Given the restrictions on local TV coverage during yesterday's opening of the G-20 summit -- they couldn't report from the sky due to security restrictions on news choppers -- local stations generally informed viewers without unnecessary, over-hyped, rambling reports.
Until mid-afternoon yesterday, Pittsburgh stations did not break into regular programming for G-20 coverage. There was no reason to -- nothing was happening.
But just after 3 p.m., as the first reports of protesters marching began to appear on media Web sites and Twitter feeds, local stations interrupted regular programming. WPXI was first at about 3:10, followed by KDKA at 3:20 and WTAE at almost 3:30.
WPXI's Vince Sims was breathless running alongside protesters in Lawrenceville. When KDKA broke in, viewers first heard reports of a tear gas-like deterrent being fired into marchers by police. KDKA's Andy Sheehan offered the most detailed, compelling reports early on.
WPXI had the good sense to block out audio of protesters, which anchor Peggy Finnegan explained was due to profanity being shouted.
When WTAE hit the air just before 3:30 p.m., there was no mention of the clash in Lawrenceville, with all focus on the arrival of President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One at Pittsburgh International Airport. The station seemed out of the loop.
At noon, WTAE's Marcie Cipriani showed off what seemed like a smart vantage point from a rooftop position along Penn Avenue. But the parade did not appear to make it that far, and WTAE missed out for about 20 minutes until live reports from Tara Edwards on the ground. She ended up getting a little too close to the action as the police line advanced and Channel 4's live truck got caught between police and protesters, but she was OK.
WTAE and WPXI both broke away from local coverage for network newscasts at 6:30 p.m. "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" originated from the North Shore and a nearby protester shouting through a megaphone disrupted the national broadcast's audio.
WTAE offered a "special report" at 7 p.m. but missed an opportunity. The station ignored police-protester clashes happening at that hour in Oakland in favor of canned reports from earlier in the day. Similarly, a KDKA report at 7:30 p.m. never reported on events in Oakland. Even if stations couldn't get their live trucks there, it seems that if they were on the air live, they should have had personnel reporting from Oakland by phone.
In Lawrenceville earlier in the day, "The Daily Show" "reporter" John Oliver was seen among the media gaggle, doing interviews, wearing a black bandana while he spoke. "Tear gas doesn't hurt as bad as I thought," he said, drawing a crowd as he spoof-interviewed protesters for a segment that he said will likely air next week.
Despite scenes of chaos and some destruction of property, coverage also revealed lighter, purely Pittsburgh moments. Channel 11 showed a man carrying a faux Stanley Cup among the protesters, chanting, "Let's go, Pens!"
On talk radio yesterday, the mood was more restrained and non-confrontational than usual.
News/talk KDKA's talk shows were a mix of talk and news reporting, traffic updates and street happenings. It was a far cry from KDKA host Marty Griffin's dire predictions earlier this month that anarchists were stockpiling human excrement to fling at police.
KDKA-AM's Fred Honsberger commended police and security forces for creating a good game plan for crowd control and keeping things calm yesterday.
The leader of the national ratings pack -- Rush Limbaugh -- didn't get to weigh in for Pittsburgh listeners. His show, which is carried on WPGB, was pre-empted for the Pirates game.
Staff reporters Adrian McCoy and Sadie Gurman contributed. Contact TV editor Rob Owen at email@example.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.