Thursday, June 24, 2010

No Shock Here: Quake Coverage Isn't Moderate

In one sense, it was earth-shattering news. An earthquake that was centered about 250 miles away in Canada shook portions of Western New York Wednesday afternoon.

In another sense, it wasn’t earth-shattering news. No one was hurt here and the buildings were fine.

The most predictable aspect of the unpredictable event was how local TV news would handle what was essentially a story about how little impact the quake that sent tremors through eight states had here.

Certainly, it was a story worth covering with a package of, say, about two minutes or three minutes tops.

The local stations seemed to think viewers needed two or three times that amount at the top of their early evening newscasts on what usually would be a slow summer news day.

In fairness, the stations restrained themselves from making the quake happenings here seem more catastrophic than they were. Channel 7’s Patrick Taney and Channel 4’s Rich Newberg emphasized it was a mild or moderate quake with no significant damage.

However, the sheer volume of the coverage contradicted the reporters’ moderation.

Of course, it would be really shocking – in the magnitude of a 6.0 quake – if the stations practiced moderation in their coverage.

Naturally and smartly, all three stations headed to the University at Buffalo earthquake specialist, Andre Filiatraut, who shined while having his day in the sun. He was the highlight of the serious coverage because he provided some much-needed insight.

But since no one got hurt, it was easier to laugh at some of the things said and done in the extended coverage.

I got the biggest laugh when hearing Channel 7 anchor Keith Radford note the quake woke people up from their afternoon naps. I guess that line was designed to appeal to the average age of a TV news viewer.

Inevitably, TV went to the dogs and the birds.

A couple of stations did amusing stories about the SPCA condor that was acting up before the quake hit, indicating it knew something was up before mere humans did.

A citizen journalist sent a picture of the family dog on the family couch, which illustrated the dog knew the quake was coming, too, because it never goes on the couch.

The scariest part of the coverage was seeing the impact that technology has in overplaying news like the quake that is bound to get people talking and filming.

Citizen journalists sent pictures, You Tube provided video of an Ottawa guy whose work out was disrupted by the quake and every station seemed determined to tell us that its phones rang off the hook and web traffic was high.


Everyone in this You Tube world we live in believes his or her experiences are important and want everyone else to know that their dishes rattled and the floor shook.

The need to get viewers “involved” leads to things like hearing Channel 4’s Don Postles read aloud comments sent to the station’s website about mundane viewer experiences.

The trend is as lamentable as it is laughable. Who knew we’d ever long for the glory days when TV news only felt it needed to give us silly on-the-street interviews.

A real earth-shattering experience would be if the stations gave the story what it deserved based on its importance rather than milked it to satisfy viewers’ needs to feel important.

For some perspective, take a look at this morning’s Buffalo News. The quake story received only four paragraphs on the left side of the front-page and jumped inside to a lengthy story with the jump head “No reports of serious injury or damage.”

Admittedly, the quake news is a little old by this morning and that may have been part of the judgment involved in how to play the story.

By putting the story on the front page, the paper is telling its readers the quake story was an important, talked-about event. By giving it a one-column headline on the front page and only carrying four paragraphs before jumping to page 2, the paper is telling readers that it wasn’t that big a deal despite what you may have seen on TV Wednesday.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm… and now, for some additional “perspective”, let’s take another look at the coverage provided by the Buffalo News which you (conveniently?) failed to mention.

    Within 20 minutes of the quake’s occurrence, the paper’s web site prominently featured the event at the top of its home page. This was soon followed by a “live blog” from a bevy of correspondents and an apparently hastily (and shabbily) produced video vignette featuring the same sorts of “mundane” commentary which you so readily lampooned the television stations for including in their coverage.

    I think it’s important to mention this because these days more people visit the Buffalo News web site than subscribe to its paper and because well …like I said …you left that part out.

    Rather than comparing how television stations covered the event during their first regularly scheduled newscasts a few hours after it occurred to how The Buffalo News covered it the next day, perhaps a more fair assessment would have been to compare how the TV stations were covering it on their morning shows, ..which consumers would have been watching at the same time they received their paper.

    I think it’s safe to say that by that time the television stations had also given the story “second page status”.

    But then again, being fair was never your forte during your years at the paper.

    And, during that time, I had my own sources at One News Plaza who informed me your column was, shall we say, not “exactly” among the highest read.

    This only served to convince me that your column, far from serving as a means to convey the goings on in the realm of local television for the few who cared, really more or less served as a means for the Buffalo News to bash competing forms of media which over the years have eroded its customer base.

    This wasn’t done overtly, of course, but could be readily detected by reading between the lines, where the (not so) subtle message was, “..this is why you should read the paper..this is why you can’t trust other forms of media especially TV …so please, God please, continue to buy our paper” , ..etc, etc…

    And while an honorable word or a “shout out” would be tossed from time to time to your favorite individuals in local TV, I suspect they were mostly individuals who were willing to violate the trust of their employers by leaking to you sensitive or confidential information about their workplaces, which you were all too eager to accept as fodder for your next column.

    And in case you can’t tell by now, I always found that… and therefore you …rather disgraceful.

    While it doesn’t surprise me that the early retirement incentive provided by your former employer was generous enough to convince you to give up your cushy job and force you to publish a less flattering picture of yourself, I am somewhat surprised that your compensation package apparently came with a clause that you continue to shamelessly shill for the fish wrapper for which you no longer work ….or at least I didn’t think you were still working for them.