Wednesday, May 3, 2006

OH MY GOD! TSUNAMI!!!... in Fiji... uhm... not really

One of the more amusing failures of television news is the fact that you have 22 minutes of TV time to fill, and you have to fill it. But the nature of news, the nature of the universe is that sometimes things just don't pan out.

Sometimes, stories turn out to be different than you think -- that poor old lady being kicked out of her home turns out to be a crack addict who doesn't pay her bills. Sometimes the story turns out to be nothing -- that suspicious leaking package turns out to be Snapple*.

But you've got that 22 minutes to fill. You've got to have something to put on the TV. One of the first rules of reporting is: always come back with a story. Always. If you get sent out to cover a fire and the fire is out when you get there, do a story about the poor family that lost everything; if the house was empty, do a story about how quick the firefighters were to respond; if the house burned to the ground do a story on how hard it was to fight the fire; if it is cold or hot that day, do a story about how difficult it is to fight fires in such weather conditions; if it was a total nonevent, do a story about fire safety. Always, always, always come back with a story, because you've got 22 minutes to fill.

A sign of a good reporter and a good news organization, I think, is how they handle this reality. Better news organizations will wait to hype a story until after the story has unfolded and they see what they are actually left with.

Others (and, in fact, most) will jump the gun. They will break into regular programming with sketchy information, send breaking news e-mails, and rearrange their 22 minutes to focus on something that they think will happen. And if that something fails to happen, they are left to stand there like fools and make the best of it.

As a result, viewers in Detroit will tonight know quite a bit about an event that did not occur some 7,510 miles away.

Somewhere in Detroit, a producer is calling his sports anchor and asking: "Hey, do you want any extra time tonight?"

*Both of those examples are actual stories I've read.


beachgirl said...

I must have gotten 10 email alerts (from a news organization) about it.. Seriously, sometimes reporters are kids in a candy store over potential disasters...

Found you via Neal.. Good stuff here...

Neal said...

I also got alerts about the earthquake. Of course, it's my job to look at earthquakes around the world so that's no big surprise.