By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Sep 01, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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When I began my journalism career as a police reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago back in the late 1970s, the policy for crowd estimates was simple: go to the cop with the gold on his hat, the officer in charge, get his name and get his estimate.

That method, of course, took the burden off reporters and attached a name on the estimate.  It didn't necessarily yield accurate numbers.

Saturday's Glenn Beck rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington shows why news agencies don't mind someone else putting an estimate on crowd sizes.

Saturday's tally ranged from 1 million (from Michele Bachmann, a Beck backer and a Republican U.S. representative from Minnesota) to 87,000 (plus or minus 9,000 people) from CBS News.

If you're on Bachmann's side of the divide, you're more likely to believe her, or Beck's own guess of between 300,000 and 600,000.

CBS' estimate comes from a company called, which the network paid for its analysis of the photographs of the crowd. CBS calls it the "only scientific estimate made of the number of people at the rally.

That doesn't mean the number is right, but at least it comes from someplace.

The Washington Post offered an interesting primer on how crowds are counted.

For the record, the U.S. Park Police used to make crowd estimates for the area where the Beck crowd gathered.

But after threats of a lawsuit over the Forest Service estimate of the crowd for the "Million Man March" 15 years ago, those estimates stopped (except for a guess about the crowd at the inauguration of Barack Obama).

Frankly, the crowd estimates are a no-win situation for news organizations, despite CBS' effort to remove the element of speculation. 

It's probably better to describe a crowd broadly, such as "supporters stretched from point a to point b" than it is to assign a specific number.

On TV: Soon-to-be TBS late-night host Conan O'Brien took to YouTube to announce the name of his new show. It's a shocker:


  • It looks like Time Warner Cable and Disney are near an agreement to prevent the loss of ESPN channels for cable subscribers. Their current deal expires Thursday.
  • NBC has ordered a sixth season of "America's Got Talent" for next summer, as this season continues to play out.
  • Meanwhile, the Hollywood Reporter has exclusive word that Bravo is renewing the New York and New Jersey versions of "Real Housewives."

An MPTV channel shuffle reminder: If you're an over-the-air television viewer trying to figure out where your Milwaukee Public TV sub-channels went, you may have missed word on the planned rearrangement of the digital offerings on Channels 10 and 36.

Starting Sept. 1, this will be the over-the-air lineup for Channels 10 and 36:

  • 10.1 MPTV-10-HD
  • 10.2 MPTV World
  • 10.3 MPTV V-me
  • 10.4 MPTV Weather (upgraded)
  • 36.1 MPTV-36 (HD in early 2011)
  • 36.2 MPTV-10 (simulcast; not HD)
  • 36.3 MPTV Create
  • 36.4 MPTV Classical
  • 36.5 MPTV Jazz
  • 36.6 MPTV Traffic

The changes don't effect cable or satellite viewers.

If you don't rescan your digital TV (or converter box), you may not get all the available channels. In fact, regular rescanning of the digital channels is a good way to make sure you're getting all of them.

Here's a video explanation from MPTV general manager Ellis Bromberg:


Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.