Covering emergency-related stories has become more complicated for stations. “Security is a much bigger issue than people recognize,” says KDSK’s Marvin Danielski. And Hearst Television’s Barbara Maushard says being “really responsible” is of primary importance in covering emergencies now that incorporating information from platforms such as social media — and distributing it digitally as well as on TV — becomes increasingly common.
Why Covering Emergencies Got Trickier
At a time when technology is enabling broadcasters to expand their coverage — and across multiple platforms — it also is giving rise to a plethora of new safety concerns, even for people who never leave the newsroom.
“We are now dealing with folks out there who have agendas and know how to hack, how to use their own tools for propaganda and for shutting down systems,” Marvin Danielski, president -GM of KDSK, the Gannett-owned NBC affiliate in St. Louis, said during a panel discussion on emergency journalism Tuesday at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.
“Security is a much bigger issue than people recognize,” he says, adding that the new threats posed by technology emerged during his stations’ coverage of the turmoil last year in Ferguson, Missouri.
Not only were journalists, as well as the computer systems they rely on, the subjects of online threats, but the multitude of individuals equipped with some of the same equipment journalists now use — smartphones and the like — makes it particularly difficult for reporters to do their jobs when it matters most.
“It’s hard to tell who are the traditional media, who are the people out there agitating and who are the people you can trust,” he says. “An iPhone in the hands of a traditional journalism is very different from an iPhone in the hands of someone with a different agenda of what they want to cover.”
Danielski says the “intensity” of covering the Ferguson story was “very different” than the kind that comes with covering other big stories, like weather events. “Journalists lives were threatened.”
Yet St. Louis stations grappled with many of the same issues — and employed the same technology — that are becoming increasingly common for local broadcasters covering big stories, whether they involve events like Hurricane Sandy or breaking news such as the Boston Marathon bombings.
For instance, KDSK staffers had to kick up their monitoring of social media, as the “polarizing” nature of the Ferguson story made the situations ripe for erroneous information or postings that don’t mesh with KDSK’s standards, Danielski says.
“Ethics training becomes very important,” he says, adding that being right is still more important than getting information first, even in emergency situations.
“There is no badge of honor in using the wrong piece of video,” he says.
Fellow panelist Barbara Maushard, Hearst Television’s VP of news, agrees, saying being “really responsible” is of primary importance in covering emergencies now that incorporating information from platforms such as social media — and distributing it digitally as well as on TV — becomes increasingly common.
“If we don’t have permission to use something or can’t verify it, we’re not going to use it,” Maushard says.
That, she adds, is in keeping with local broadcasters’ primary role in disaster situations: serving the public, which not only includes distributing news via multiple platforms but cooperating with other broadcasters in the market, as well.
“We are all very competitive and we want to be the single trusted source. But we are all doing this hopefully because we want to serve the public,” she says, adding that doing so is not necessarily easy, particularly when stories span a long period of time. Blizzards in the Northeast this winter, for example, had crews from WCVB, Hearst’s ABC affiliate in Boston, for instance, out in the cold and snow for weeks on end.
“Just physically trying to keep up that kind of coverage up is tough,” she says.
At the same time, however, technology —particularly cellular bonded backpack units and iPhones — enable crews to cover those stories in ways they weren’t able to when their mobility was limited.
All of which, panelists say, speaks to why local broadcasters are of primary importance in covering emergencies, even when stories are big enough to draw national — or even international — media.
Danielski, for instance, says he believes St. Louis TV stations provided far more balanced coverage of Ferguson not just because of their physical presence in the market, but because of their longstanding relationships with sources, as well as those they cultivated with consumers across platforms.
“Everywhere we touch someone it is a critical touch point, and there are high expectations to deliver in times of need,” he says. “All the tools are tremendously important and you have to use them in ways that make sense to the community.
Maushard agrees, saying that local media bring assets to covering emergencies that other news outlets can’t. “It’s really personal for those of us in these markets. These are our homes,” she says.
“It’s not difficult to be the trusted source if you are doing your job right.”
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