Thoughts On Boston, Shapiro, A.J., Epithets

I’ve got a lot on my mind this week. The iconic video of the explosions at the Boston Marathon was shot by the Boston Globe, a vivid reminder  that broadcasters are no longer alone in shooting news video on a professional basis. But the best overall TV coverage came not from the TV networks, but from their Boston affiliates. ~~ A speech by CEA’s Gary Shapiro shows that he doesn't know innovation when he sees it. ~~ The saga of A.J. Clemente is being seen by some as an indictment of the state of small-market TV news. ~~ Kudos to ex-FCC chief Reed Hundt for taking a stand against the racist name of Washington’s NFL team. The city's TV stations should do the same.

There were a couple of things I failed to mention in my column on the Boston Marathon bombings last week.

One was that the best video of the actual bombing came not from a broadcaster, but from a sports producer for The Boston Globe’s who was on routine assignment. His name is Steve Silva.

You’ve all seen the video many times by now. It’s been everywhere. The remarkable thing about it that when the first bomb goes off, Silva immediately moves in to get a closer look at the bomb site and he doesn’t high-tail it out of there even after the second bomb goes off. If you haven’t seen the raw video, do so here. Through a good pair of computer speakers, the audio tells a story all its own.

The video is the most vivid reminder yet that broadcasters are no longer alone in shooting news video on a professional basis. Newspapers and other local digital media are out there too now armed with cameras and may be just as aggressive in getting the right shot. And as Silva demonstrated, they don’t need a long lens.

When terrorist bombs go off, nobody’s really keeping score on who got the beats, video or otherwise. But on most other stories, everybody is. To keep up with the proliferating competitions, stations have to keep as many cameras on the street as they can. I guess it also goes without saying that stations have to be ready to compete for the user-generated video that became such a big part of the Boston story.

The other point I want to make is, on that Monday when the bombs went off, and that Thursday-Friday when one suspect was killed and the other captured, the broadcast networks got in the way on the story. From my perch in New York, it was clear the best coverage of the unfolding events was coming from the Boston stations. I know this because I would periodically watch local streams online and because the networks would occasionally cut to their Boston affiliates. My question is, why did they cut back?


The network anchors and their reporters in Boston had nothing to add, especially when the story was building to its Friday evening climax. My feelings were confirmed when Allbritton’s reported that White House officials were tracking the story via the local stations, not the networks.

Next time, and I’m afraid there will be a next time, the networks should think about turning the screen over to their affiliates who know the local geography, know the local authorities and have the trust of local viewers who are more apt to call their favorite local station with eyewitness accounts and video than remote networks.

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One of the drawbacks of waiting until Friday to write my column is that I can get beat to the punch. That happened this week. I was going to go after CEA President and broadcast nemesis Gary Shapiro for the speech he gave at the Media Institute on Monday in which he rebuked broadcasters for obstructing what he sees as more dynamic industries like wireless and for its failure to innovate. He also offered broadcasters some unsolicited advice, which can be safely ignored.

But Deborah McAdams of TV Technology did a clever and effective job slicing and dicing the speech and NAB widely circulated it. I would add only that Shapiro’s concept of innovation is rather narrow. Shapiro credits broadcasters for its Boston coverage (how could he not), but he fails to credit those same broadcasters for what goes into executing such coverage.

What the Boston stations did last week was the result of experience, planning and, yes, continual innovation. Getting reporters to the scene, getting live pictures back to the station and getting it out to viewers in different forms on multiple platforms nearly simultaneously is a technological marvel.

I guess Shapiro can’t see it because you can’t sell it in a big box store.

By the way, we supplied more evidence of broadcasters’ inventiveness with our story Thursday on Gray Television’s experiment on sending video back from the field using a market-wide IP network. GrayMax could be the next step in the 40-year evolution of ENG, if broadcasters can keep the ravenous wireless carriers from siphoning off broadcast ENG spectrum.

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Too much has been said and seen this week of A.J. Clemente, who turned the worst debut in broadcasting history into a spasm of celebrity. After being fired by Hoak Media’s KFYR Bismarck, N.D., Clemente quickly made the leap from online phenom to mainstream darling appearing on Today, Live with Kelly and Michael and Letterman.

There is a lesson in this for the industry that I missed, but that Tampa Bay Times TV critic Eric Deggans did not.

“What his mistake really reveals … is just how low the quality of local TV news is in Bismarck, the 151th TV market in the country — leaving larger questions about how badly the modern media environment has hurt small TV news operations,” Deggans writes in his blog.

“The clips of Clemente’s mistake also reveal a weekend news broadcast which looks little better than a college telecom assignment, with thin-sounding audio and co-anchors with scarcely more poise than newbie Clemente. The new anchor’s name was even misspelled in the on air graphic displayed beneath his image while he was making his big mistake, leaving a period off the ‘J.'”

