If Tom Lyden isn’t careful, he’ll be in danger of doing serious damage to his reputation as a two-fisted crusader.
KMSP’s “The Reporters,” the show he created and hosts, premiered last weekend with a series of pieces not going after con men and corruption — a Lyden staple for more than two decades — but heaping praise on Fox 9’s Rob Olson for his coverage of the Jesse Ventura trial and on MPR’s Madeleine Baran’s investigation of sex abuse in local Catholic churches. Lyden even managed to get through a one-on-one with new Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor without once gritting his teeth.
Has Lyden — whose doggedness has led to new laws, a felon’s conviction and a politician’s resignation — gotten mellow in his middle age?
“Anyone who thinks I’m turning into ‘Softball Tom’ will be mistaken,” he said last week. “If people are interested in me pounding on doors or chasing people down the street, I’ll still be doing that, but not on this show.”
What this program seems to be is a celebration of local journalism, a lighter alternative to the hard-hitting talkers that dominate the Sunday morning landscape.
It’s part of a strategy by Fox 9 owner Fox Television Stations to ramp up the amount of news coverage that its stations provide. By fall, the company will have added news hours in nine markets, including four hours per week at KMSP, Ch. 9. In addition to adding an hour on Sundays, Fox 9 will offer a new 30-minute broadcast at 6 p.m. on weekdays, starting in early September.
“Uninformed critics say big companies are cutting local news,” said Jack Abernethy, CEO for Fox Television Stations. “However, the opposite is true at Fox. We are expanding in a big way.”
Marian Davey, who was named Fox 9’s news director less than a year ago, said Lyden’s show exemplifies the station’s commitment to telling deeper and stronger stories. She plans on hiring two additional reporters, a producer and a couple more people in the investigative unit over the next two months.
According to Nielsen, KMSP leads the local competition among 25- to 54-year-olds in the morning but is dead last at 5 p.m. and finishes behind WCCO, Ch. 4, and KARE, Ch. 11, at 10 p.m.
“Part of what will make this show successful is Tom’s raging curiosity,” Davey said. “He works his sources from the minute he wakes up until the minute he goes to bed. He’ll be asking questions of reporters that will enlighten viewers.”
Lyden said he has had free rein since managers asked him several months ago to dip into his idea bag. He’s ready to make adjustments as he goes.
He may want to start with the roundtable that felt a little too chummy. He may also want to consider ditching the approach of taping the Sunday show on Friday afternoons and try doing it live. Viewers want their news as fresh as possible. Kudos for giving a shout-out to MPR. I wonder if the show will do the same when, say, KSTP files a great story. No sign of that in the first episode.
And while Lyden promises a show that applauds good journalism, I hope he keeps the option of rapping local news media on the knuckles when they fall short of standards.
“My mantra this past year has been fail and fail quickly,” he said. “Try it all. Experiment. If it doesn’t work out, let’s try something else.”