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Reporter turns his back on TV

May 22, 2001

Television news too soft, veteran newsman says

By Nicholas K. Geranios
The Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. — Television reporter Tom Grant was the first to report that an epidemic of child sexual abuse in Wenatchee, Wash., may not have happened.

Grant’s reporting helped put a serial rapist behind bars in Vermont.

He has won a George Polk award, two Edward R. Murrow awards and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University awards for broadcast journalism.

But he’s no longer working in television news. Disgusted by the push for higher ratings, greater profits and fluffier stories, Grant resigned earlier this month from KXLY-TV, the ABC affiliate in Spokane, the nation’s No. 77 market.

”TV sucks,” Grant wrote in a column announcing his move to print journalism.

It’s not unusual for reporters to criticize the superficiality of television news, with its focus on crime, losing weight and civic boosterism.

It is unusual for a middle-aged, award-winning reporter to quit his job for the uncertain world of an alternative weekly called The Local Planet. Grant, 47, will be the news editor.

The pudgy, bespectacled Grant is the first to admit that he doesn’t much resemble the chiseled gods or boy-band look-alikes who populate television news.

But Grant has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, and that long list of journalism awards.

”Spokane is a good place to do news, but the emphasis is on making money, even in the newsroom,” Grant said.

Television shies away from certain stories for fear of offending advertisers or being sued, Grant said. During his career, he’s been discouraged from doing stories on dirty restaurants, incompetent doctors or dentists, shyster lawyers or unscrupulous car dealers.

”We all follow the same recipe,” Grant said. ”Put on puppies and babies and the ratings will go up.

”That’s not the news that people need,” he added.

But is it what people want?

Last year, a television station in Chicago experimented with a local newscast that shunned fluff and crime stories in favor of a hard-news approach. That program was canceled after nine months for lack of viewers.

”The public does want that kind of news,” Grant insisted.

”It may not be as entertaining as reruns of Drew Carey, but people need the news,” he said. ”If you give them the news day after day, people will trust you and come back to you.”

Grant began in television in 1986, and worked at KTUU in Anchorage, Alaska, KCAU in Sioux City, Iowa, WCAX in Burlington, Vt., and KREM in Spokane.

Grant’s major claim to fame was his work in the mid-1990s that first cast doubt on the horrific Wenatchee child sex rings. Two girls accused dozens of adults of molesting them and other children in orgies.

Grant got an interview in which one of the girls recanted her story, spurring legal appeals that ultimately discredited the 1994-95 investigations. All 18 people sent to prison have been released.

”I’m rather proud of that story,” Grant said. ”For six months, I was the only one casting a critical eye toward those arrests.”

The story earned Grant a 1995 Polk award, a prize that usually goes to reporters from much bigger news organizations.

Grant left KREM in 1998 to take a Mike Wallace fellowship in investigative journalism at the University of Michigan. When KREM declined to rehire him, Grant worked in construction for several months before he was hired by KXLY.

Grant was not critical of KXLY, saying the management generally supported his work.

For the past couple of years, Grant has reported dozens of times about the use of public money to help one of the city’s richest families build an upscale shopping mall in downtown Spokane.

The story is complicated and does not have compelling pictures. Grant said his superiors became worried that the story was boring viewers.

KXLY General Manager Steve Herling declined to say much about Grant’s departure.

”We wish him luck,” Herling said. ”We’ve supported him very strongly in his career here.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2001


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