Causing Trauma on Live TV; NBC Makes a Child Cry

A New Low on Live TV

It’s not permissible for any adult to make a child cry — anywhere, and especially not by a professional team of journalists on live, network television and stay on the shot, continuing the interview even as the guest breaks down.

Shame on the TODAY show. Shame on the hosts, the field producers, and the control room because they should have known better.

NBC’s TODAY Show interviewed a survivor of yesterday’s shooting at a Florida high school beginning by asking the condition of her best friend who was shot next to her.
The young woman, just a junior of perhaps 15 or 16 years, softly answered, “she didn’t make it.”

As any one would, her lips quivered. Her eyes watered. She wiped her face with the sleeve of he sweatshirt.

Yet NBC chose to stay on a single picture of her for an interminable several seconds before going to double boxes showing the hosts in Korea along side the student as she broke down and tried to regain composure.

Rather than simply end the interview, NBC chose to continue. It felt more exploitative than journalistic inquiry.

Rather than say, “we’ll be back in a moment” with the decency to allow her to recover her composure, NBC stayed on their shot to continue the interview. Whether the young girl wanted to stay or go, as a child she was given no choice, the adults offered her no option.

Would it have been reasonable for her to know she had a choice?
Would it be defensible for the network to say, “well, she could have asked to end it?”

To her credit, the young woman did recover but had to do so before millions of the audience.
To her credit, the young woman was an eye witness who had valuable insight to share. And she did.

It’s just not to NBC’s credit that it risked causing her trauma and embarrassment in order to save their interview. They continued the interview while professing “their sorrow for her loss,” but the fact is, they continued.

An unanswered question? Why didn’t the producer in Florida tell the control room and anchors in New York NOT to ask about her friend, that “the friend had died.”

Or worse, did they know and chose to ask the question? Whenever I produced network live shots, and I was responsible for hundreds over 30+ years, I made it my responsibility to tell the program when/if there were ‘hot buttons’ to be aware of, mindful for, and how to handle lest we trespass over someone’s emotional line.

An unanswered question? Was there any consideration of changing the program as it played across other time zones? A thought that perhaps if this was a bit raw when aired live in the East, it ought to be edited or deleted or framed with a new introduction before it played in the Central, Mountain or Pacific time zones?
And for any who might say this is fair game, that “we need to see the faces of victims” and “understand the horror of a school shooting, in order to appreciate the damage.” Phooey.

There is never an excuse for professional journalists to add to a victim’s pain.

There is never a sufficient apology for “not knowing” what someone is about to say, especially on live TV.
There is a higher duty for all professional journalists to make their coverage as immersive as possible, but always within the boundaries of human decency.

Sadly it seems that NBC’s TODAY show plumbed new depths of what appears to be exploitative television.

 

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Misplaced Priorities – More Engagement Is Not a Substitute for Content

The announcement that The New York Times and Washington Post will cooperate on a new platform to manager reader’s comments is no doubt a leap forward in building opinion sharing and engagement. I suggest the $3.9m price tag paid for with money from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation however, going to do very little to advance knowledge or – as it is promoted – advance innovative journalism.

Ask any one what they think and no doubt they will be happy to tell you whether they have expertise or not or first-hand knowledge. Talk radio demonstrates this hour after hour. We have become a nation of people who want to share opinions before the full scope of a story has been reported. Frank Bruni wrote this. “We no longer have news. We have springboards for commentary. We have cues for Tweets. Something happens, and before the facts are even settled, the morals are deduced and the lessons drawn. The story is absorbed into agendas. Everyone has a preferred take on it, a particular use for it. And as one person after another posits its real significance, the discussion travels so far from what set it in motion that the truth — the knowable, verifiable truth — is left in the dust.

Here’s the point – and no, this isn’ t a tome on the need to develop alternative funding models for contemporary journalism although that is a worthy subject for future consideration. The point is simple — once upon a time and not that long ago, major global media entities paid reporters to work and live all over the world in bureaus and to report on the news and business and politics and personalities and comings and goings that went on in those locales. That investment in human intelligence and resources paid dividends in the reportage, the understanding, the depth and context of what was happening. That investment helped to assure that there would be multiple reports – with differing views and yes, sometimes opinions, but it was all first-hand knowledge. That investment helped assure that individuals anywhere in the world could see and hear and read professionally acquired news. I embrace citizen journalism. I was among the very first to introduce it along with my colleague Mitch Ratcliffe in an ill-fated and under funded experiment called correspondents.org more long before it became ‘fashionable.’ But citizen journalism is not enough by itself. And asking for readers/viewers comments – even managing them superbly – is insufficient too.

So there goes almost $4m to build a platform to aggregate, manage and distribute the thoughts of the average man… the common Joe… the guy on the street who can’t wait to tell us what he thinks… but do I care? Do you? Really? Again quoting Frank Bruni, “Grandstanding is booming as traditional news gathering struggles to survive: It’s more easily summoned, more cheaply produced. It doesn’t require opening bureaus around the country or picking up correspondents’ travel expenses or paying them for weeks on end just to dig. So it fills publications, websites and television airtime the way noodles stretch out a casserole, until we’re looking at a media meal that’s almost all Hamburger Helper and no beef.”

