New Fox 44 newscast still has kinks to iron out

Tonight was the premiere of WFFF Fox 44‘s ingeniously-named 10pm local newscast “Fox 44 News at Ten.”

Before today, the Burlington/Plattsburgh/other small Vermont/upstate New York towns nobody’s ever heard of market (ranked 92nd in the U.S.) had only two local newscasts, despite its five network stations (six if you count PBS twice):

The premiere was preceded with what I’d like to say was great fanfare, but was really just a brief by Associated Press and a story in the Burlington Free Press. I didn’t even hear about it until I noticed it was on.

The format is pretty basic. Two anchors, one male (Greg Navarro) one female (Lauren Maloney), a weatherman (Jason Caterina) whose accuracy has to be constantly reaffirmed through mentions of SkyTracker technology, and a sports guy (Kristian Read) who talks about local minor sports leagues and some major-league stuff out of Boston.

The newscast’s set is just as generic. The same red, blue, white and black colours of Fox News, graphics with blurred swooshes and 3D lines and all sorts of unnecessary noise. The set itself consists mainly of large flat-panel HDTV monitors that the anchors stand in front of.

The only particularly interesting thing about the show is the use of high-definition (WFFF-44 is available in HD on channel 43 over the air, or Videotron Illico channel 654). Anchor segments and even most (but not all) locally-produced reports are in HD format. (To demonstrate how much this matters to them above everything else, take a drink every time this story mentions that the program is in HD.)

The station hired 22 people to prepare the newscast, which is three less than what WVNY fired when it cancelled theirs.

The Free Press story notes that they’ve been preparing for the newscast for a month, even doing rehearsals. So when it came to actually airing the newscast, it should have been down to a science, right?

Wrong.

The premiere half-hour broadcast was riddled with technical glitches and timing flubs. Some of these are to be expected from a team that was just built from scratch, but the sheer number was kind of embarrassing, considering how important first impressions are. (My favourite was a reporter introducing a local business story by saying “It’s retail central in downtown Berlin.”)

Among some of the problems:

  • Dead air (shots would continue far longer than they were supposed to with no audio)
  • Sound cut-outs (one report was almost unintelligible)
  • Video cut-outs
  • Mid-sentence sound level changes
  • Overlapping audio feeds
  • Control room orders making it to air
  • Static image where video (of something else) should be
  • Jumping the gun on timing between segments
  • Music being played over anchors’ voices

These things are all forgivable and will no doubt get better as the show matures (though I’d argue that trying to run a local newscast with only 22 people is part of the problem). What annoyed me most though is how the anchors handled the situation. Rather than acknowledge their technical clutziness and relax, having some fun at their own expense, they put on fake smiles, telling bad pre-written fake-ad-libbed jokes. Hopefully it was just first-show jitters and that too will improve.

At the very least, the anchors have to start developing personalities. Maloney in particular has the same annoying mannerisms that other anchors feel makes them somehow communicate better: A head tilt any time she speaks, asudden lateral head-movement mid-sentence, followed by a nod at the end, as if to reaffirm what she just said. Words are overemphasized, and she has the same tone and expression for every kind of story, which sucks when she’s reporting on bad news or fatal accidents because her expression includes a slight smirk.

Editorially, the show was entirely forgettable. News stories focused on the fact that snow fell today, and that Christmas is coming up, and then a bunch of briefs. That’s all I can remember. No investigative journalism, no in-depth reports. Nothing that would make me want to watch this show on a regular basis, much less a compelling reason to switch from WCAX or WPTZ.

The team clearly hope that smoke and mirrors are going to get them viewers. Everything is either “team coverage” or “continuing coverage” (and includes the time-wasting giant graphic to remind you about that), which is kind of laughable considering how woefully understaffed they are.

They’re going to have to do better than a cookie-cutter format in HD if they want to be successful.

Fox 44 News at Ten airs at 10pm daily on WFFF Fox 44.

UPDATE (Dec. 4): The second episode was a bit better technically. Still some video and audio problems and still plenty of timing issues (a segment starting up half a second before the previous one has finished).

A couple of additional things I noticed this time around:

  1. They have segments that include video from across the country (I imagine from other Fox affiliates and Fox News). For some reason a lot of these are police videos.
  2. Republican presidential candidates are really milking this show, trying to get into the heads of New Hampshire primary voters.

UPDATE (Dec. 12): Vermont’s Seven Days has a short interview with General Manager Bill Sally and News Director Kathleen Harrington.

15 thoughts on “New Fox 44 newscast still has kinks to iron out

  1. Christopher DeWolf

    SkyTracker? Well, they’ve got to compete with Tom Messner’s STORMTRACKER 5000 technology! “The weather in our region can change at a moment’s notice. When tornadoes hit the Champlain Valley, StormTracker 5000 gives you up-to-the-minute details.”

    Ugh. I need to stop watching backwoods American TV.

    Reply
  2. Bob H

    Well I think FOX 44 is using a similar format to what FOX 25 in Boston uses. There news gets high ratings there. I only hope FOX44 covers the UPPER Valley Lebanon White River Jct area better that channel 3 or 5

    Reply
  3. Chuckie

    This newscast doesn’t even come close to the WVNY news.
    The people are nowhere as good, and they’ll be lucky to get jobs half as good as the WVNY staff got after they were cancelled.

    Reply
  4. Hooked on 44

    how can you complain, I get to watch the news an hour earlier and get to bed that much sooner. They have a fast pace that fits today’s lifestyle and the graphics are the best in the area. Some bugs to workout with the production staff, but your options when starting out are put the money into the on air talent or production. They should look at doing a rebroadcast on WVNY at 11:00. They have CAX worried enough that they now broadcast at 10:00 on their alternate channel 3.2! Welcome to Burlington FOX44 crew.

    Reply
  5. Dave

    Just wondering why Elissa Burnell decided to take a step down and host the weekend newscast when she was doing such a bang up job covering Maine for NECN. I think she started out with WNNE. I have seen a WFFF news SUV running around White River Junction and I think they are sharing the WNNE news building in WRJ.

    Reply
  6. ed

    But Julia Dunn, seen in HD no less, is far hotter than the newsgirls on the other channels! This makes me watch it :) lol

    Reply
  7. Big John LeBlur

    Kellie LaVoie is the hottest one of them all, beats anything on 3 or 5. Remember some of the hotties that have been in this market over the years — Kim Ragsdale, Claudia Reynolds, Molly Falconer, Lori Rothman, Anya Huneke….

    Reply
  8. Micah

    Hey Fagstein, good review of Fox 44 news. But just to let you know about the woman newsanchor (Lauren Maloney), I went to college with her and was a communications major at LSC for awhile before I found a better major and I have to tell you that all the anchor people at LSC are taught to do those facial expressions and to talk like that. If you dont talk or look a certain way when speaking you dont pass. Theres quite a few other people who are now anchors from LSC who do the same thing. Other schools I am sure teach the same style simular to LSC. So instead of critizing the people you should critize the school that taught them that so we dont see more of the same.

    Reply
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  10. PK

    Hey Big Jon. I know I am a year or 2 late but thanks for the shout out to my wife Kim Ragsdale. BTW she still looks good.

    Reply

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