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.



The Missing Story: Maybe the fact is – if there is a nuclear attack, there may be nothing the public can do to save itself. Maybe that’s the story no one wants to really look at.

The most alarming picture Sunday from Hawaii experiencing an incoming ballistic missile wasn’t the highway billboards or chyron crawl over a sport program on local TV, but rather the panic in the streets. People were running for their lives, hiding in bathrooms or closets, and saying “good byes” to their families. Why or where were they running, or simply – in a nuclear attack – would it have mattered?

And why isn’t that the most prominent question for Day 2 of this story?

While the cause of Sunday’s false missile alarm in Hawaii needs to be investigated, even more shocking is the fact that no one seems to have known what to do, where to go, or how to react.

And that confusion and panic is frighteningly still unaddressed in news coverage.

It is knee-jerk to point fingers and decry the accident. And goodness knows there are been countless ‘national security consultants’ who have flooded the airwaves wringing their hands offering arm chair speculation about the accident safely from Washington, a distance of 4,826 miles from Honolulu. But their emotionally delivered insight hasn’t shed any light on the larger question… in this day and age of ever-larger nuclear buttons on desktops, what is left for the rest of us to actually do?

Many in the news business will recall the hackneyed phrase oft-spoken when there is a screw up on air, “Broadcasting will stop while we assess the damage and assign the blame.”
Today we are witnessing the mea culpa, the governor taking responsibility, the President assuring us “we’re going to get involved” in the inquiry, but really. So what?

The recent wildfires in California, the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Houston and more remind us of the necessity of having an escape route from imminent danger along with packed bags of our most important papers. But in a nuclear attack… escape where? And will there be any one left to inspect our papers.

Anyone growing up in the 50’s and 60’s will remember Bert the Turtle and “Duck and Cover.” Many of us remember practicing in our classrooms hiding under desks while being shooed away from the windows. As if, now looking back on that, would it have mattered in the least? There was a day when the yellow and black nuclear fallout shelter signs adorned buildings on every block… today, I wouldn’t know where to even look for a shelter in my community.

Once again, a lot of media is focused on the ‘what happened,’ or the ‘how did it happen”? Both are important questions but fall short of the more important — so what do we do?

Absent the distraction of politics or personality in either Washington or Pyongyang, Sunday’s incident in Hawaii proves that we may have early warning detection systems… even notification protocols… but what is it the public is supposed to do to save itself?

And why isn’t that prominently included in today’s media coverage?

As an old assignment managing editor, I’m just asking…

Wait wait – the story is about US (the media)! KTLA leads with news about itself – after all, what’s more important?

When KTLA TV News in Los Angeles discovered itself in the uncomfortable position of covering a vigil when the crowd turned its anger on the media, the station made that the foal point of its story. Was this necessary? Or hype? Is the main story that there was a shooting followed by an autopsy followed by a predominantly peaceful vigil, or was the story that a single loud-mouth protestor took objection to the cameras?
See for yourself. KTLA News opted to lead with the ‘threats’ in its anchor lead, its reporter’s on camera toss, and in the opening sequence of the video itself. A trifecta of self-indulgent ‘we are the the story.’
Only then – after that non-event was exhausted – did the story go on to cover what was a peaceful expression of the community’s sadness.

Maybe at worst this is poor judgment and self indulgent – the consequence of emotion running rampant over judicious news judgment. But – where were the elders of the news department? Where were those with more experience to know that the real story was not about the media, and never was, nor should it ever be. As witnesses to an event we are not supposed to become as important as the event itself. And when, for instance, does a stupid person’s threat become more important than the event itself?

The station may counter that the community’s rage was a part of the story… really? One loud-mouthed person now represents the entire community? It just seems lame to suggest that even as a supposed defense for poor news judgment. Just saying.

Fallacy of international news reporting

When networks say they are “monitoring” international news there is a significant difference from the era when they covered it.

Monitoring means saving money and human resources by remaining in London and piggybacking on all other international news sources.  Monitoring means reading the wires – AP, AFP, Reuters among others, and aggregating as many mutually agreed facts as possible while ‘packaging’ that information in to unilateral reporting.  What’s worse is then the reporter says, “We have learned…” Oh yes?  Learned from who?

Reporting and coverage once meant doing one’s own work – asking questions – using one’s 5 senses – following leads and owning the story as best one could.  Covering any story is about “learning more”… but now, as a verb, it is often a cheap substitute for real work.

Coverage meant something — it meant an investment of time, money, responsibility and staff.  Monitoring a story is the lazy approach to news gathering.  It is the way news is covered today.  It is the sad result of cost cutting for a product that many people don’t seem to value… the news.

While we profess to know more than ever before, and we do have greater access to timely news sources than ever before, US audiences receive fewer and fewer actual reports from network correspondents and more ‘monitored’ and ‘repackaged” news.  It just feels less and less honest.

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 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.

The Smugness of the Sigh

The sigh – as an expression – is enjoying sudden new prominence in social media.

Rescued from obscure poetry and dusty literature, the lowly sigh is now finding usefulness to either express supreme disdain or as an assertion denoting that a superbly expressed and effective, powerful argument is concluded.

It’s all I have to say on the matter.  Sigh.
I’d like to discuss this further, but you wouldn’t understand the complexity of my thinking.  Sigh.

Have you noticed this phenomenon?

And even more often the word sigh is now written at the end of a sentence as if to denote
dismissal of any argument or consequential belief other than the writer’s opinion;
superiority – again of the writer – as if to say everything on the subject is covered already;
as a cap to the conversation, as in there is nothing more you could say that is of interest to me.

It is a brilliant.  It enables the writer to presumably claim the last word of any importance about the issue; it suggests that the writer has made their argument and is moving on without waiting for or listening to a response – sigh, as if whatever you may still want to say is of no interest and little consequence to me.  Sigh.

With a sigh in my heart as I write, I’ve seen this new 4-letter word popping up more and more frequently.  Its genesis to me at least comes from the social media team at a major, conservative media empire.  It popped up so suddenly and in frequent occurrence that it has left me wondering if this wasn’t part of a larger communications strategy?  But alas, with a proper sigh, that may be too conspiratorial on my part.

I just think this sudden surfeit of sighs is anything but accidental.

Once upon a time when an argument ran its course a different (some would offer a stronger, strident and certainly more rude) four letter word could be uttered contemptuously at one another and that was that.  If you were really miffed you might add that your opponent was a waste of food… but that requires contemplation to enjoy its full effect.

I am growing to appreciate the effectiveness of the sigh.  I’d even invite comments on this, as if I really cared what you thought… sigh.   But really when I think of what you might have to say on this subject, well, meh?

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 .