Category Archives: news

Where have you gone, Lou Grant?

By now everyone in the world has heard about the colossal screw up last week when KTVU-TV fell victim to a prank and announced fake, racist names of the crew of that crashed Asiana airliner.

While most people are chuckling and asking “How could that happen?” the men and women who run local TV newsrooms should be shaking in their boots. If they have any self-awareness at all, they should be dropping to their knees and praying “Thank God, they didn’t call my station.”

I spent more than 26 years in the  local TV news business most of them as a news director, running local news departments. I have been out of the business for more than ten years, but I stay in touch. Many of the problems I saw when I was there remain today, and have gotten worse.

This may not be exactly what happened, but it is a very plausible scenario. A call or email comes into the newsroom. Some junior staffer, probably fresh out of college takes the call and gets excited and yells “We have the names of the pilots!”

Someone only slightly more experienced responds, “Oh my God, we have to get this on the air, NOW!”

Already someone else has called the promotion department to tell them to start working on a promo hyping the “exclusive breaking news.”

The chyron operator (the person who types the letters that you see on the screen) transcribes what is given to him.

Meanwhile, not until the anchor reads the names on the air does anyone actually look at the names and say them out loud.

Supposedly in the KTVU case, someone at the station called the NTSB where an intern confirmed the names. How this happened, I cannot explain.

So why does something like this slip through?

1. Too many stations overemphasize flash and speed over substance and accuracy.  How many times have you seen or heard “breaking news,” or “this just in,” or even better “live, late breaking.” On the other hand, how many times have you seen a station brag, “We got it right!” Getting it right may be an assumption, but when it isn’t emphasized, it falls by the wayside. It may only be a dumpster fire, but if it’s live and breaking news, we’ll be all over it.

2. The economics of the TV business are such that there just aren’t as many experienced people left in many newsrooms to actually provide a system of checks to catch mistakes before they air. This was a noon newscast in a major market. You would think there would be some senior people around to call the shots at that time of day. However, when you get to a smaller market, especially on weekends or in the early morning, it is just a handful of inexperienced people processing a high volume of news content. The same young producer or reporter who gathers in the information also writes it and approves it for air. There is no one to give it a second look, or if there is, they are frequently as green as the first person.

3. TV newsrooms are not staffed by rocket scientists. This is a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. This is not a blanket indictment of everyone who works in TV news, nor am I saying that TV news people are all morons. For the most part, they all have college degrees, so at least in theory they are literate. And clearly, there are some very sharp people working out there.  However, on the average over the past two decades or so, the TV news business has not attracted the cream of the intellectual crop.

It starts in college. If he or she is being honest, a broadcast journalism professor will admit (as many have to me) that the students he/she is teaching are not the best and the brightest. The students who were at the top of their admission class are majoring in subjects that will produce a more lucrative career, like pre-med, pre-law, finance, engineering, and so on. When compared to majors like engineering, chemistry or even nursing,  broadcast journalism is a fairly easy major. It is often a second choice or back-up plan for students who couldn’t hack it in the more demanding majors. (In full disclosure, about a hundred years ago, I was one of those students.) Further, it is not at uncommon for the top graduates in a broadcast journalism program to take a look at the starting salaries in the TV business and say, “Screw this. I’ll go to law school or get an MBA.”

4. It’s very sad that a large number of those students/graduates aren’t really interested in journalism or news in general. They want to be on TV. They might be just as happy, or perhaps more so, being a “spokes-model” or a contestant on “Big Brother,” as covering the city council in small-town USA. For most new, young TV reporters, the job of collecting and presenting news is just a means to an end — a way to get on TV. If the stars align in their favor, maybe they get a shot at their true dream, to get off the street, away from the day-to-day drudgery of actually covering news, and become an anchor. As a result, there is very little emphasis what traditionalists might consider real journalism. “How does my writing look?” is replaced by “How does my hair look?”

5. Back to college for a moment, although the salaries aren’t a lot different, there is a contrast between the broadcast journalism students and their academic cousins across the quad in the print journalism department. It tends to attract a different type of student. In print journalism, it doesn’t really matter what you look or sound like. The most fame you will achieve early in your career is a byline and maybe a thumbnail photo. Strangers won’t come up to you in the grocery store and ask you why you changed your hair style. While still in school, you are actually expected to be able to write something longer and with more depth than a tweet.

I wish I had a good conclusion for this post, but I don’t. I continue to watch local TV news here. Mostly I just want to know if it’s safe to go to bed and what the weather will be in the morning. I really don’t care about the “live, late breaking” dumpster fire.