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A few weeks ago, former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt called on broadcasters to apply pressure on Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the name of his team by refusing to use it. “Almost all of us adults who grew up as Washington football fans used, without thinking, a name for the hometown team that is now clearly inappropriate. Whatever we might have said decades ago, none of us now would call a Native American by the epithet used to describe Snyder’s team,” Hundt wrote.

I’ll second that, and I have standing. I’ve been a fan of the Redskins since the 1960s when my Dad bought a couple of season tickets (still in the family) and began taking his four sons to DC Stadium. Those were the great days of Sonny Jurgensen and Charlie Taylor and Sam Huff that culminated on New Year’s Eve 1972 when George Allen’s over-the-hill gang beat Dallas for the NFC championship and touched off a city-wide party. (We don’t talk about that Super Bowl.)

One of Snyder’s arguments for keeping the name is tradition. But if you delve into the Redskins’ history, you find that that is the worst possible argument. Redskins founder George Preston Marshall, who christened the team, was the last NFL owner to integrate his team with the signing of Bobby Mitchell in 1962. If Marshall was not an outright racist, he was moral coward who discriminated against African-Americans to cater to his southern fan base. Breaking with that kind of tradition is no loss.

With his call, I think Hundt had network broadcasters in mind, the NFL rights holders. But I’m thinking that the local Washington broadcasters should lead the way, two in particular — Gannett, which owns CBS affiliate WUSA, and Allbritton, which runs ABC affiliate WJLA. Both groups are based in Washington. If they would refuse to use the name and repeatedly told viewers why, things would start moving in the right direction. Snyder would wake up.

If it will help, I’ll come up with new words for the fight song.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or [email protected]. You can read earlier columns here.

Comments (7)

Leave a Reply

Jason Crundwell says:

April 26, 2013 at 3:54 pm

You had me, then you lost me. I seriously doubt anyone equates the team’s name with any living human being. I don’t hear any native Americans (as we all call them) complaining, unless they’ve read Hundt’s missive. This is the kind of political correctness that’s stifling creativity and generally bringing us all down. Go ahead; call me a honkey. I don’t care. This is much ado about zip.

David Siegler says:

April 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm

JUst a couple of comments. First of all, I agree that Deborah McAdams did a great job on responding to Gary Shapiro’s rather narrow view of the world. In regards to the anchor sinking in Bismarck, while I agree that Clemente’s fame for screwing up is undeserved, I am hessitant to be critical of his co-anchor without knowing what conversation was going on over the IFB that i think both anchors may have been listening to. I am sure whe knew that the comments had made it out on the air and if their control room is anything like ones I have been in during a news cast, the screaming from the director at that point may have made concentration and recovery difficult even for a big city pro. Finally in regards to the insensitively named Washington football team, I would suggest a campaign to have the fans rename the team. Given that the team is located in the nation’s capital perhaps they should be called the Washington Gridlock.

Russell Jones says:

April 26, 2013 at 4:28 pm

MrFantasy – A.J. told David Letterman that he was too new of employee (2 weeks on the job) to have received an IFB and that the co-anchor had left hers in her car. He also mentioned they thought they had almost a minute before going on the air and both got caught. However, anytime someone is wearing a microphone he should assume it is on the air. We can only assume there were no camera ops working to give cues, or no cues from the control room. I’ve seen newscasts from markets smaller than Bismarck put on newscasts that rival top 50 market casts. Market size shouldn’t be an excuse for a poorly operated station.

Jaclyn Hansen says:

April 26, 2013 at 4:43 pm

.One thing I’ve never seen reported is how many complaining phone calls the station got. And it could be very few because stations have made it all but impossible for the average person to call the station to complain, or to report there’s a sniper on the roof downtown, or that the footage of the “convicted rapist” is really the dean of the law school who has the same last name. . Stations are so far removed from their audience and yet it’s that localism that is their most valuable asset. I would bet most Web sites don’t even list a newsroom phone number.

Ellen Samrock says:

April 26, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Once again, the CEA’s Shapiro speaks through a bodily orifice other than the one normally associated with verbal communication. One of the few men I know of who has made a comfortable living being a moron (without being on a reality show). As for A.J. Clemente, I hear a young man can make six figures in the ND oil fields if he really puts his back into it. Maybe that should be his next gig, ’cause it sure ain’t in broadcasting. And just because a Boston Globe editor happened to have his cellphone camera out and running just as that bomb went off doesn’t in any way diminish the work or importance of broadcasters, any more then having security cameras capture footage of the bombing suspects does. TV stations still have the “one-to-many” megaphone and actively solicit newsworthy video from the public, knowing they don’t have the personnel or equipment to be at all places at all times. Plus these stations were still covering this tragedy way into the night, long after the Boston Globe editor went home and to bed. Mostly all good thoughts, Harry.

    John Murray says:

    April 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    “CEA’s Shapiro … One of the few men I know of who has made a comfortable living being a moron (without being on a reality show).” LOL ! I love it! Kudos, D BP.

    Ellen Samrock says:

    April 29, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks. My brain snaps when I get angry. And whenever Gary Shapiro speaks, it snaps a lot.