Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Few More Amateurs, Please

One of the arguments against citizen-journalists is that we lack the "training" and "experience" to get the story right.

After yesterday's little snafu at KTVU in Oakland, it looks like we could use a few more amateurs in the newsroom.

Along with its Bay Area competitors, KTVU has been relentlessly covering the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 for the past week. So, when someone called the newsroom and offered up the names of the cockpit crew, folks in the newsroom thought they had a real exclusive, since the pilots have not been publicly identified.

Having worked as a print and broadcast reporter, I understand the pressures associated with breaking news and trying to scoop the competition. But it's not enough to be fast, you've also got to be accurate, or at least that's what I learned in J-school 30+ years ago.

So, with that in mind, look at the full-screen graphic that KTVU offered as part of its report. What are the odds that these are the actual names of the pilots? And, what are the odds that someone was trying to "prank" KTVU?

If you chose the latter option, give KTVU a call, because they're going to looking for a new reporter, producer, executive producer, news director and anyone else associated with this debacle. Breaking news or not, it is simply mind-numbing to consider that such an obvious prank made it on the air, during KTVU's noon newscast. To it's credit, the station quickly apologized, and claimed it had "confirmed" the information with the National Transportation Safety Board. Riiigggghhhtttt....

Either the NTSB is completely clueless, or they wanted to see just how far Channel 2 was willing to go with its little exclusive.

We should also note that KTVU isn't exactly a podunk operation. The station is the Fox affiliate for the San Francisco area, and it's owned by Cox, one of the largest media companies in the United States. For years, Channel 2 has dominated local news ratings in the mornings and in prime time, and the station has been honored on multiple occasions for outstanding journalism, most recently with three Edward R. Murrow Awards, announced this past April.

If the CBS News legend were still alive, he might ask the station to give those awards back. KTVU isn't a place that typically hires rookie reporters or producers. We're guessing that the "team" that put those inaccurate--and offensive--names on the air has decades of collective experience. Yet, they were successfully pranked by someone who knows a little about the news business, and the furious scramble to be first. Feed the assignment desk, a reporter, or a producer, an "exclusive"--even if it's an obvious prank--and watch the fun begin.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, KTVU not only "broke" those fictitious crew names on the air, but on its website and through social media as well. In the length of time required to compose a tweet, someone at Channel 2 could have easily placed another call to someone at the NTSB and verified that "Capt Sum Ting Wong" was not in command of the ill-fated flight. For the record, the NTSB also claims that it never provided the initial confirmation to KTVU, and for once, we'll side with the feds.

Today's gaffe on Channel 2 is just another reminder of the deplorable state of American journalism. Accuracy and multiple-sourcing on stories has been replaced by single sources (usually anonymous), often of dubious credibility. It will be interesting to see if the original source can ever be confirmed. In the meantime, perhaps Howard Stern will tell his followers to go easy on KTVU, and maybe Homer Simpson can convince Bart to stop calling the station's assignment desk, while Channel 2 tries to salvage a bit of its professional image.
ADDENDUM:  If it's any consolation to the crew at KTVU, here's another sterling example of media idiots on parade.  In its coverage of the George Zimmerman verdict, USA Today quotes one Howie Felterbush, who was in the crowd outside the courthouse, offering his support for the defendant.  Here's the pull-quote, courtesy of Deadspin:



Kitty said...

Sum Ting Wong indeed.

Old NFO said...

Fact check... sigh... It's a lost cause in today's 24 hour news cycle and the RUSH to be the first with info...

Spook86 said...

What's amazing are the lame excuses being offered by by KTVU. First, they claimed the names were "verified" by the NTSB, and if that wasn't enough, they said an intern was responsible for that bit of reporting and getting it on the air.

That simply boggles the mind; I'm guessing KTVU has more than 70 people working in their newsroom, including producers, editors, executive producers, an assistant news director and the news director. Yet, with all that leadership, no one bothered to double-check an "exclusive" generated by an intern.

As noted in the post, your humble blogger was both a print and broadcast reporter before having the good sense to join the military and (eventually), the intel community. Even in the small markets, we had standards for sourcing and fact-checking. We also had rules governing our interns. I was assistant ND at an AM-FM operation in Arkansas, not long out of college. We usually had a summer intern; one was a student at one of the "big" journalism schools, and she's gone on to become a lead anchor at a major market Fox affiliate in Florida. But we still reviewed her work carefully (as in intern) and anything she was going to put on the air had to be checked by myself or the news director.

Personally, I hope the pranksters continue their "work" until someone decides to reimpose standards for sourcing and fact-checking. The USA Today error is particularly galling, not because I have any fondness for that publication, but because Gannett has at least two layers of editors who are supposed to review and approve anything before its posted or published, even in breaking news situations.

If a "professional" journalist can't determine that "Capt Sum Ting Wong" or "Chester Felterbush" is an obvious prank, they deserve all the ridicule and criticism heaped upon them.

jms said...

"Howie Felterbush" has been shoved down the memory hole. No notice of correction. No errata. Just quiet airbrushing. Shameful.