KNBC going deep Sunday night

Channel 4 plans to air a half-hour investigative piece on Sunday night at 11:30 examining LAUSD oversight of an ambitious library renovation program called Wonder of Reading. I'm told the report will tap a forensic accountant and other sources (plus twelve years worth of documents) to allege the use of unsafe library furnishings, intimidation of contractors, rigged bidding and kickbacks among contractors. The package from producers Frank Snepp and Yvonne Beltzer, to be reported by Colleen Williams, is apparently the first time the weekly "NBC4 Extra" slot has been used to break news rather than repackage reports that previously aired.

LA Observed on KCRW: I mention that story, and KNBC's handling of this week's Bentley chase, in today's LA Observed segment on KCRW. Here's the link to audio; the script text follows after the jump.

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

You know about water cooler stories. They’re the news events that everyone wants to talk about around the office water cooler. That is, if people still gathered in offices instead of staying head down in their own little cubicles. Or increasingly, at home or in a coffee shop, gabbing with friends online or posting on their Facebook wall.

The point is that in any given week there are media stories that are interesting…or inspiring…or purely gossipy. Even if they aren’t necessarily… important.

Think of the flurry of interviews this week by the heroic crew of that US Airways jet that landed in the Hudson. Or the Southern California mother who gave birth to eight babies --– after already having six at home.

Actually, they’re at her mother’s house, where Nadya Suleman lives because she’s single and on food stamps.

The octuplets story first had, well, legs as a marvel of modern medicine. It took a team of four dozen doctors and nurses to deliver the babies.

Then it came out that Suleman had patronized a Beverly Hills fertility clinic. And that her mother had sold her story for 40 thousand dollars. And that Suleman was talking exclusively to Ann Curry at NBC.

Given the way the story has unfolded, the unsurprising twist now is that Suleman acquired a pro bono public relations expert to try to save her image before things got out of hand.

And, maybe just as important, to sift through offers.

The thing about water cooler topics is – like a sugar high – the buzz fades fast. I’ve stopped watching most of the news on Suleman, figuring I’ll pace myself for the long haul. You know we’re going to watch these kids grow up, and get reports on every job or future turns in Suleman’s life.

Personally, I’m more interested now in the PR rep. She gave an interview to the LA Weekly that complained about death threats and hordes of news trucks outside her door.

"There's another side to this whole story - the impact on me!" Joann Killeen said – facetiously I hope. She also told the Weekly that Suleman won’t be getting any more eggs implanted. "There's nothing left in the frozen vault," she said. No eggs left to defrost.

Another story that flared this week was the slow-speed police pursuit of an expensive Bentley. Every TV station in Los Angeles tossed out their late news to go live. With breaking news.

So much for local TV curbing the chase impulse. This one came with a bit of extra…potential.

It followed the surrender and booking of hip-hopper Chris Brown for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, the singer Rihanna.

There were rumors that a – quote – important person was driving the Bentley. The leap was made that it might be Brown. So no other news got reported that night.

Daily Variety found it ironic that even KNBC Channel 4 fell in line. News Director Bob Long has been vocal in his criticism of promiscuous coverage of fleeing suspects. But this one smelled like it might be newsworthy because of that celebrity angle. Which turned out to be wrong.

Long told Variety that he didn’t like himself much the next morning. "It was a wasted newscast, and I feel terrible about that," he said, adding that he received “a lot of unpleasant mail” over the coverage.

It could be worse – he could have 14 mouths to feed.

On Sunday night, Channel 4 will repair its image and devote a half hour to an investigative report on problems with the libraries in LA’s schools. I’m told it’s a first for the station to use that 11:30 Sunday slot to break serious news. For that, all’s forgiven.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

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