Senior television news director Paul Zucker says he's part of a dwindling breed. But you'll never hear that from Philadelphians, where his twice-daily broadcasts for local CBS-affiliate KYW inspire reams of laudatory letters and e-mails. Whether it's broadcasting a policeman's funeral with a storyteller's eye for service and glory, or covering the 2008 Democratic primary with the same intensity–and state-of-the-art technology–as a national network, Zucker's passion for local news shines through.
"Technology has changed our business in a dramatic way," says Zucker, a 25-year news veteran who also worked for WCBS-TV in New York City. "Our competition here in Philadelphia went to an automated control room, which only requires one or two crew members. On the other side of the coin, we can call up sophisticated HD graphics from mainframe computers and fly robotic cameras around the studio. We have more options than ever in the control room. But that also means more elements to juggle and more on-air recoveries to make at lightning speed"
This was never truer than for the recent presidential primaries, when the eyes of the entire nation were on Pennsylvania. "We designed a special control room, which we dubbed 'Election Central' that we could switch over to from a studio configuration at the touch of a button. The goal was a big, CNN-type feel, with state-of-the-art monitors flashing political imagery behind the walking and talking anchors."
Outside the studio, crews followed the candidates whenever they were in town, sending back live hits from field reporters during the broadcasts. And, in the case of Obama and Clinton, they shot live satellite interviews from the candidates' Pennsylvania headquarters and folded that into the show. "Pushing coverage onto our website, like the networks do, was another big thing for us. On primary night, between our early and late broadcasts, we had our main anchor hosting a three-camera webcast with in-studio guests."
Sometimes, according to Zucker, he's able to best the networks. When ABC, which had exclusive broadcast rights to the Obama-Clinton debate from Constitution Center, allowed only reporter access (rather than providing a remote location for an anchor broadcast), Zucker did a site survey and found locations that improved upon those provided by the network. "Local coverage is all about breaking news, and it's the director's job to successfully capture a feeling of something that happens once and never again, and bring that back to the community."