Best Practices: TV and Radio

WGAL photo

How WGAL TV kept the newsroom running when the roof collapsed

WGAL-TV (Lancaster, Pa.) News Director Dan O’Donnell was on the other side of the building from the newsroom at 3:20 Friday afternoon when he said he heard “what sounded like a truck backing into the building. Others said it sounded like thunder. Then ceiling tiles came down. The newsroom roof was collapsing.”

Engineers discovered a concrete support beam and slab had shifted and dropped. Luckily, no one was injured.

Snow packed WGAL-TV’s rooftop. A beam shifted forcing the station to evacuate. (Photo from WGAL used with permission)
Lancaster has been buried in snow for the last couple of weeks. “It was snow related,” O’Donnell said, “We covered three or four roof collapses before we had our problems. We had a foot of snow this week, 8 inches fell the week before. Read more
Conan O'Brien discusses his life and the art of comedy during a forum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Thursday, May 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Conan’s comedy bit hints at serious issues for local TV news

Just before the holidays, late-night comedian Conan O’Brien poked a little fun at local TV newscasts. In doing so, he illustrated some serious issues about the compromises journalists make in understaffed newsrooms.

O’Brien strung together clips of two dozen local news anchors reading an identical story – a consumer report about the supposed trend of holiday “self gifting.” The newscasts were broadcast in different cities – from Boise to Ft. Wayne to Dothan, Ala., but each of the anchors introduced the story with the exact same words: “It’s okay; you can admit it if you bought an item or two or ten for yourself.”

O’Brien has aired similar montages in the past, capturing repetition in local stories about such topics as Cyber Monday shopping, restaurants that serve political-themed food, and the news that actor Mike Myers and his wife were expecting a baby. Read more


Chicago TV station admits mistakes in airing misleading interview with 4-year-old boy

A Chicago TV station now says it made two ethical mistakes when it aired an interview with a 4-year-old boy last month.

The first mistake was interviewing a child at a crime scene. But things grew even worse when the station edited the boy’s interview in a way that made it seem as though the African American child idolized guns and criminals.

In fact, the child told the photographer that he wanted to be a police officer. The station edited out that part of the interview.

This 4-year-old boy was interviewed on-camera by WBBM as part of a story about teen shootings.

A story published last week on the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education’s website first raised questions about the interview. Dori J. Maynard, president of the Institute, said, “We have long been worried about the ways in which the media helps perpetuate negative stereotypes of boys and men of color, but this appears to be overtly criminalizing a preschooler.”

On Thursday, WBBM Vice President and News Director Jeff Kiernan told me via e-mail, “The airing of the 4-year-old’s soundbite was a mistake, and the writing and the editing of the soundbite was a mistake.” He added, “WBBM-TV takes responsibility for the story. Read more


8 essential skills for anchors (& any journalist) covering breaking news

Anchors and reporters scrambled in response to alerts that President Barack Obama would be making a major news announcement Sunday night. As Brian Stelter of The New York Times wrote:

“According to Brian Williams, the ‘NBC Nightly News’ anchor, some journalists received a three-word email that simply read, ‘Get to work.’ ”

We know what happened next: coverage of the historic news about the death of Osama bin Laden. Media critic Jon Friedman watched the broadcast coverage and liked what he saw:

“Commentators were careful to keep intact their professional objectivity and not share openly in America’s sense of victory and jubilation over a deeply hated foe. Anchors on the networks tried hard to remain newsy and not give in to their emotions.”

He named names and networks, with specifics on what they said and did well. Read more


5 Twitter tips for the TV anchor (or anyone)

KMBC-TV anchor Kris Ketz — who was recently named one of “Local TV’s Top Tweeters” by Broadcasting & Cable magazine — has come up with some effective tips for using Twitter as a TV anchor. I talked with him about his top five:

1. Be consistent

If you’re going to have a Twitter account, you should use it on a daily basis — at least during working hours. Just like your audience members can rely on you to be on the air, they should be able to rely on your tweets for information.

