Once again, America is dealing with tragedy. The killing of a popular singer, and the deadly shootings at a nightclub in Orlando bring out the news hounds of TV and radio. I have no doubt that in the past few days there have been reporters hiding in bushes, under rocks, and occupying hotel rooms there like an invasion force.
I respect the work most all of these people do. But, I do have a concern. Radio/TV and of course the internet, it doesn’t matter. But it’s something that never changes. The pressure on staff to “get the story first”. And, quite often, that push from managers leaves a station or news outlet with egg on their faces.
Remember how James Brady had supposedly died on the day Ronald Reagan was shot? That’s what the major networks said, and had to publically retract.
We all remember the declaration that Al Gore had won Florida, and the Presidency in that election in 2000, based on polls which were so fatally flawed that it made the American media look, frankly, silly. (And they wonder today why the public thinks so little of them…)
For a few minutes on 9/11, airliners were, seemingly, aimed at just about every city in the country. The panic was palpable on the air. And most of those reports? Yep, they were wrong.
A couple years back, a few days after an Asiana jetliner went down, a TV station staffer, getting a tip reportedly from someone at the FAA ran breathlessly to their boss with what were, supposedly, the names of the crew of that jetliner. With only minutes to go before deadline for a newscast, no one ever thought names like “Bang Ding Ow” and “Ho Lee Fuk” might not be legitimate names. Duh! What a retraction there.
I hear about this kind of pressure every day. And, just like at NASA and the post mortum by Flight Director Gene Kranz after the Apollo 1 fire at the Cape, “Nobody bothered to stand up and say, “Dammit Stop!”.”
I see mistakes in stories on radio, TV and newspaper websites that would cause my journalism teacher in high school to flunk a bunch of people. Stories that have conflicting facts with one fact at the top of the story, a conflicting fact at the bottom. Spelling and grammatical errors, too (someone never learned when to use “there’s”, and “theirs”, you know…that type of thing). Forgetting to tell one or more of the “5 W’s” (who, what, when, where and why).
And if you ask people why this happens, the answer is the same. Too few people on staff, too much work to be done from the underlings to the managers and the pressure to “get the story first”.
We had a situation in my hometown when a dry hurricane caused 50% or more of the entire area to lose power for up to 15 days. The TV stations were going berserk for days with promos telling me how “we told you this first, and told you that first”.
I had to laugh. OK fine, you did it. How many people had a battery powered HDTV in 2008? How many have one today? How many people are actually watching television when their power is out for up to 2 weeks?
But they did have battery powered radios.
The bottom line: it’s not OK to be first, when your information is wrong. Sometimes, it’s far better to be second. Too bad broadcasting’s bosses can’t learn this.
Insist on quality in your news. Not quantity of “breaking stories”.