In Houston, journalists are sorting rumors from fact live on TV

May 18, 2018
Category: Newsletters

Journalists have become disturbingly experienced at covering mass shootings. KHOU smartly created a display to show what information the station has verified, what the station is still trying to check out and what false information is circulating. 

Tegna TV stations have developed the "verified" franchise as a fact-checking news segment, but this simple display where an anchor explains how the station has verified the information it is reporting is smart, clear and useful. 

KHOU in breaking news coverage of school shooting
Screenshot, KHOU

Houston TV stations interviewed students who witnessed the shooting live on the air, which is always risky and may appear exploitive. But stations often included a parent in the interview frame, to show the viewers that reporters were not talking to kids without some adult supervision. (You can read our best practices to reaching and interviewing witnesses and victims of trauma here.)

KPRC Live coverage
Screenshot, KPRC Houston 

It is easy for newsrooms to get so focused on the breaking news, the shooting, that they can forget what else viewers need to know. Houston stations started thinking fast about what else people in the community needed to know, not the least of which is traffic problems that follow a shooting at a school. That kind of basic, less urgent sounding information is essential, especially for frantic families who are trying to get to their kids.

KPRC reporter updates traffic congestion around the school
Screenshot, KPRC updates traffic congestion around the shooting scene

TV stations also recognized that parents of kids in other schools would want to know whether the school system would be dismissing classes early. They constantly updated where Santa Fe High students could be picked up.

Houston TV also tried to remind viewers which video they were showing live and what video was recorded. That is critically important in breaking news coverage as helicopters circle above kids running from a school. KTRK veteran reporter Ted Oberg told viewers that the school system had practiced for school shootings and in recent months posted photos of those practices. The station said it was being careful not to show those practice photos today so nobody watching would be confused.

KTRK live TV coverage
Screenshot

KTRK aired chilling police scanner audio that included the sound of a loud gun blast. An officer shouted into the two-way radio that the shooter was "in the art room."  

The police department dispatcher log gives the first glimpse of the horror that would unfold.

Police dispatcher log
Police dispatcher log entry: Broadcastify

It was especially impressive to see Harris County, Texas sheriff Ed Gonzalez doing a live briefing in both English and Spanish. The Census Bureau says 42 percent of Harris Countians are of Latino or Hispanic origin. Houston media are used to bilingual briefings and air them.  

Fox News, using KRIV video, did something simple yet useful by keeping a map on the screen while airing live reporting. I suspect journalists overestimate how much viewers know about their locality. 

KRIV TV coverage
Screenshot, KRIV  

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