Keeping Calm in a Crisis: The Reporter’s Perspective
“This is part one of a three part series on covering news in the face of crisis or tragedy.”
This is part one of a three part series on covering news in the face of crisis or tragedy. I wanted to highlight perspectives from three different positions; that of a reporter, a host and a program director. These conversations are all with people I’ve worked with over the years and highlight (in my view) the right way to deliver the news in difficult the face of difficult situations.
We start first, with the perspective of a reporter……
7/14/99- A TRAGIC DAY IN MILWAUKEE
Doug Russell is a veteran reporter and host who had two different stints at Milwaukee’s legendary news-talk station WTMJ. On July 14th, 1999, the city was shook when “Big Blue” a heavy lift crawler crane being used at the construction site of Miller Park, collapsed. Three workers were killed and significant damage was caused to the stadium. On this day, Russell, working in the sports department, had to “flip that switch” to hard news and cover what turned out to be a local tragedy. What resulted was a team effort by WTMJ that earned Russell and the station local and national accolades.
RM: Take us back to that day and set the scene. When did you first learn of this situation and what was your reaction?
DR: I was at my desk at WTMJ’s Radio City studios. There was an old television on wheels in the office that happened to be on the closed feed from the static camera our sister television station, WTMJ-TV had. I glanced at it as I went to my desk to prepare for that evening’s Sports Central show that I was producing at the time. The camera was trained on it because there was a scheduled roof “pick” that day involving the Big Blue crane and TMJ4 wanted it for their archives. These “picks” had become mini-events because they were the most visible signs the stadium was coming together.
Nothing was amiss and I didn’t think anything of it until about 60 seconds later when our airborne traffic reporter, Tom Carr, first reported on the accident (audio below). I turned around and on the screen was a crumpled blue crane draped over the first base side of the ballpark and dust was flying everywhere. My reaction was to find my news director, Dan Shelley and asked “what can I do?” He asked me if I had recording equipment. I told him I always keep a crash bag in my desk (a helpful hint for everyone involved in live news reporting). Dan immediately told me to take the cell phone (we only had one for the entire station; they weren’t commonplace yet) and get down there as fast as I could in afternoon drive time traffic.
RM: When you were on your way to the scene, what was going through your mind?
DR: On my way down from Milwaukee’s East Side to the stadium I was listening carefully to WTMJ for any information the guys in the studio were looking for as well as traffic reports. What I didn’t realize is that WTMJ morning anchor Cheri Preston (now at ABC Radio News) was on the Marquette University campus for a graduate level class when she heard the report as well. Marquette, only being a very short drive to the stadium, gave WTMJ the first reporter of any kind on the scene (audio below). Cheri was the first to report from an eyewitness that three iron workers died in the accident. She was unflappable. Just an incredible reporter…even borrowing a stranger’s cell phone to do her first report (attached). Through her early reporting, she gave me, a very young radio personality at the time, instructions through her example of what we were looking for as a station.
As a side note, as it turns out, I was also the last reporter to leave the scene, at 5am the next morning, as WTMJ rightfully made the decision to have a 24 hour presence at the sight of the biggest news story in America that day. From midnight-5am, I did live on-site reports during the top of the hour news.
RM: You arrived on the scene and I can only imagine it was chaotic. How were you able to get yourself balanced with what was going on and also with what your newsroom was asking of you at the time?
DR: When I was a news reporter, I covered the court case of David Spanbauer. David Spanbauer was a monster who terrorized Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley for years, sexually assaulting, torturing, and murdering young women and girls. The news training I had from that court case, talking to the families of Cora Jones, Ronelle Eichstead, and Trudi Jeschke steeled me for just about anything. You lose part of your humanity, but that’s the price most journalists have had to pay to varying degrees for dispassionately doing their jobs. Think about how 9-11 was reported on, for example. At some point you still have to just put your own human feelings aside and do the work your audience demands.
RM- You have lived in Milwaukee most of your adult life. How were you able to put your emotions aside and focus on what was such a tragic event for the city…in the days and weeks afterwards?
DR: The aftermath for the city was significant at the time, but as the saying goes, time really does heal all wounds. There is a generation of Brewers fans that never saw a game at Miller Park and will never know the names of the three men (Jeffrey Wischer, Jerome Starr, and William DeGrave) killed that day. At the time it was devastating. To the families of the men killed, even more so, obviously and still to this day. But the city has moved on. As for me, it gave me the opportunity to show that I could cover a major breaking news story live on the air. The audio eventually landed on One-On-One Sports VP of Programming Mark Gentzkow’s desk, and he hired me as an anchor/reporter a few months later. Cheri would end up in New York at ABC, so she did pretty well too. WTMJ’s coverage was recognized with several awards from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, the Milwaukee Press Club, the Associated Press, and the Radio-TV News Directors Association, bestowing us with the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for spot news coverage.
RM: If you could give advice to anyone who would have been in your shoes that day, what would it have been? For anyone that is rushing to the scene of a situation like this (especially where loss of life is involved) how do you best handle it?
