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Wednesday, December 20, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Cable News: Give It Time To Mature

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Washington, Oregon and Idaho joined the increasingly crowded field of regional and local all-news channels this week when NorthWest Cable News (NWCN) became available on cable systems.

It is far less capable journalistically than CNN or local broadcast stations, but it's far more advanced technologically. On its first day, NorthWest Cable News was painful to watch. But it broadcast stories Seattleites could get nowhere else, and the concept is refreshing.

The enigmatic channel is owned by Providence Journal subsidiary King Broadcasting Co. It debuted on most Viacom Cable systems in metro Seattle-Tacoma yesterday and will be added to Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) systems Dec. 28, in place of CBUT-TV, Vancouver, B.C.

Energetic crew

Like CNN in the early going, NorthWest Cable News is possible because of young people with boundless energy and a technological revolution. (With CNN, it was satellites. Today it's time-saving digital video on personal computers.)

The twice-an-hour slogan goes, "Covering the four corners of the Northwest, from the mountains to the Sound, this is NorthWest Cable News!" But even spanning all those miles, NWCN has a long way to go:

-- It's their first week, they're a new team, the technology is all-new, many on the staff have just moved to this region, the reporters are young - and last night one or more of these facts was evident one way or another during every second of a sampled hour of

news.

-- The "one-man-band" method of journalism is distracting. The same person who shoots the video (with plenty of help from a tripod) also reports in front of the camera. Last night: poorly framed shots, out-of-focus sound bites and raindrops obscuring the camera lens.

-- Slow news days in the region could make for tough decisions on hourly lead stories. Last night, the lead was a Red Cross investigation in Oregon to determine if a blood transfusion was the cause of an AIDS case.

Audience cautioned

Introducing a somewhat murky report, NWCN anchor Craig McMorris cautioned viewers not to make too much of the speculative story. There was no known tie of the AIDS case to a blood donor, which might prompt one to ask why the report was not buried, then, well into the newscast.

You might want to give them a few months to get settled. But if you tune in sooner than later, you will also notice some good things about NWCN:

-- You can turn on the TV any time you like and watch close-to-home news, weather and sports.

-- It is founded on the notion that - you might want to sit down for this - there are people actually living outside King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, and that many of today's city slickers had past lives in dusty little villages like Spokane and Boise, and they enjoy, secretly of course, seeing news from those places.

Widespread reports

The strongest examples of this last night were reports from NWCN's co-owned King stations - KING-TV (Channel 5) here, KGW-TV in Portland, KREM-TV in Spokane and KTVB-TV in Boise. They will be regular content contributors.

-- The weather map doesn't stop at the Columbia River to the south and Pullman to the east, recognizing that people actually go and hail from beyond those boundaries.

-- There is more to news than crime, conflict and human drama.

And then there was the sportscast by Michael King, recently of CNN Sports in Hong Kong. It was hard to tell if his stunts, involving the green screen which allows him to stand in front of video, were worthy of "Saturday Night Live" or public-access Channel 29. They were either brilliant - or goofy. So bad they were good, or so good they were bad.

Or maybe TV has gotten so slick that no one has fun anymore.

In any event, King's performance was enigmatic, like NorthWest Cable News itself.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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