Diana's News Legacy

Local TV news changed forever 10 years ago. I remember because I was there.

When Princess Diana died, I was a news producer at WDIV-TV in Detroit. That station did what others around the country did after the Paris car crash Labor Day Weekend – turned local news into celebrity news, for days.

They called us all into work – an “all hands on deck” as it’s known in the newsrooms – emulating the procedure for a jet crash or tornado or any other major local story. But, this time it wa a story with absolutely no local connections.

In the following days, save weather and sports, we and our competitors were in an “All Diana” format. Never mind that the Princess had never been to Michigan or, as far as anyone knew, ever even conjured a thought of our market. Sure, there was public interest and intrigue, but no local angles. So what did we do? We created them. We sent a reporter across the river to Windsor, Ontario, where, as one manager put it “the Queen is on money.” And then someone had an idea to put condolence books “that would be sent to the Royal family” at the station and encourage viewers to come Downtown to sign them. That staged event made for live reports in newscast after newscast.

Ten years ago this weekend, local TV news took another giant step toward becoming less local. Celebrity news dominated, as the pictures coming over the satellites trumped anything happening in the community. Some will say that we “gave the viewers what they wanted” and there may be ways to look at the ratings and believe that. But it was a watershed moment for the business, one that has an impact today.