Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson Coverage Shows Journalists Are Still Critical


ATLANTA-- I've been sitting in an Atlanta hotel room watching on TV and online all the coverage of today's shocking news of the death of Michael Jackson.

And, the big thing I came away with -- Journalists are needed NOW more than EVER.

Even as I finish up a three-day return visit here to the same media market where I once worked as a television news producer, I see my old television station doing a ever-so-delicate dance between being careful not to report rumor and not ignore what was happening online. The above story from TMZ illustrates the rumors of Jackson's death and never mentions what has been reported elsewhere-- that he died later after CPR was performed.


TMZ.com breaks the story

Here's what happened: a celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com reported almost an hour before the rest of the media that Jackson was dead.

But, was he? Or, was that just rumor?

Minute-by-minute the story was changing on the MSNBC, LATimes, KTLA, KNBC and CNN Web Site. I found myself wanting to take electronic pictures of the Web sites as they struggled to keep up with the story that was breaking.

Atlanta's FOX Affiliate, WAGA-TV decided to go with the TMZ.com story putting it on the air during its 5 p.m. newscast.

Likewise, FOX's Los Angeeles affiliate online posted the TMZ.com story that JAckson had died.

Was this responsible journalism?

Is TMZ.com a reliable enough source to go with reporting the death of one of the most highly-recognized superstars?


Reportedly, it wasn't until 3:15 p.m. Pacific Time that Jackson was pronounced dead. CBS Reporter Bill Whitaker made sure to recount the timeline, an important journalistic strategy to convey to readers/viewers HOW It all came down.

NBC Nightly News at 6:20 p.m. did what's known as a "cut-in" (interruption of regular programming) that the pop superstar had died.


WXIA-TV Reports Twitter's Initial Rumors

While it used an NBC Reporter's update at the top of its 6 p.m. newscast that did NOT report Jackson was dead, Atlanta's NBC affiliate, WXIA had its Web reporter Chris Sweigart share Tweets from the micro-blogging Web site, Twitter.

The broadcast media, especially those that own newspapers, have decided that there is such a large audience on social networking Web sites that is NOT watching their over-the-air, scheduled newscasts, that they must showcase these sites in their newscasts.


The ethical question here is-- what if those sites are reporting rumor? Even though you couch your report by saying "This is what THEY are saying on the Web," is it ok to re-transmit rumor?

I applaud the reporters at the Los Angeles Times and the network newscasts-- like NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News who, as difficult it was to do in the face of gossip and social networking sites, did the RIGHT thing.

They waited until they had verified and independently confirmed information such as the death of Jackson.

Rather than racing to be first, they did showcased for viewers to see how it all went down-- and they did it fast. But, when their stories aired, they were correct and could be trusted.

That's what good journalists do.

The Challenge

Traditional media are losing audience for their traditional outlets. But, the trained journalists who still work there are the ones on whom the public can rely for accurate, well-sourced news and information.

Some may say the important thing is to report that Michael Jackson died. But, after this story moves from the headlines, will some people still be under the impression that journalism is dead?

Quite the contrary-- Journalism is ALIVE and WELL. We saw that today!

Full disclosure: I was once-employed by WXIA-TV (which is mentioned in this report) as a news producer from 1995 to 2000. Ironically, one of my responsibilities in 2000 was updating the station's Web site.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Who was really doing better journalism here with better sources? It looks like TMZ.com had an excellent source and they beat the pants off of more traditional organizations. I wonder why the LA Times didn't know what was going on sooner. Isn't that their territory? It looks to me like they got scooped in a big way.