Blurring the Line Between Sports and News

Kent Spencer joins WHAS-TV

Just when I thought local  TV news was phasing out sports coverage, one local station is beefing things up in its sports department.  WHAS-TV news director Mark Neerman  says the station is ready to go in a new direction by emphasizing sports news thoughout its newscasts, saying the station will “integrate and increase our sports presence even further into our newscasts. ”

Yesterday Neerman said he’d hired Kent Spencer, a former Morehead State football player who’s been with WTVQ in Lexington since 2003, to replace Matt Hobbs, who’s leaving this month for undisclosed reasons. Spencer was a general assignment reporter at WTVQ before moving over to sports, so he may have the versatility to do news coverage as well. Until he starts in October, former WAVE-TV sports director Gary Fogle will team with Adam Lefkoe on WHAS sportscasts.

“With Kent’s and Adam’s strong background in news we will be uniquely positioned to cover the stories that matter most to our Kentuckiana viewers,” Neerman said.

WDRB-TV, of course, is the only local station with three full-time sports personalities. In May, the station fired John Lewis after he was arrested for a DUI in a station car. His replacement will be Steve Andress, a Syracuse grad who’s been at KEZI in Oregon for two years.

WLKY-TV and WAVE-TV have two sports staffers, though WAVE has three in the not-too-distant past.

And there are no female sports reporters on local TV since Danielle Santoro left WHAS last year.

It seems that the biggest dilemma facing stations when it comes to sports is whether or not to spend the money to have a local personality standing in front of a faraway arena when local teams compete. As far as I can tell, WAVE-TV sent a crew down to the Bahamas to follow U of L’s basketball team as it played an exhibition there this week. WHAS-TV, through its deal with U of L, has a full crew there (Drew Deener doing play-by-play) and is broadcasting games (including tonight’s broadcast at 7 p.m.). WDRB and WLKY are content to use voice-over highlights from the trip.

The other dilemma for local TV sports anchors is much journalism and investigative work sports guys are allowed to do, with the Rick Pitino-Karen Sypher case as exhibit A. For the most part, stations turned over trial coverage of Pitino’s case to news reporters, though it was certainly mentioned by local sportscasters. Last year, when Pitino offered to do local interviews before last year’s basketball season started, on the condition that the only questions he’d answer would be about basketball, local sports reporters complied.

WHAS-TV’s initiative to integrate sports into its newscasts could lead to more investigative and critical sports reporting. Let’s hope so.