Monday, December 19, 2011

Bad news travels instantly

TV journalists always seem to be in a rush, and as a result the story can suffer, especially bad when it's a story about suffering. Take yesterday for instance. A Facebook friend posts a graphic photo with the succinct caption: "We just lost our house and everything we owed, but we are alive, god is great!!!!"

So looking for more information I search Twitter for "Fire Belchertown" and pull up a tweet linking to CH 3 TV news that breathlessly reports: "CBS 3 was first on scene of a Belchertown house fire. The family has lost everything and are homeless. A firefighter was taken to the hospital. Details in the first five."

Wow! They were "first on scene"? Maybe TV news journalists should carry a fire extinguisher in their trunks. Of course what they meant to say was they were the first journalists on the scene. But even that was wrong as someone posted a comment saying Ch 3 had been scooped by, a hyperlocal--and obviously nimble--news operation.

A few hours later Ch 3 edited the story slightly to say "first TV news station on the scene". But they still thought that such an important fact that it graced two paragraphs out of the story's total of three .

First off a (bricks and mortar) journalist is not supposed to become part of the story--ESPECIALLY THE LEAD. And second of all--equally important--a reporter is a human being first and a reporter second. Try showing some empathy rather than hubris about being "first".

If you come upon a homeless person starting to set himself on fire, put down the damn camera and put out the flames--don't wait until it escalates into a great photo opp.

Beside the death of a friend or loved one there's nothing more painful than watching everything you own destroyed in a marauding mixture of smoke, fire and water. A compelling story like that deserves to be told properly, rather than first.


Anonymous said...

This is where it's clear that you are not a real journalist. The whole put down the camera and pick up a fire extinguisher is out of left field. Who said that they had the ability to put out a house fire but instead decided to let it go up in smoke for the evening news? That's just idiotic.

Anonymous said...

If you've seen Channel 3 in action, they show up with 1 reporter who is the person also in charge of the camera. I've seen the reporters set up the shot, get the camera going, then start filming themselves. Unlike Channel 22 which sends out a camera person and reporter to cover the news. Channel 3 is minor league at best.

LarryK4 said...

Read a little more closely.

I was remembering/citing an ethics incident 15 or so years ago where a homeless person said he was going to commit suicide at a public park. The TV news station sent a camera guy but no other personnel.

The homeless guy doused himself with gas and stuck a match, which the wind blew out. He struck a second which also went out. The third was the charm but even then the fire started out slowly on his arm but then e-x-p-l-o-d-e-d.

All the while the cameraman, standing only yards away, kept rolling.

LarryK4 said...

Sorry Anon 8:47, I was talking to Anon 8:37 (your comment perfectly illustrates my clarification)

Anonymous said...

Such a tragedy; I am warmed to see how Town Hall is responding to this in such a rapid and meaningful way. It hits home when it is someone you know. There has been an account set up at Florence Savings Bank to help the family.

Anonymous said...

"a journalist is not supposed to become part of the story--ESPECIALLY THE LEAD. And second of all--equally important--a reporter is a human being first and a reporter second"

Sorry, but those are two completely contradictory and irreconcilable principles. To use your example, the cameraman who videotaped a guy setting himself on fire was upholding your first principle: stay out of the story. If he had let his humanity come first and put out the fire -- as you suggest he should have -- he would have become part of the story.

LarryK4 said...

As Burger King used to say, "Sometimes you gotta break the rules."

Besides, if the cameraman did not tell anyone about the incident ("Sorry boss, the guy never showed up"), it would not have been a story at all.

Because if a tree falls in the forest and the media is not there to cover it, then it does not make a sound.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, the ultimate look at me, look at me blogger thinks that channel 3 is trying to get too much attention. That fire photo must be some sort of Rorschach test for you.

LarryK4 said...

Not sure which photo you are referring to, the general one I borrowed and posted of fire or the one CBS posted of the actual house.

But yeah, either of them get my undivided attention. Last week I took a photo of the remains of a dumpster fire, 24 hours after AFD put it out and after it had been emptied by the trash hauler.

And just that slight whiff of charred debris instantly sent me back 25 years, standing in the open door of my apartment, numerous smoke detectors beep, beep, beeping--the acrid black smoke so thick I could not see up the carpeted stairs to my second floor bedroom.

Anyone who has ever survived a major structure fire will vividly remember it for the rest of their life.

Anonymous said...

"Fascinating, the ultimate look at me, look at me blogger thinks that channel 3 is trying to get too much attention."

Took the words right out of my mouth. Kelley, you love data. Comb through your posts and see how many times you reference yourself, as reporter, as being the first to get the story and on and on.

Meet the kettle recognizing its own blackness.

LarryK4 said...

That is specifically why I wrote "a bricks and mortar journalist."

Pay attention. Still, I'm glad you have been reading me for so long now.

Anonymous said...

"That is specifically why I wrote 'a bricks and mortar journalist.'"

So is that (finally) your admission that you're not a journalist?

[Prediction: Your rejoinder will be some version of the specious argument that journalistic standards depend on the medium.]

LarryK4 said...

No, it's my admission that I'm no longer a bricks-and-mortar journalist as I once was (the 14 years I wrote a column for the Amherst Bulletin).

Anonymous said...

Nice dodge. Are you or are you not a journalist?

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, I'm no slouch with basic PR as well.

The preferred term these days is "Digital Journalist" or "Digital First Journalist."

Anonymous said...

Maybe the journalists were taking a page out of TN firefighters playbook? Pay for spray or as you go or not at all.