1998 NCC News Archives

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WNBC-TV News Director Calls Monitoring Police Scanners "Lazy News"

September 15, 1998, NEW YORK CITY -- As Vice President and News Director of WNBC-TV, Channel 4, New York, Paula Madison's mission is clear and succinct: "To try to leave this city better than we found it." That means bucking the "if it bleeds, it leads" philosophy all too prevalent in local television news.

"To focus most coverage on death, destruction and murder is a disservice to the community," she said. It's "lazy news" to sit by the police scanner waiting for the next murder or car crash to fill up a newscast.

Madison delivered the 16th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture Sept. 15 in New York. One of the few African-American women TV news directors in the nation and the first in the New York market, she described her determination to focus on the issues -- education, zoning, business development, religion and so on -- and to represent communities accurately.

"In an environment that continues to be more diverse by the moment as more and more immigrants come to our area, the overwhelming number of them Latino, then my newsroom has to become more Latino," she said.

Gross misrepresentation of African Americans in television news was among factors leading Madison to a career in journalism.
"On TV, the people who looked like me were pictured with their heads down and hands cuffed behind their backs," she said.

Madison's childhood in Harlem, while poor, embodied neighborliness and concern for the well-being and education of every child. "Not everyone who looked like me was a criminal, thug, murderer or rapist," she said. "[I decided] Given my background, who better to change the content of television news than me?"

At WNBC-TV, "Do we cover stories on death, destruction and murder? Yes. But we work hard not to lead with those stories," Madison said. "I think we should help people by giving them information that is a tool for them to figure out how to better their quality of life. We must develop relations in a variety of communities." Then when there's news, "they'll phone you.  Investment is needed to get news. If you've not seeded the clouds in the days and weeks before, you have to wait for the scanner or beeper."

"People who watch TV news are buying into our agenda our viewership has increased," Madison said of WNBC-TV. "We have a very aggressive news operation -- I hope aggressive and humane." Channel 4 is now number one in the New York City ratings. Madison hopes her successful news philosophy will propel her some day to the news director's position at NBC.

Also honored at the lecture were Earle K. (Dick) Moore, long time legal counsel to the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, and Paul DeMain, Native American journalist and publisher of the country's first national Indian journal, News from Indian Country. The Parker Lecture is co-sponsored by the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ and the Communication Commission of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

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