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News Notes

If Jeff Bezos Ran Your Newsroom: ‘Let the Reporters Play’

bezosfullAt one point in my career, I worked in a local TV newsroom that was so rigidly programmed, the idea of innovation in the field was almost laughable. It was an invitation not to be rewarded, but to get told “that’s not the way we do things” and almost certainly get reminded at your next review that you don’t seem to be “with the program.”

It was the kind of shop where decisions on how to do TV news had nothing to do with the reporters and photographers who lived in the market deciding the best way to tell the stories they experienced in the field, but rather, merely following the formula cooked up somewhere else (I always envisioned a windowless conference room with hideous bagels and lame coffee and nothing but non-news executives and consultants with a love for PowerPoint around the table) and handed down from corporate to news managers to crews.

So with a memory of those days sending a chill down my spine, I read Greg Emerson‘s post on Medium, “5 lessons news organizations can learn from” Emerson, deputy editor at Newsday and a professor of journalism at Long Island University, makes some great observations, particularly this: “the people closest to the problem are best positioned to solve it.” Wow, yes:
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AT&T Says National Radio Show to Blame for False White House EAS

EAS UVerseAT&T issued an updated statement about the false White House Emergency Alert sent out this morning to U-verse subscribers in the Atlanta, Detroit and Austin markets.

“A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) investigation indicates that a nationally syndicated radio show not affiliated with AT&T accidentally sent a message over the National Emergency Alert System. This false message was carried on our network, as well as some other providers. We apologize to our customers.”

An AT&T spokesperson said FEMA is also expected to issue a statement about this morning’s incident where a message saying, “We interrupt our programming at the request of the White House. This is the Emergency Alert System. All normal programming has been discontinued during this emergency” popped up on subscriber’s screen before their channels were switched to the local NBC affiliate.

There was no word which radio show triggered the alert.

FBI Warns TV Anchors and Reporters They May Be Next ISIL Target

fbi-sealThe FBI has reportedly issued a warning to to TV anchors and reporters in the US that they might be the next targets of the terror group ISIL.

The Boston Herald reports, the Bureau sent out a bulletin to the media yesterday saying an internet post on an Islamic State Internet site identifies “‘journalists, TV anchors, talk show hosts, news broadcasters, correspondents on the ground and other media operatives’ as ‘desirable targets.’”

Washington, D.C ABC affiliate WJLA added, “The bulletin also said the FBI had obtained “credible information indicating members of an ISIL-affiliated group are tasked with kidnapping journalists in the region and returning them to Syria.”

The Herald also said the bulletin warns “members of this group might try to mask their affiliation with (ISIS) to gain access to journalists.”

Hey Local News Reporters: Your Bosses Care More About Clicks Than You, or Your Liveshot

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.45.41 AMBack when local television stations had warehouses where they printed money, there were simple rules about what we tolerated on live television, and what we didn’t. One of the things that fell into “not going to work for us” was the drunk guy crashing into the shot and derailing your newscast. Reporters forced to do an 11 o’clock liveshot from a sports bar would be ready for anything, and know that if it all went to hell, producers would simply roll the package or dump out of you altogether. And that would be that. Because to do anything else would simply encourage more idiots to target live television cameras, right?
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Why the Next Generation of Newsroom Leaders are Studying Video Games

augamelab-lgrace2While many local television newsrooms have managers who still don’t text or tweet, odds are the young leaders who replace them will be gamers. “Video games have long provided an outstanding platform for engaging with complicated subjects and situations,” writes Jeffrey Rutenbeck, dean of the School of Communication at American University. The school is launching a new fellowship program with the support of Knight Foundation that focuses on using the study of game theory and media innovation to grow the next generation of newsroom leaders:

Why games?

Having worked with a broad range of game designers for the past 12 years, I’ve long known that their unique approaches to information (aka stories), to audience (aka players), to interaction (aka play) and to motivation (aka rewards) bring value and inspiration to every design problem and social challenge they approach, even those that aren’t obviously game related.

The best know that their work is only as good as the last game they’ve released, and they are committed to a constant process of prototyping and reiteration that pushes the limits of their craft. What can journalism learn from the way they think?

So add that to the list of expected interview questions: what news do you watch? What’s the last book you read? What video games do you play?

Miami Reporter Urges Stations to Resist Urge to Scare Viewers in Ebola Coverage

1501770_10152732208563769_4853808017725021076_nVeteran South Florida reporter Al Sunshine has written a column for the RTDNA urging local stations to educate viewers about the threat of Ebola, rather than simply giving in to the urge to churn out “sensational promos aimed at scaring viewers to watch their latest newscast.”