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Gotta love the Irish…

I spent 28 years working in television news, and I don’t think I ever saw anything like this. It’s too funny! It reminds me of the “outtakes” some reporters would do to show at the Christmas party. The best part is the lovely Ursala kept a straight face through the entire stand-up. Enjoy!

Keep on writing

A friend of mine posted this poster card on Facebook. As much as I hate to admit it, that’s a pretty good fit for me.Grammer poster

I spent most of my adult career in TV news, where writing was important, but traditional grammar rules were loosely observed. Punctuation was never a consideration. Ellipses were frequently used by many writers…

Then I went to work in higher-education public relations, and the AP Stylebook became my Bible. That’s not to say that I adhere to it perfectly. All you have to do is read this blog to know that I stumble frequently. (One major fault is I have a very difficult time editing anything I wrote. I just see what I meant to say, not what was actually written.)

I must confess to another serious geek-trait. I took two years of Latin in high school. I didn’t like it. Actually, I hated it. I still can’t explain an “ablative absolute. However, those two years of declining verbs and learning to use five cases of nouns helped me write English better than any English class I ever took.

So for 2013, perhaps this card will be my resolution – to remind me to pay closer attention to how I write. I’d hate to be on the wrong end of my own judgmental nature.

Olympic time shifting

I have to confess; I am an Olympic junkie. All this week, I have been staying up way past my bedtime to catch the latest swimming final or gymnastics triumph/tragedy.

There have been some side-questions that have received a lot of discussion. One involves “Olympic spoilers.”  Some people are upset because they want to watch the tape-delayed prime time telecasts as if they were live. That is, without knowing the outcome of the competition.  These days they have trouble doing so because the results are reported everywhere, even on their smart phones.

This isn’t a new issue. It happens every time there is an Olympics overseas.

Actually, one of the hottest time-delayed Olympic telecast controversies involved an event that was held right here in the Eastern Time Zone. In February 1980, the Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid, New York. The famous “Miracle on Ice” USA upset of the Soviet hockey team was played during prime time. But for some reason, ABC decided the game was not worthy of a live telecast, so they tape-delayed it until 11:30 pm. For non-ABC television stations, the decision was easy – you announce the results. Heck, you break into network programming to announce the results. It was that big of a deal.

But if you are an ABC station, what do you do? Announce the news, or pretend it didn’t happen? News or entertainment? I was a news manager for an ABC station at the time, but frankly, I don’t remember what we did. .My opinion? (You know you were going to get it.) You announce the results as soon as you know them. You’re in the news business, so you report the news.  Don’t worry too much about those viewers who want to be kept in the dark. That’s not your job. People will whine, but you can’t please everyone.

Grandmother of the year!

This doesn’t require any editorial comment.

PALMETTO, Ga. (AP) — Police in Palmetto are looking for a grandmother and her boyfriend after her 13-month-old grandson ingested cocaine.

Authorities told WSB-TV on Monday that the baby was brought to Piedmont Newnan Hospital, then to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Doctors reported that the child tested positive for cocaine. The boy is expected to survive.

Investigators said warrants have been issued for the child’s 34-year-old grandmother, Ebony Daniel, and her 22-year-old boyfriend, Charlie Martin. Daniel and Martin have not been arrested.

Going out with a bang!

This is almost too good to be true. Man dies of a heart attack while having a threesome and family successfully sues for medical malpractice. I wonder what St Peter had to say to him when he showed up at the Pearly Gates.

Free the whales!

I’ve been off the net for a few weeks. To be honest, I haven’t been posting, nor have I been reading many of my blog friends. More catch up later.

I’m on the road this week, and taking a break between meetings to check my email. I ran across this news on Huffington Post that jolted me out of my blogish lethargy.

Flipping out over his day in court.

PETA is suing Seaworld on behalf of the Orcas, claiming they are victims of slavery. Gotta love it! And they seem to do it with a straight face.

It would then naturally follow that hunters and fishermen are murderers. And I guess I’m a cannibal for the bacon and sausage I had with breakfast this morning. (I’m not saying no one has ever called me a “pig,” but I don’t think that is what they meant.)

And what about our gang of two dogs and two cats? Should I fear a slave revolt in the Poolman family?

If orcas have rights, they must also have the same responsibilities, I suppose. I’d love to see them try to take that Seaworld orca that was involved in the death of his trainer a while back to court on charges of negligent manslaughter. That would be worth watching on Court TV!