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     TYNDALL HEADLINE: HIGHLIGHTS FROM DECEMBER 23, 2010
The soft news season of the holidays officially begins. The last few shopping days before Christmas qualified it as the Story of the Day even though none of the three newscasts made Christmas its lead--and even though ABC did not file a Christmas story at all. To demonstrate that the holiday season had already descended on the networks' newsrooms, all three had a substitute anchor: ABC and CBS tapped their morning shows, with George Stephanopoulos and Erica Hill; NBC used its cable bench with Carl Quintanilla of CNBC. The lead story on both NBC and CBS was the clean-up from the floods in southern California; ABC led with unusually high wintertime prices for gasoline at the pump.    
     TYNDALL PICKS FOR DECEMBER 23, 2010: CLICK ON GRID ELEMENTS TO SEARCH FOR MATCHING ITEMS
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video thumbnailCBSChristmas holiday seasonTravel volume increases, despite price hikesDon TeagueDallas
video thumbnailNBCChristmas holiday seasonRetailers predict 3% annual gift sales growthJohn YangChicago
video thumbnailCBSChristmas holiday seasonCharity toy bear drive run by eight-year-old boyJim AxelrodNew Jersey
video thumbnailNBCStorms, heavy rains, mudslides on Pacific coastLeave thick residue of mud, polluted runoffMiguel AlmaguerCalifornia
video thumbnailABCItaly terrorism: Rome Embassy Row parcel bombsMailroom explosions, Greek anarchists suspectedMiguel MarquezRome
video thumbnailCBS111th Congress convenes in lame duck sessionLeave long list of legislative accomplishmentsNancy CordesCapitol Hill
video thumbnailABC111th Congress convenes in lame duck sessionDeparting Congressmen decry hyperpartisanshipJonathan KarlCapitol Hill
video thumbnailABCMilitary personnel face family, personal problemsDeployed troops keep contact via videoconferenceBob WoodruffOhio
video thumbnailCBSElderly disabled can require legal guardiansCourt-appointed abuses leave widow pennilessSharyl AttkissonPhoenix
video thumbnailNBCBank robbery by seventysomething abuses charityNeighbor offers ride, framed as getaway driverBoyd HuppertMinnesota
 
TYNDALL BLOG: DAILY NOTES ON NETWORK TELEVISION NIGHTLY NEWS
IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS The soft news season of the holidays officially begins. The last few shopping days before Christmas qualified it as the Story of the Day even though none of the three newscasts made Christmas its lead--and even though ABC did not file a Christmas story at all. To demonstrate that the holiday season had already descended on the networks' newsrooms, all three had a substitute anchor: ABC and CBS tapped their morning shows, with George Stephanopoulos and Erica Hill; NBC used its cable bench with Carl Quintanilla of CNBC. The lead story on both NBC and CBS was the clean-up from the floods in southern California; ABC led with unusually high wintertime prices for gasoline at the pump.

For Christmas news, NBC's John Yang and CBS' Elaine Quijano filed the predictable updates on the volume of retail sales this holiday shopping season. Yang reported from Chicago's Magnificent Mile; Quijano for Times Square in New York City. With warnings about procrastinating last-minute shopping and emptying shelves, both functioned more as promotions for the retail sector than reporters on the state of commerce.

CBS' Don Teague also tried to turn Christmas into hard news, surveying busier holiday travel volume in the face of costlier gasoline and airline fares. On Tuesday, we noted that prices at the pump only make news when they are rising not when they fall. The $3-per-gallon mark appears to be the threshold for attracting coverage. CBS' Bill Whitaker broke a near 18-month drought and now Linsey Davis does the same on ABC. She calculated December gasoline prices rising at a 13% annual inflation rate, a full 76% higher than the recessionary prices of December 2008.

Amid this insipid trio of news stories, why was the Christmas holiday Story of the Day? Look to the saccharine of newscast-closing feature series on both NBC and CBS. CBS' American Spirit found yet another toy drive: Jim Axelrod profiled Justin Martin, an eight-year-old teddy bear fanatic; Wednesday Barry Petersen told us about Dolls for Daughters, donated in memory of a miscarried pregnancy; Tuesday, NBC's Kevin Tibbles brought us Mark's Elves, distributing toys to pediatric patients in Chicago in honor of a boy who died of cancer four years ago.

