Tuesday, May 13, 2014

WKYC's Tom Beres hosts his last 'Between the Lines' politics show

On Sunday morning, veteran political reporter Tom Beres hosted the last episode of his talk show Between the Lines. After 11 years, WKYC-TV canceled the show.

“It was a nice long run by most standards in this industry,” Beres says. “I’m grateful for the changing cast of characters in the commentator department.”

It’s a bittersweet moment for the 34-year WKYC veteran. “If I had my druthers, Between the Lines would go on,” he wrote in an online column -- but the station thought its ratings and revenue were too low.

Beres will still cover politics for WKYC’s newscasts and website, but the end of his show is a loss for those of us who care how we’re governed. The 12-minute show, just before NBC’s Meet the Press, was local commercial TV’s only commentary on Cleveland politics and government. Sometimes it broke news. Former Cuyahoga County prosecutor Bill Mason announced his retirement from politics on the show.

The last installment shows how Between the Lines contributed to the big debates in Cleveland. Guest Dennis Eckart, the former congressman turned lobbyist, cut to the heart of the problem with Armond Budish’s runaway victory in the Cuyahoga County executive primary.

Eckart called Budish a “stealth candidate,” called on his Republican opponent to “force Armond Budish out into the public with details, plans and proposals about exactly what he’s going to do,” and warned that if Budish “just coasts because he’s the Democrat on the ballot… that is not going to give him a mandate to govern.” I made a lot of those points in my profile of Budish, but where else in town are you hearing them?

Toward the show’s end, Beres updated viewers on Republican attempts to blunt Ohio’s green energy law and last week’s big setback to plans for a Lake Erie wind farm. Where else on TV are you going to see those stories? Columbus’ Channel 4 and 10 still do politics shows, but with Between the Lines gone, Ideas on WVIZ is all that’s left here.

Maybe Cleveland’s just a less political town than the state capital, and public broadcasting is the best place for a talk-show format here. Maybe, as Beres suggests in his column, he needs to present politics differently to get readers’ attention. Maybe online, not on the air, is the new place for political commentary.

“The wish and hope is I’ll be writing some more columns with more insight,” Beres says, and reporting more in-depth pieces for broadcast.

I sure hope so. Beres has as much institutional memory as any Cleveland political reporter. He’s one of the sharpest questioners at press conferences. His “Perspective” columns, like this piece on the stadium “sin tax,” are insightful.

In a town where the barely-daily newspaper still dominates the news agenda, alternate voices are really important. Beres is one of the best. You can follow him on Twitter and on WKYC’s website here and here.

Update, 5/23: Dennis Eckart called me to say that his criticism of WKYC was edited out of the last broadcast of Between the Lines. Eckart said he and another Between the Lines commenter, Mary Anne Sharkey, made closing comments that WKYC ought to devote more space and frequency to political coverage, not less. WKYC edited their criticisms out of the broadcast.  Eckart says a manager called the remarks "inappropriate."

Eckart points out that he and Sharkey made almost the same argument about The Plain Dealer last year, and WKYC didn't edit them then.

"Channel 3 is one of the most profitable stations in America from political ads," Eckart says. "They’ve made money off politicians, but taken off the broadcast side some of the only objective coverage of politicians."

1 comment:

Roldo Bartimole said...

It's too bad that WKYC choose, instead of making "Between the Lines" longer and better, to kill it. Local television doesn't live up to its responsibilities to inform the public on important matters. Tom has always been a responsible voice attempting to do exactly that.

Not that I haven't had strong disagreement with his usual choice of guests, particularly Mary Anne Sharkey and Dennis Eckart. Both have serious conflicts of interests and should not have been aired as commentators about public issues. The show was always too short, forcing Beres to hurry through on issues that really required more time. It gave the show a bad tempo.

However, what is shameful is the lack of voices on this show and the Ideastream\WVIZ programming. "Ideas," typically has the same two people talking with the host about the week's events. Even worse, much of TV broadcast is simply a television replay of WCPN's Friday radio show.

What's inexcusable in all these public shows is the lack of different voices. These shows typically neglect community people, academics, neighborhood activists, even the reporters actually doing the reporting and rarely use public officials. I remember when WKYC actually broadcast a half hour weekly press conference with the mayor of Cleveland with city hall reporters asking questions.

The failure to cultivate new voices with varying opinions, I suggest, leads to a deadened public revealed by the last two elections where 21 percent turned out for the crucial county vote and 13 percent turned out for the Cleveland mayoral vote. I especially condemn the news media, which calls for transparency from public officials, but impedes transparency by limiting debate to the same old opinion makers.

Local television news seems to believe it has use of the public airwaves to advance sports and tell us what the weather might be. A live community needs live discussion and debate.