We can bemoan this absence of beef but we’re not investing in making a difference.

Paid Media? Media for Sale? A Federal court judge wants to know more in the Google-Oracle Suit

Today’s decision by a Federal court judge ordering Oracle and Google to disclose who they paid to write about their “JAVA trial” poses interesting questions about corporate media management — who pays for what to be written and what extent does that have on influence within the industry?
What would you expect that answer to be?

All Things D’s filing  Judge Orders Google and Oracle to Disclose Who They Paid to Write About Java Trial has the story quoting “Judge William Alsup, who presided over the case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, wrote in his order that he’s “concerned that the parties and/or counsel herein may have retained or paid print or Internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on the issues in this case.”
We’ve seen purchased coverage before in terms of trade press, I’m thinking especially of the sychophants who write gushingly about the latest Apple release and who (masquerading as reporters) would leap to their feet to applaud Steve Jobs.  Other companies (Cisco’s news site) commissions articles by well-known and reputable authors — though one might assume they are not (often) going to either write nor would Cisco (or others likely) post unflattering comments, reviews, analysis or criticisms.  This is coverage purchased to put forth the issue in the most flattering light possible under the circumstances.  
It is corporate communications imitating news.  It’s a lot like Sorkin’s The Newsroom imitating real news rooms.

BP Oil was insidious in the way it aggregated media coverage during the gulf oil spill while inserting reports from its own commissioned reporters…. it did make a disclaimer but only in the tiniest of print.  It was clever – in the midst of critical news it seemed unexpected to read glowing accounts of the importance of big oil to the community and their years of service and commitment to the economy and residents.
I don’t argue that this is happening – I find it refreshing that a federal judge is concerned enough to demand a review into how pervasive it may have been during his trial.
I find Judge Alsup’s order compelling. His full order can be found here .

Three Little Pigs and a Big Bad Wolf

The Guardian (UK) has an interesting take on the fable of Three Little Pigs and how it might be covered in contemporary media. (Slow video window – wait for it to open!)

News – social media input – citizen journalism, blogs, commentators and critics all swarming – do they make for better coverage or a muddle?
In any case, it’s a short video worth more discussion.

MIA in Iowa campaign coverage… the voices of Iowans!

The din of the pundits and panelists drowned out the voices of the Iowans at their caucus. Across the dial last night the networks from the big three, the cablers, even those outlying at the far reaches of the spectrum (Current TV) all relied on their experts to talk about the Iowa caucus instead of letting the natural sound play out… the drama play on.
The political coverage resembled a sports broadcast with play-by-play announcers vying for mic time with their color counterparts. It seemed to be a race for who was more clever, who had a better turn of phrase, who was more biting and quote-worthy instead of hearing the direct conversations that stemmed from the caucus. Sure that would have been b-o-r-i-n-g to network executives but it might have been more informative or illustrative of what the voters thought, instead of analysts assuring us what they thought the voters were thinking!

The coverage of the election s more about the commentators than even the politicians. Until we get to a point where we are being offered substantive sound bites in long form – more than 3 and 4 seconds of sound snippets, we are not being truly served by the media investing so much time, effort, energy and resources.

Things seem out of sorts. We have more channels and platforms of news coverage than ever before but they seem to be carbon copies of one another – short blips of sound and long form analysis of what views they wish to espouse. It just seems to be more about what the media thinks – what the media knows – than the reaction of prospective voters… how did they hear the candidates? What did they think of the positions, what did they feel, what impacted them?

With so many choices about coverage why does it seem that we have so few options as viewers?

Veteran Correspondent Richard Threlkeld – RIP

Dick Threlkeld was a masterful writer, story teller, correspondent and a good friend of both my father during the Vietnam war and me when Dick and I both worked at CBS and ABC on the US west coast.
He was a craftsman – a wordsmith – a gentleman – a friend.

From the Associate Press

By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Richard Threlkeld, a far-ranging and award-winning correspondent who worked for both CBS and ABC News during a long career, has been killed in a car accident, CBS said.
The 74-year-old Threlkeld died Friday morning in Amagansett, N.Y., and was pronounced dead at Southampton Hospital. He lived in nearby East Hampton.
Threlkeld spent more than 25 years at CBS News, retiring in 1998. He was a reporter, anchor and bureau chief. He covered the Persian Gulf War and the Vietnam War, the Patty Hearst kidnapping and trial, and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
He worked alongside Lesley Stahl as co-anchor of “The CBS Morning News” from 1977-79, and reported for “CBS Sunday Morning” from its inception in 1979, as well as for “The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather.”
In 1981, Threlkeld decided to go to up-and-coming ABC News without fanfare and without telling CBS.
“I don’t like to horse trade. I’m not a horse,” Threlkeld told The Associated Press at the time. “After I decided ABC was the best place for me to go, it would have been wrong to make a verbal agreement and take it back to CBS to see what they could do.”
At ABC News, he served as a national correspondent for “World News Tonight.”