Duke University Alumni Magazine

Newsworthy Idea

Thomas: providing "good news" segments to local television station's
ext time you're watching your local news, pay close attention to the special features they air -- the medical breakthroughs that range from altemative therapies to targeting tumors. The crime prevention installments that offer tips for helping troubled teens or safeguarding your property, You may wonder how your local station can tap in to such a broad range of service-oriented stories from around the country. The answer may well be Ivanhoe Broadcast News.

     With a reach that extends beyond that of CNN -- 88 million television households versus 66 million -- Ivanhoe is remarkably influential, if a bit anonymous. "Most people haven't heard of us, but they've seen our work," says Marjorie Bekaert Thomas '69, Ivanhoe's co-founder, producer, and chief executive officer. "Because most local network affiliates can't afford to send their reports.rs on out-of- town assignments, they turn to us, We provide news about national developments that can be adapted for their particular market."

     Stations that sign up as Ivanhoe partners can opt for one, two, or all three series that the company produces. "Crackdown on Crime" reports on the solution side of crime and law; "Today's Breakthroughs: Tomorrow's Cures" features major medical innovations around the country; and "Rx: Health" is described as "help yourself medicine," with installments on such topics as allergy prevention and chiropractic medicine. Along with each video segment, stations receive collateral materials such as fact sheets, series promos, research summaries, and transcripts so that reporters can do a voice-over of the audio portion to localize and customize the report.

     "Although our partners can air as many or as few segments as they want," says Thomas, "we have found that between 90 and 100 percent air all the news reports that we send. And we have a 98 percent renewal rate on the medical breakthroughs, so we're giving stations and viewers something they really want." Stations from. WABC in New York to KABC in Los Angeles rely on Ivanhoe's reporting to give their viewers national solutions to local problems.

     Ivanhoe's reporting can have significant and far-ranging effects, A woman scheduled for a leg amputation the next day canceled the surgery when she saw an Ivanhoe segment about a new treatment protocol for her condition, A report on mail carriers reporting crime with cell phones prompted a Knoxville, Tennessee, company to donate 6,000 cell phones to their local carriers. And police departments and community groups have borrowed ideas from their counterparts in other cities to combat criminal activity,

     Even as they receive pleasing comments through viewer mail and calls, stations have watched their ratings and profits grow as well. Incorporating Ivanhoe installments into a local newscast is an affordable way to appear comprehensive and timely, and local sponsors are eager to associate themselves with such a "good news" service, Thomas says such a pos itive approach has paid off for her company. "Reporters can go out, find a problem in an hour, come back to the station, and put it on the air that night. It's harder to cover solutions because you have to first understand the problems. But while the solutions we cover nay not he in [the viewer's] community, the problems are. And the reports show they don't require huge amounts of money or numbers of people. Most are good ideas that a few people started with a little bit of money and got them to work."

     In fact, that's the kind of straightforward approach that worked for her and her partner when they decided to launch Ivanhoe fifteen years ago. At the time, Thomas was practicing real estate and general commercial law in Orlando. She and her friend, Bette BonFleur, each invested $8,000 and began producing television news spots for their local ABC affiliate. Stan, the station was urging the duo to expand. ("They told us that none of the nationally syndicated segments they were get- ting were as good as ours," says Thomas.)

     After four years devoted to getting the series packaged and marketed, Thomas decided to give up her law practice to work full- time on Ivanhoe. The company now boasts twenty bureaus and more than seventy employees. Earlier series topics have included financial news, cooking, antiques, and veterinarian advice, but the health and medicine and crime beats have proven to be the most popular. (She says she regrets that "Top of the Class," a series on educational initiatives, didn't sell well enough to continue. "I still think it was one of the most important series we've ever done, but after two years, we could only convince forty stations that it was important enough to carry. From their perspective, it wasn't something viewers wanted.")

     Thomas, who serves on the Duke Film and Video program advisory board, credits the university with helping her adapt to new situations and challenges. "Duke has always had a broad mission and vision that went beyond the immediate details of how you do a particular thing," she says. "Duke gave me an inquiring mind."

     In her senior year, Thomas and a dormmate asked Samuel Dubois Cook, the first black faculty member on staff, if they could take an independent study with him for no credit. "We were so intrigued with him that we just wanted to talk with him, He would have us read Aristotle and then we would come to his office and argue about what it meant. He is still a good friend." (Cook Hon, '79 is now president of Dillard University and a Duke trustee emeritus.)

     Beyond her growing Ivanhoe empire, Thomas and her husband, Bryan Thomas J.D. '71, are avid polo players. But whether competing con the polo field or investigating a potential new series for her company, she is always moving forward."I don't like to watch," she says. "I like to be a player."

--Bridget Booher

Visit the ivanhoe Broadcast News home page at http://www.ivanhoe.com

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