February 6 - 13, 1 9 9 7
[Don't Quote Me]

The Don't Quote Me archive

Making waves

Part 4

by Dan Kennedy

After leaving ABC, Rooney worked for Fox News, most recently as political director. That job was set to expire last fall. So when her former WCVB colleague Stoia asked if she wanted to host a new public-affairs show, Rooney was intrigued. She liked New York, but her husband, Kirby Perkins, was still a reporter at WCVB. She had rarely worked in front of the camera, but she was willing to give it a try.

We're sitting in a small, windowless conference room at WGBH headquarters, in Allston. She's trying to be cooperative, but she's clearly uncomfortable talking about herself and her goals. "I hope that we can provide thoughtful discussions about important issues," she offers.

Fans of the old Ten O'Clock News may not like Greater Boston immediately -- or ever. The higher production standards and less-than-monumental topics such as the Super Bowl will no doubt lead to charges that WGBH is more interested in attracting large numbers of viewers than in striking a high-minded tone.

But though there's surely something to be said for high-mindedness, a show needs an audience to survive, even in public broadcasting. It's not a matter of dumping the high-mindedness; it's a matter of communicating with people rather than talking down to them. Chris Lydon learned that lesson in making the transition from diffident TV newsman to dynamic radio talk host.

"If you completely ignore the conventions of television, you will fail," says Steve Bass, WGBH's vice-president and general manager. "But if we swing all the way over and adopt all the conventions of commercial television, then we will equally be a failure."

It's a balancing act, and Rooney sounds like she understands that.

"Public broadcasting has a way to go," she says. "This is an attempt to appeal to a broader audience." Adds Judy Stoia: "Public radio figured out how to make the best use of the medium, and has been enormously innovative. On the television side, locally, we should do so well."

Bob Ferrante's experience gives him an unusually broad perspective. An 11-year veteran of WGBH, where he helped create The Ten O'Clock News, Ferrante today is executive producer of NPR's Morning Edition. He's worked in commercial television as well, including a stint at CBS. He gives WGBH credit for putting together Greater Boston, and says the question of how to serve the community is always a dilemma.

"I think in public broadcasting, no matter what you do, you'll be accused of being unresponsive to the local community unless you directly respond to the community that's complaining. So it's almost a no-win situation," Ferrante says.

"This is a very, very volatile time in broadcasting and in journalism, and I think we're all trying to find our way."

Local public-affairs programs

The Don't Quote Me archive

Dan Kennedy's work can also be accessed from his Web site: http://www1.shore.net/~dkennedy/

Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy[a]phx.com

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