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Thursday, February 19, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Wood Boldly Reports What Few Dare To: News

Seattle Times TV Critic

Brian Wood, one of seven people CBS affiliate KIRO-TV sent to Japan to cover the Olympics, has been a bold innovator in Nagano. He has ignored tear-jerkers and gastronomic travelogues in favor of news stories.

Tuesday night, he did a piece on Nike's bankrolling of two Kenyan cross-country skiers. He gave it credibility by noting CBS' own ignoble decision to let Nike put swooshes on news correspondents' jackets.

CBS News President Andrew Heyward has told personnel to hide the dread mark of Mammon. The order doesn't apply to affiliates, but Wood still concluded his report by pointedly flipping over his collar to cover the swoosh.

"I'm wearing a Nagano pin that fits very nicely in that particular spot now," he says.

Swooshes aside, doing news from the Games isn't easy for CBS personnel. You can't give away scores. You can't air anything CBS will show during prime time. And you're working 17 hours ahead of your hometown.

"We wake up in the morning here and appear live on television the night before," says Wood, who's at the International Broadcast Center in Nagano. No, the flu hasn't got him; when he's on KIRO at 5 p.m., it's 10 a.m. in the Land That Time Forgot. When he and the other on-air talent (reporter Meeghan Black and sportscaster Tony Ventrella) make their last appearances on KIRO's 5-7 a.m. morning newscast, it's approaching midnight in Nagano.

Apropos of long, exhausting stretches, Wood's specialty is alpine skiing, which has experienced more delays than U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq. He grew up in Seattle and taught skiing at Snoqualmie Pass. His Olympic preparation included going to Lake Placid, N.Y., in early January to get to know Picabo Street and Tommy Moe.

"Basic journalism," he says. "Make good contacts, make them understand why you care, and keep following up on that relationship."

With luck, basic journalism is rewarded when one of those athletes scores a medal and grants you an interview. Wood notes it doesn't always work. "When Picabo won the gold, all bets were off. Suddenly, giants intervened."

A fact of life at the Olympics is news hierarchy. The major networks with exclusive broadcasting rights in their countries have credentials that allow them better viewing and first crack at the stars. Stations owned by those networks are in the same group.

The next tier down is network affiliates such as KIRO. In coverage parlance, these folks don't get through the last gate.

"Would I rather be right there, touching and smelling and feeling the story?" says Wood, who has worked at KIRO since 1982. "Sure. Is that going to stop me from being a reporter? No."

To overcome the disadvantage, affiliates band together, especially those with the same regional goals such as KIRO and KOIN-TV in Portland. They share tape and pool reporting. KIRO, which was first to arrive in Nagano and has the largest staff of any CBS affiliate there, did work beforehand: weather stories, security stories, etc. They gave them to later arrivals.

Wood's favorite Olympic story is an early one he did on someone who bid $12,400 to win a special-edition Nagano T-shirt at auction. It turned out the man had designed the shirt's snowflower graphic.

Wood's favorite personal moment was the Opening Ceremony.

"You and 50,000 people are sitting in an athletic stadium and nobody is booing any of the countries," he says. "It sounds corny, but you really did feel the world coming together."

Note

CBS has rescheduled its 35-minute feature "The Great Zamperini" from tonight to Sunday night.

Got a comment? Seattle Times TV critic Kay McFadden can be reached at 464-8524.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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