News Director Report

It’s been a very interesting day here at the station. It started off a little slow. We had several stories that we had planned to do fall through or get put on hold. A little after noon the pace picked up drastically.

We begin hearing some scanner traffic about some kind of chase in the Scottsville Road area; the next thing we know there’s some kind of shooting involving an officer. Ashley Davidson was here at the station when it happened. We got her heading that way to meet up with Matt Pedigo, one of our photographers. It turned out that a guy wanted on murder charges down in the Nashville area was found in Bowling Green. When they tried to confront him, he took off and an officer ended up shooting him in the leg to capture him.

Every station in Nashville wanted our video of the capture scene and our interviews with witnesses. One Nashville station ended up doing a live shot from our parking lot. We usually try to work with stations in such situations on a couple of conditions. We have to be given credit for the video and it has to air on our station first. There’s a lot of quid pro quo in our business. I try to help out stations when I can, because I know that some day I may need a favor in return. Amy Bingham ended up handling most of those calls and Jim Morris operates the satellite truck. Needless to say, they both had long afternoons.

While we were trying to coordinate all of that, storms started to pop up all over the area and things got really crazy. Shane Holinde came into the newsroom and told the producers that he thought we ought to plan on leading the 5:00 and the 6:00 with weather. At the time, the skies were pretty clear here at the station. It wasn’t long, however, until things started to really fire up. Shane and Chris started doing regular cut-ins and the weather coverage continued on up into the evening. In fact, as I write this at a little before midnight Jared Austin is in Todd County or Logan County trying to find out how much damage the storms left behind. I’m sure I’ll have some crew heading that way first thing in the morning to cover the cleanup.

I do want to take a moment to explain our policy for severe weather coverage. Earlier today, I got some rather nasty phone calls from people who were upset about the fact that we interrupted General Hospital for storm coverage. Then tonight we got flooded (no pun intended) with calls and emails from people angry that we weren’t showing the NBA game. Let’s just say, I’d better not repeat much of what was said. It is a family friendly report.

Our policy on this is very simple… we will always put public safety above entertainment. There are still tens of thousands of people in our viewing area who rely solely on us for their information about severe weather. They don’t have internet or cable to turn to in times of crisis. Plus, there are thousands more who will turn away from whatever else they’re watching to make sure they are safe.

Our policy is this… we will be on the air with weather coverage anytime there is a tornado warning or tornadic activity of any kind anywhere in our viewing area. If there is only a severe storm warning, we will cut in regularly for updates as they are needed and then run crawls across the bottom of the screen the rest of the time. If there are hard storms in the area but nothing severe, we will cut in occasionally and run crawls. In those situations, I think it very important to let people know they are safe. Many times people will get scared during a hard storm and just need to be told that everything is okay. These are usually very, very quick and as un-intrusive as possible.

I’ve been on the other end of this thing as well; I’ve had shows I really wanted to watch interrupted by severe weather coverage. I know it can be frustrating. However, I can’t imagine ever putting people lives at risk so that I could be entertained.

Now moving on to a little different topic. In last week’s report, I apologized for a mistake that we made in a story about Sudden Cardiac Death. We mistakenly claimed the CDC said there are 100, 000 cases a year when in fact that number was much lower. Since then I’ve had a couple of emails asking why I didn’t do a correction on air for that mistake. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there might be others out there who might wonder that as well. Here’s was my response:

When a mistake like this happens, many people think the most important thing for us to do is to correct it immediately. Unfortunately, that's too simplistic. My first responsibility is to minimize the harm caused to the viewers by the mistake and to make sure that no additional harm occurs. In this particular case, the first thing we did was change the online story so that no one would have new access to that incorrect information. We then had to decide whether or not the mistake needed to be corrected on air. If someone had been directly hurt by the mistake, I would have consulted with that person to see how he/she wished for me to proceed. Not everyone wants a correction put on the air; sometimes a correction will call more attention to an issue than the actual story itself. In this case, since no one was directly hurt I had to weigh the need for the correction against the risk of muddying the waters on a very important issue. The point of the story wasn't how many cases there were in the US each year…the point was that this does happen and if you are an athlete you need to know how to recognize the warning signs of an attack. Recognizing those signs could save your life. One of the weaknesses of television news is that viewers only get one chance to hear a story correctly; they can't go back and make sure they heard it right. I decided that if I ran a correction on this small fact in the story, many viewers might have jumped to the conclusion that the entire story was incorrect. That was a conclusion that could possibly put their lives at risk. I'll admit the odds of that happening are slim, but I do think that risk did offset the need to publicly correct the mistake. I did correct it in every medium where I could correct it without the risk of confusion.

I hope this makes at least a little sense. These situations are never easy and you just try to do the best you can.

Now on to a much brighter note…. if you didn’t get a chance to see the live “behind the scenes” web show last night, you can see it in its entirety on the web site. If you’ve ever wondered how a show comes together, I think you’ll find it very interesting. Our folks did a really good job of putting together and it is something we are all proud of.

I think that’s it for now. I’m planning to try to do one of these a week. I’ll try to post them as a news story as often as possible, but more often than not you’ll just need to click on the News Director Report icon to see if a new report is posted.

If you have any questions that you would like me to address in this report, please email me at john.preston@wbko.com.

Until next time,

John Preston
News Director


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