With all the other broadcast networks’ Philadelphia stations preempting regular programming to cover the public impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump, it was a normal Wednesday morning on Fox 29, which stuck with Wendy Williams’ syndicated talk show and the hosts of The Real.
Jim Driscoll, news director at Fox 29, said he and his staff had long discussions about whether to air the hearings live, but limited their coverage to show both sides equally and because the proceedings are widely available elsewhere.
The station limited local broadcasts last week and Tuesday to just the opening statements of House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) and ranking member Devin Nunes (R., Calif.). And Wednesday morning, with the U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland admitting Trump ordered a “quid pro quo” in Ukraine, Fox 29 didn’t break away from local programming at all.
Instead, the station stuck with a discussion on Good Day Philadelphia at 9 a.m. about crying babies (and a howling Mike Jerrick). Like other networks, Fox 29 streamed the hearings live on its website and Facebook page, and has covered them on local news blocks beginning at 4 p.m.
“Today we have other platforms that we can carry it on," Driscoll said of the impeachment hearings. “Now viewers can find coverage anywhere. They can find it everywhere beyond TV, and our newsroom being multi-platform, we decided this was an opportunity for us to drive folks to our other platforms.”
He’s not wrong. It’s hard to browse the internet or social media without coming across a livestream of the hearings. And on TV, every major cable news network has provided gavel-to-gavel coverage, sandwiched with live analysis. But even in 2019, not every viewer subscribes to cable television or the internet, and broadcast television remains free to access.
While other broadcast networks have been carrying the hearings live, most broke away at some point Tuesday during the testimony of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer at the State Department tasked as a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. The first was CBS, though locally CBS3 returned to network coverage when the hearing’s afternoon session began at 2:30 p.m.
During other notable congressional hearings, such as testimony by former FBI director James Comey, Fox 29 preempted local coverage to carry the entire hearing. Driscoll said the station is prepared to do that again, if the witness warrants the coverage.
“If the whistleblower comes forward, that would be off the charts. That would be something that we would absolutely have further discussions on,” Driscoll said, noting his primary goal is to keep Fox 29′s coverage balanced. “Aside from the whistleblower, where’s the balance? That’s something that I would like to think any news organization would take into account."
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According to Nielsen, ratings for the live impeachment coverage are slightly down on the major broadcast networks in Philadelphia compared to their normal programming. Most viewers have flocked to cable news networks like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News to watch the proceedings, where ratings are way up. During last week’s hearings, Fox News drew its highest ratings since the 2018 midterm election, according to Nielsen.
Driscoll said Fox 29 viewers seem happy with the decision, noting there have been no complaints about the decision to stick with normal programming.
“The lack of complaints doesn’t answer the question, ‘Did we make the right decision?’ We feel like we made the right decision,” Driscoll said. “Our job is to make a decision that’s in the best interest of our viewers.”