As for Making a Difference, Janet Shamlian closed NBC's newscast with a home lighting ceremony in smalltown Illinois. The Decorate a Family program festoons houses of disabled veterans and separated military families with garlands, wreaths and fairy lights, "a holiday literally brightened by the kindness of strangers."


WAIST DEEP IN MUD The astonishing sight of the waist-deep caked-in wall of mud that wiped out homes in the canyons of Highland Cal was highlighted on all three newscasts: NBC's Miguel Almaguer, CBS' Bill Whitaker, ABC's Mike von Fremd. Thus the Pacific storms were NBC's lead for the second time this week, CBS' for the third. ABC also led with the storms three times this week--but not today. The other disaster facing southern California is the beach pollution from toxins in the storm runoff. NBC substitute anchor Carl Quintanilla featured the response from San Diego's Baywatch: lifeguard lieutenant John Everhart described rescuing four dozen guests from a flooded Mission Valley hotel.


ELSEWHERE ON THURSDAY’S NEWSCASTS… There was no other story that warranted coverage from correspondents at all three networks.

CBS' Allen Pizzey and ABC's Miguel Marquez filed from the Eternal City where a pair of parcel bombs exploded on Embassy Row. The mailrooms for Chile and Switzerland were hit.

The performance of the now-adjorned 111th Congress was examined in summary features by the Congressional correspondents at both ABC and CBS. CBS' Nancy Cordes looked at the bright side, ticking off the achievements of "one of the busiest periods in Congressional history." ABC's Jonathan Karl was downbeat, convening a roundtable of departing representatives to moan about dysfunction. Meet Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Zach Wamp (R-TN), Chet Edwards (D-TX), and Mike Castle (R-DE). Karl pointed the finger at the cable news channels: "They say hyperpartisan news has fueled hyperpartisan politics."

Combat Diary: the Marines of Lima Company was the title of a war documentary about the heavy death toll suffered by an Ohio-based USMC unit five years ago, when 23 were killed in Iraq. For five months, ABC News has been working on an Afghanistan War follow-up, embedding with the same company on the frontlines and simultaneously with their families on the homefront in Columbus Ohio. Woodruff gave us a preview in his Reports feature series: fortunately, no carnage this time, just Skype-mitigated separation.

CBS' special feature was Sharyl Attkisson's Investigation into abuses of the court-appointed guardianship system for the disabled elderly. Attkisson fingered Peter Frenette's Sun Valley Group in Phoenix for milking the $1.3m inheritance of a demented widow--and then resigning the guardianship twelve days after Marie Long's funds were fully depleted. Attkisson offered a tip of the hat to the Arizona Republic for its pictures of the now-destitute 89-year-old widow.


A VERY GRISWOLDS STORY The decision by ABC to include John Berman's vacuous feature on favorite singalong tunes for holiday-season road trips into its nightly newscast rundown defies comprehension. This story has no news value whatsoever. Its status as an amusing soft feature with a seasonal news hook is vanishingly tenuous. Its reliance on fictional movie clips rather than actual footage of real life strips it of journalistic credibility. Thumbs down, triply so.


THE WOBEGON BANK ROBBERY If you go to NBC's new Making a Difference page, you will see that the network promotes the local efforts of its affiliates around the country to cover feelgood stories of altruism and volunteerism: Good News in Your Area. This move to incorporate local news content into NBC's national feed has surfaced twice on the Nightly News itself in the form of Kuraltian--or Keillorian--human interest features by Boyd Huppert from smalltown Minnesota.

Huppert works for KARE-TV in Minneapolis. Last week he told us about Elroy Minn, population 925, receiving a surprise bequest from Loren Krueger, a pennypinching local farmer, who left an unexpected $3m to the town when he died at the age of 94. That was heartwarming enough to qualify for the Making a Difference format. Now Huppert offers a quirkier story of unintended consequences that more befits a Lake Wobegon label. Check out the bank robbery caper in Elysian Minn.