Arizona Shooting and Local Media

The last thing we thought of writing about for this week’s entry was the massacre in Arizona this past weekend.  The reason: it seems like the media is already dropping the ball on this story.

My editor and I were sitting in a movie theater, waiting for a movie to start on Saturday when a mobile blast buzzed on our cell phones alerting us that Gabrielle Giffords had passed away.   The source: NPR.

I had to wait through two hours of Natalie Portman turning into a black swan before I could rush home and check out all the latest news on the story.  When I browsed a few web pages for The Arizona Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times and yes, NPR, I discovered that Giffords hadn’t died.  Argue what you will about the overzealous nature of breaking news producers these days, but it should be noted who in fact got their facts straight.  It was KOLD 13 News in Tucson.

My editor is friends with a woman by the name of Brittney Kelley, a KOLD 13 News producer there who has been working non-stop on the latest developments in the story.  We had a long phone chat with Kelley about what she has been seeing in the trenches as the story plays out.  “It’s been chaos here in Tucson.  This story will continue to be the story that rocked Tucson for a long time to come”, Kelley mentioned.

Local television news channels all across the U.S. have been hit with layoff after layoff, just as the newspaper industry has seen in recent years.  I wanted to get her take on how she and her news team have been going about reporting this story.  “Our head producer used a flip-cam to capture video of the ambulances carting the victims away.  No network cameras, just a flip-cam”, she mentioned.

What’s fascinating is… newspaper reporters have been doing the same thing.   The video footage her producer was able to capture came about because he happened to live only a few miles away from the scene of the incident.  In a way, he was acting not as a trained professional, but as a citizen journalist.  The footage, which gives you a clear picture of the chaos that resulted from the shooting, was much more fascinating than the talking heads interviews later shot by KOLD 13 camera crews out in the field asking ordinary citizens their thoughts on what had happened.

What’s even more interesting is the fact that KOLD 13 didn’t botch the story out of the gate.  While other news media were reporting that Giffords had passed away, KOLD 13 simply reported the facts.  A rarity in any media these days.  “It’s always against our protocol to report speculation”, Kelley mentioned.

As part of “Fit to Print”, we have  been working to show the interactions between newspapers and the local television news stations.  Traditionally, newspaper reporters will provide tips and information for stories they are working on to television news producers.  It’s even common that newspaper reporters will appear on-air to broadcast their latest discoveries on stories.  “It’s really sad to see what has happened to newspapers”, Kelley mentioned.  She even admitted, “You can go deeper and learn more with newspaper coverage.” That’s not to say that television journalists don’t do great work.  Kelley and her team have definitely proven that.

Will the interaction between print and broadcast reporters change as new media becomes more common in news organizations?

“We have reporters who go out in the field with their computers and will use Skype to broadcast a live shot now”, she mentioned. ”  With newspaper reporters now having the ability to write an article and broadcast themselves via their personal laptops, will we be seeing more of a merging between print and broadcast news outlets?  Particularly those that happen to be owned by the same company such as Gannett Corporation?

Let’s stayed tuned (whatever that means these days) and find out…

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