As we continue our series of scouting reports on Portland's local newscasts, let's take a look at the always crucial dinner-hour matchups, where content is key. TV news loves its bells and whistles Ñ and any crime story with visuals Ñ but eventually you'd better produce the goods.

These days, there seems to be an increasing focus on the topics that TV has always been uncomfortable with: budgets, government funding and anything that can't be shown from a helicopter.

KATU (2): Facing a steep climb out of third place, the 'Spirit of the Northwest' folks are trying to erase years of mindless soft-news features and feel-good stories, making a real effort to cover the state's economic struggle. É Bringing on veteran state government reporter Eric Mason has been a big plus in covering Salem. É KATU does the best job of covering consumer scams through the still-relevant '2 on Your Side' with Ed Teachout. É

The music that accompanies introductions to major stories makes me feel like I'm watching 'A Current Affair.' I certainly didn't need to have the Christian Longo trial story set to music. É The competent anchor team of Steve Dunn and Natali Marmion didn't lose much with the departure of weather guy Rob Marciano for CNN. É I'm really surprised that the hourlong newscast hasn't been chopped up into half-hour segments. But when big news breaks, the full hour can be a big advantage.

KGW (8): With its big lead in the Nielsens, Portland's NBC affiliate is sitting fat and sassy, thanks in part to a super audience lead-in courtesy of 'The Oprah Winfrey Show.' É Several years back, when the competition was having a hard time taking 'issue news' (education, economy, City Hall, the environment) seriously, Channel 8 did. And news viewers welcomed the fresh, nontabloid take. É

KGW has the most fun with graphics Ñ 'Rebuilding Iraq,' for example, was spelled vertically along the side of the screen. É The 'KGW War Desk' sounds like something right out of World War II. É Joe Donlon has developed into a strong anchor, maybe the best in Portland. He was just nominated for a regional Emmy Award. É It's about time that somebody Ñ and why not the station that has its own City Hall and environmental reporters? Ñ started taking sports seriously by assigning a full-time news person to the increasingly important beat.

KOIN (6): Now that anchors Ñ the unretired Julie Emry and former KATU partner Jeff Gianola Ñ are as firmly in place in the studio as their giant, smiling heads are on the MAX trains, KOIN needs to build on its new slogan, 'News that's to the point É and won't waste your time.' Stories are noticeably crisper and, well, to the point. É

Channel 6 probably should be satisfied with its slow, steady increase in the ratings, but beyond that it's going to have to take ownership of breaking local news stories. That means not being the first station to bail out and return to regularly scheduled soap operas. É When KOIN was No. 1 in the late '90s, its chopper coverage with pilot-reporter Warren Petrie attracted hordes of new viewers. There's a good lesson in that. É KOIN still has the best reporter and 11 p.m. anchor in town Ñ Mike Donahue Ñ who often contributes at 5 p.m.

Pete Schulberg is the host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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