You can easily imagine those promos, if you haven’t already seen them on your own air. Sunshine, longtime investigative reporter at CBS owned WFOR, remembers the 2001 anthrax attacks that swept South Florida–and impacted newsrooms. The same, he suggests, is true for Ebola:

The good news is, if you’re in a market so far untouched by Ebola, you have time to plan for coverage and get as much information as your can from your local health departments. Don’t forget, how you cover this potential outbreak will not only affect the reputation of your newscasts, it could put your crews at risk and ultimately even spread the problem.

Science Confirms: Your Windowless Newsroom Is Making You Sick


Thinking back to every newsroom I’ve ever worked in or walked through, there’s one design feature that screams out, and has always made me wonder: is there some reason we can’t have windows in here? It’s the same design at station after station: the sales folks get windows, the newsroom has an ugly cave with backlit logos near the assignment desk.

Now comes science to tell us what we’ve already suspected: working in those caves isn’t healthy. According to a story at Fast Company, workers exposed to natural light get significant health benefits–and not just on the job:

Overall, the findings suggest that the health benefits of exposure to daylight during the work day extend far beyond quitting time and even beyond the work week. In addition to more overall light exposure, these workers sleep better, seem more active, and have higher quality-of-life ratings than those who work in artificial light all day.

On the flip side, workers–like news producers, assignment editors, and managers (reporters and photographers at least get exposure to the sun)–who have work areas with no natural light lose about 46 minutes or more of sleep every night, including days off. “The windowless group fared significantly worse on two particular areas, including “vitality.” Workers without daylight exposure also showed worse overall sleep quality on a well-established self-report sleep index.”

I can recall one newsroom that was in a building originally designed with windows. They had been covered up and the walls painted black. Because that’s what we do. Looks good on television, of course, but those sad, sick people at the desks? It’s not good for them.

Just thought you deserved to know.

5 Things I Learned About TV News Watching ‘Fargo’

FARGO -- Pictured: Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo -- CR: FX/Matthias Clamer

If you watched FX’s violent, hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable drama “Fargo”, you were no doubt captivated by the character Lorne Malvo, played by Billy Bob Thornton. A hired killer, he had both some of the season’s most violent moments—and also some of its most amusing. And throughout, he had the best lines of anyone.

Reflecting on the season—especially with word the show, albeit without the first-season cast, will return—I noticed that Malvo’s life lessons, shared with strangers, victims, and associates, carry some value for those of us in TV news.

So let me share with you five things I learned about TV News while watching “Fargo”: Read more

Maybe It’s Time We All Stopped Touching People’s Stuff

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 12.06.10 PM

I’ve done it, plenty of times. As a reporter, I’ve sifted through the aftermath of fires in Colorado, tornadoes in Alabama and hurricanes in Florida. And often, in the process, I’ve touched plenty of people’s stuff–teddy bears, notes, family photos. Often, it makes a great standup or liveshot, and it makes the bosses happy. They love it when reporters touch things and pick things up. But maybe it’s time to call it quits, and just agree that from now on, we’ll leave families’ things right where we find them. Look, but don’t touch.

Sky News reporter Colin Brazier clearly crossed the line with viewers when he took items from the suitcase of an MH 17 passenger–a liveshot that infuriated victims’ families. ‘It’s sick and the worst example of news journalism which is sensationalising an appalling human tragedy,” said Thomas Mayne, whose brother Richard was killed when a missile brought down the Maylasia Airlines jet. A media professor told the Daily Mail the Sky News report was “a horrible moment for journalism.”

Even Brazier has second thoughts, saying in his report “we really shouldn’t be doing this, I suppose.” And he’s certainly right about that. Not only was it insensitive, but we generally avoid altering crime scenes–whether there are investigators there or not. But I can understand the urge to touch. In newsrooms it’s drilled into our heads as an understood fact: viewers love it when reporters reach down, grab things and hold them up. Consultants and newsroom managers pout when reporters resist a chance to turn people’s stuff into a prop in an active standup or liveshot.

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Can Simply Quoting ‘Facts Given by Police’ be Called ‘Reporting’?

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 2.13.42 PM

If you’ve got a police report, you’ve got a story, right? Sometimes. Other times, you’ve simply got half the story.

CJR raises the question of whether it’s really “reporting” when you simply quote police, in a post about a WJBF story by reporter Deon Guillory:

“The coverage is a prime example of the kind of quick-hit TV reporting that leans heavily on one version of events—often the official version provided by authorities—but does little in the way of offering additional perspective. There’s a mug shot. There’s a police report. There are “facts given by the police.” An ominous graphic featuring the silhouette of a very young girl and the text, “Aiken County child neglected” flashes on screen as anchor Brad Means kicks the story to Guillory with “details of this investigation.”

But in this case, the story wasn’t so much the “child neglected”, but a debate over whether a mother letting her 9-year-old go the park unsupervised was perfectly acceptable, or reason to handcuff and jail the child’s mother. As Lenore Skenazy argues at Reason, the news coverage was entirely one-sided: Read more