot. The program will be rebroadcast at midnight Monday through Thursday, and at 11:30 p.m. Friday.
"Newsnight," conceived as a local version of the popular and respected nationally broadcast "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," will be broadcast back-to-back with that show.
To underscore the relationship, MPT held a press luncheon on September 10 to announce its new show, and the guest speaker was veteran journalist Jim Lehrer.
Lehrer affirmed the need for in-depth local and state news programming. "The coverage of `matters that matter' is more important now than it has ever been," he said. "Most Americans are depending on, and looking to, their local and state governments to deal with problems. The action right now is in the neighborhoods.
"Every public television station in America should have one [of these locally oriented news shows]," he observed, "but very few do."
Thorough coverage of this news, he said, isn't going to come from commercial TV, whose quest for higher ratings can skew news coverage in favor of sensationalized events. "We [news professionals] have the responsibility to go beyond what people want," he stressed. "Sometimes a journalism organization defines itself by what it doesn't print or broadcast."
He observed that producing quality news programming "isn't cheap."
MPT's annual budget for "Newsnight Maryland" is a little under $1 million, according to Larry Unger, MPT's Finance Officer. While this figure is low compared to the annual budgets of network news shows, it represents a major financial commitment by MPT.
Only 30 percent of MPT's budget comes from the State of Maryland, according to Unger. The balance comes from other sources, primarily sponsors from the nonprofit and business sectors.
Janice Wilson, MPT's senior vice president for marketing and development, is responsible for lining up these sponsors. For "Newsnight," she said, MPT is seeking sponsors-whether local or national-"who have an interest in the need for public information."
She acknowledged, "The mergers and downsizing make it challenging."
Though MPT surveys showed Marylanders want thoughtful reporting without the usual emphasis on crime, and MPT believes "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" viewers will also tune in to "Newsnight," the local program does not yet have sponsors.
Because it is difficult to "sell" something that doesn't yet exist, it is possible "Newsnight" will begin airing without sponsors. MPT officials expect that the quality of the show's programming will attract the needed support.
This quality is to be assured by the show's Emmy Award-winning executive producer, Steve Kremer, who has over 25 years' experience in news programmimng. Other MPT shows Kremer has produced include "State Circle" and "Inside Maryland."
Camilla Carr, who was an anchor person and reporter for WBAL-TV from 1987-91, will be one of the show's two news anchors. During the intervening years since leaving Baltimore, she worked as an anchor with an ABC affiliate station in New Haven, Connecticut, and was co-host of "Wake-Up America," a two-hour talk show on America's Talking network.
News Flash! The second anchor for "Newsnight" was just announced September 29th, it is veteran journalist Bob Althage, formerly of WUSA-TV in Washington D.C. Althage has been a medicine and science reporter at WUSA-TV since 1982, and co-anchored that station's 5 p.m. news for nine years.