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Different Standards for Broadcast News?

NBC News

NBC News (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Sunday, David Carr, of the New York Times published an article called, “TV News Corrects Itself, Just Not on the Air.”

The “Today” show for NBC decided last month to air an edited clip of the 911 call made by George Zimmerman.  Zimmerman as you know is currently facing a second-degree murder charge in the death of Trayvon Martin.  According to Carr’s article, the show edited the clip, which ended up making Zimmerman sound as though he was making racist comments.  Carr called the edited clip, “…misleading, incendiary and dead-bang wrong…”

Carr goes on to say that while NBC took swift action after realizing the terrible editing, albeit a week after it originally aired and re-aired, which included an investigation, the firing of the producer in charge and an apology.

Carr points out that what the network didn’t do, was make an on-air correction.  Not during any of the four hours of the show was there one second dedicated to a correction that would set the audience straight.

Carr states, “What is it with television news and corrections? When the rest of the journalism world gets something wrong, they generally correct themselves. But network news acts as if an on-air admission of error might cause a meteor to land on the noggin of one of its precious talking heads. NBC used all of the powers at its disposal to amend the mistake, except the high-visibility airtime where the bad clip ran in the first place.”

Carr reached out to Steve Capus, president of NBC News, and much to his disappointment, Capus agreed with Carr.

Capus stated in Carr’s article, “We did an awful lot of work after it happened. We did an exhaustive investigation, I did interviews with a lot of publications to get the message out, but we probably should have done it on our own air.”

Carr wraps up his article saying, “Give NBC credit for dealing with a big error that threatened to sow further mayhem on a very delicate story. It’s just too bad it failed to remember that the fix for bad journalism generally includes more journalism. The kind that goes on the air.”

I agree with Carr.  The network absolutely should have aired a correction, especially given the very nature in the evolution of this case and its national attention.

When Carr mentions that television news never corrects itself unless it is to make a lawsuit go away, I cringe at the comment.  Why is this the case?  Does broadcast journalism hold itself to a different journalistic standard than papers and other forms of the news media?  Shouldn’t this type of behavior, airing corrections on the same broadcast show that made the mistake, be included in a “best practices” standard?  I certainly think it should.  Considering the amount of people out there that still get their news from television broadcasts, I would think that keeping the public correctly informed would be a major characteristic and goal of any network.

I think it’s time that broadcast news, as it pertains to corrections, be held to the very same standards that the print media and online media follow.  Journalism is journalism, and accuracy should be equally required across the board.

Carr speaks with Aaron Brown, a professor of journalism and former anchor.  Brown states, “But given how high-profile that this screw-up was and the fact that it became a news story itself, I’m shocked that they didn’t correct it on the ‘Today’ show.”

Exactly Mr. Brown.  In my view, you and David Carr hit the nail on the head.


Can The Press Trump the Rights of The Individual?

The New York Times ran an article on Monday by Jennifer Preston.  It appears lawyers representing 20 media companies, including the New York Times, is asking that the judge on the Zimmerman case, unseal the court files.  The lawyers claim that the documents were sealed incorrectly based on procedure, and that this information should be available to the public.  Specifically, the press.  They are also claiming that Zimmerman’s lawyer did not offer the court evidence proving that sealing the documents was necessary.

Preston writes:

“…the lawyers for the media companies, which included The New York Times Company, argued that the records were improperly sealed because Mr. O’Mara did not submit evidence showing that closing them was necessary to prevent a “serious and imminent” threat to the administration of justice.”

You can read the eight-page motion authored by the lawyers representing the media companies, here.

I’m not a lawyer, let me make that perfectly clear.  But, as an average citizen reading this article, I have to wonder if this motion on behalf of the media companies, was not done on a self-serving basis and that alone.  These same media companies, the ones that didn’t bother to pay attention to the story until nearly 3 weeks after it actually happened, now want front row seats and access to all the preliminary documents?

I may be mistaken, but once the official trial date has been set, and the jury selected, and court proceedings are underway, won’t these same media companies have access to the trial?  Isn’t that part of a fundamental right, a public trial?

In this age of competitive digital journalism, it seems to me that these folks don’t want to miss the boat again.  Social networks, as noted in an earlier post, “Social Networks Bring Tragic Story to National Media“, brought this story out immediately, and it wasn’t until it spread like wild-fire and almost 3 weeks after that, did the national media perk up and realize there was something going on.

Something smells rotten in Denmark, as my Grandmother used to say.  I’m not sure how access to these documents at this point benefits anyone.  I don’t see  it benefiting Zimmerman, the family of Trayvon Martin, or the general public.  I do see the possibility of the media getting hold of documents and sensationalize them, and use them to sell papers, online hits, etc.

To believe that the release of these documents and the nature of them could in no way taint a jury pool;  is to believe that the world is full of lollipops and rainbows.

Maybe I’m a bit cynical, but the coverage of this story has been relentless since the national conglomerates got wind of it.  I’m not justifying that or not, it’s just my observation. If I can turn on my television, or computer every day, and find some aspect of this story freshly pressed, then I believe it is in the realm of possibilities that any potential juror could see the same thing.

I think the media companies involved with this motion are forgetting one little, very simple fact.  There is no “right to know” in this country.  Not legally.  Not in the Constitution, no-where.  There are however, several rights that are on the “books” that speak directly about trial and the courts.  It’s called the Sixth Amendment.

I would suggest that the major media companies involved in this motion, take it on the chin and show up extra early at the start of the trial.  Maybe, you can get a good seat.

Social Networks Bring Tragic Story to National Media

By now, most of you have heard of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.  The New York Times published an article by Brian Stelter on March 25, that discusses some of the story, but also why the story took weeks to gain national attention.  According to his article, Stelter maps out the progression of the growth of attention from the date the tragedy occurred, Feb. 26, to the time it finally achieved a national audience around March 16 and thereafter.

Stelter states, “It was not until mid-March, after word spread on Facebook and Twitter, that the shooting of Trayvon by George Zimmerman, 26, was widely reported by the national news media, highlighting the complex ways that news does and does not travel in the Internet age.”

The article suggests that race may have played a role in how slowly the story spread, but also that social media, as quoted above, played an intricate role.  Stelter interviewed colleagues who recalled having followers on Twitter ask them what they were going to say about this story.  While it was picked up locally and state-wide within a week, it wasn’t until users of social media got a hold of it and spread the word, did the story gain the momentum needed to hit the national arena.

Folks, we live in an age where information is literally at our fingertips, available twenty-four-seven.  And yet, even during these times, stories like this, somehow fall through the media cracks.

It’s interesting that the power of social media and the internet is proving itself repeatedly, and in so many ways.  Wikileaks, the Arab Spring and now, the tragic end of a teenager’s life, which otherwise may have gone untold.

As journalists we are right to be mindful and skeptical of social media “news” and user-generated content.  It’s proper that we don’t take this information at face value without verification.  But there is one more aspect of this new media that we should never ignore:  that it is powered largely by the people.  The same people we want to inform.  The same people we have chosen to become sentinels for.  The same people who make up the democracy we try desperately to protect through our freedoms of speech.

In a sense, national media failed in these past few weeks, and it took action by average citizens to open the eyes of the watchdog.