If your account identifies you as a member of your news organization, that makes you a social media representative for not only news content but for your company.

Ketz says it’s important to know what your audience wants and to be consistent in your offerings. Read more


Brokaw: ‘There’s Always a Reason to Turn Over a Rock & Find Out What’s Under it

It’s been six years since Tom Brokaw stepped down as anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” but he’s just as committed to journalism as he ever was. 

When I spoke with him by phone last week, he was busy following conservative and liberal blogs to see what they were saying about the elections, which he helped cover Tuesday night as a special correspondent for NBC. He was also in the middle of writing a New York Times op-ed and a new book.

Tonight, Brokaw is visiting The Poynter Institute to help celebrate its 35th anniversary. In advance of his visit, I talked with the journalism legend about the changing role of the news anchor, the need for more one-subject broadcasts, and the reason you won’t find him on Facebook or Twitter. Read more


Live Coverage of Philippine Hostage Situation Sparks Criticism, Debate

When journalists in the Philippines heard that a man was holding tourists on a bus hostage on Monday, they were faced with a tough question: Should they broadcast live coverage of the situation?

Many broadcast news outlets decided to go live, giving viewers front-row access to a crisis that led to the death of eight tourists and hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza, a former police officer who was fired last year after being charged with extortion and robbery.

Journalists’ live coverage and involvement in the crisis has sparked discussion about three key issues that Filipinos continue to debate:

  • The disagreement between journalists and the public over how the situation should have been covered
  • The need for greater communication between journalists and the police during hostage situations
  • The differences between how the Philippines and the U.S.
Read more


YouTube Connects San Francisco TV Station with Citizen Journalists

There’s a brand new videographer at KGO-TV in San Francisco: you.

As part of its ongoing “uReport” effort to solicit user-submitted content, the ABC station is now working directly with YouTube and taking advantage of its YouTube Direct technology, which lets news sites request, review and re-broadcast user-generated videos.

The experimental partnership, which launched in late July, is aimed at marrying the editorial acumen of a traditional newsroom with the user-generated immediacy of online video. At the heart of the experiment is a video pipeline with enormous breadth, from viewers to independent local media organizations to YouTube to KGO.

When people visit KGO’s site, they’re presented with a familiar YouTube-style uploading interface. The videos that users submit are added to their own personal YouTube accounts, just as they would be if they uploaded them to Read more


Learn to Tell Better Stories with Al’s New Video Tutorials

News directors, teachers, reporters, videographers and producers have been asking for this for years. I finally have produced a series of short videos that I believe will help you write better stories for broadcast, whether they are viewed over the air or online.

It is tempting to think of this as a “TV thing,” but I am convinced it will be just as useful for print and online folks who now find themselves producing video stories. It has other applications, too — a minister friend of mine who watched the “finding focus” video said he was going to tell his fellow ministers to watch it.

Here’s how the tutorials work: Click one of the links below. You will be directed to NewsU, Poynter’s e-learning site. Read more


Nashville TV Stations Say Collaboration, Social Media Were Key When Covering Floods

One week ago, Nashville, Tenn., found itself in crisis. Three months worth of rain fell in 24 hours. Rivers flooded interstates, neighborhoods and landmarks. Experts say the storm caused more than $1.5 billion in damage.

But Nashville has suffered through this one largely by itself. There was no looting, the storm had no name, nobody forecast such a catastrophic event and the networks didn’t send their anchors to stand in the water and talk. Maybe it was just bad timing with a suspicious package in Times Square and an oil slick moving toward shore.

Nashville-area media have been remarkable. TV and radio stations stayed on air with marathon coverage, hour upon hour of raw information, video and photos as the story unfolded. Newspapers and TV stations have made expansive use of websites and social media to help the public understand what was unfolding. 

That became vitally important as big sections of the viewing area lost power and relied on smart phones to deliver video, photos and basic information about the rising water. Read more

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