First, always have a “crash bag” at arms length with everything you need to report a breaking story. It’s a terribly overused term nowadays, but they call it “breaking news” for a reason. You never know what is going to happen when. So have a bag with a recorder, a mic, mic flag, paper, pens, extra batteries, a computer if you can. Whatever you would normally take to a news situation, have in your crash bag. If it’s your first time on the scene of a tragedy where loss of life is involved, take a moment to realize that you probably will be speaking with someone who just lost a family member – how would YOU like to be treated if the shoe was on your foot? Know to not ask a question like “how does it feel” to lose a loved one (how do you THINK it feels, jackass?). Empathy goes a long way in those situations. On the flip side, you still have a job to do. You can be empathetic while still calmly reporting the facts. But I think it’s important for every reporter to just take a breath and recognize the gravity of what they are reporting on before going on the air and just blurting out the first thing that comes out of their mouth.
That’s a wrap on part one. Next week, we’ll take a look at this topic, but from a host’s perspective.
Ryan Maguire is a columnist for BSM, and a longtime sports and news radio program director. He has managed KIRO-FM in Seattle, WQAM in Miami, 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, 610 Sports in Kansas City, and 105.7/1250 The Fan in Milwaukee. Presently, Ryan serves as the Executive Producer of Chicago White Sox baseball on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. Originally from Michigan, Ryan still holds out hope that the Detroit Lions will one day deliver a Super Bowl title. He can be reached on Twitter @RMaguire1701.
News Radio Should Celebrate Audio-First Decision From Ron DeSantis
As radio programmers, hosts, and salespeople, we should be doing cartwheels and leveraging this moment.
Ron DeSantis launched his 2024 Presidential run on Twitter Spaces on Wednesday night to much fanfare. By now, you’ve seen the hot takes on how the enthusiasm for DeSantis crashed Twitter or, depending on your preferred candidate, the rollout was a disaster and is a sign of things to come for his campaign. I’ll let the opposing campaigns and fanboys/girls, and news radio hosts hash that part out between themselves.
What’s far more interesting from a media perspective is DeSantis’ platform choice. It was not legacy media. He did not choose Fox News, Newsmax, etc., but more interesting was the fact he chose an audio-first medium on Twitter. There was no visual element at all.
Ron DeSantis did the equivalent of a radio interview to announce his 2024 bid. Yes, he hopped on Fox News later that evening with Trey Gowdy, but the official announcement and first media interview came on Twitter, without any video component.
As radio programmers, hosts, and salespeople, we should be doing cartwheels and leveraging this moment.
For too long, TV has been overrated. It’s been a perfect storm. You have politicians who love seeing themselves on TV to feed their egos, and many of their advisors and media buyers have backgrounds in the medium, so it becomes an echo chamber.
From the ridiculous overspending during election season on overproduced, phony, repetitive television spots that produce diminishing returns (rather than the far more cost-effective and impactful radio ads), to the obsession with capturing every TV opportunity they can, TV has become overvalued in recent elections.
Ron DeSantis’ decision on Wednesday night may have been the move that makes many realize where they have missed the boat in recent years.
If used in a calculating manner, DeSantis’ moment can benefit radio programming and sales.
Programmers should be pitching any of their local candidates in legitimate races that matter to try and get their candidacy announcement on radio. “If Ron DeSantis can go audio-first, why isn’t it good enough for you?” This would bring earned media for the candidate and radio station and the TV hits would follow.
On KCMO, we landed the announcement interview with former KC TV anchor Mark Alford, who used that springboard to win an open U.S. Congressional seat in 2022.
From a sales perspective, this could also be a game changer in helping PACs, agencies, and campaigns understand the personal nature of the audio-first medium, which radio still dominates, despite what the naysayers claim.
During the 2022 cycle, radio did exceed its estimates in political advertising with $310 million, compared to the projections of $270 million. But that’s peanuts compared to the $4.73 billion spent on broadcast TV, according to this article from Radio Insight.
That is absurd. And it is the very definition of diminishing returns. Whether it’s a Presidential candidate in a key state or city, or more appropriately for this column, a local U.S. Senate, or congressional, candidate in your market, there are two paths.
One, they can become another overplayed, tune-out TV ad, where their ego is stroked and they get noticed in the grocery store, but they don’t get the value from the spending they need.
Or, two, they can own radio, which will be more cost-effective, impactful, personal for the listener, oh, and reach a potential voter that is 10-15 years younger, on average, than those still watching broadcast TV.
None of this is to suggest that TV is not important, of course, it will forever be critical to have a visual component for politicians in the 21st century. But it’s not everything. It never has been and it never will be, despite what the differential in ad spending suggests.
If audio-first is a good enough launch for one of the front runners to land in the White House in 2024, I’d say it’s more than good enough for anyone else entering the political arena at any level.
Pete Mundo is the morning show host and program director for KCMO in Kansas City. Previously, he was a fill-in host nationally on FOX News Radio and CBS Sports Radio, while anchoring for WFAN, WCBS News Radio 880, and Bloomberg Radio. Pete was also the sports and news director for Omni Media Group at K-1O1/Z-92 in Woodward, Oklahoma. He’s also the owner of the Big 12-focused digital media outlet Heartland College Sports. To interact, find him on Twitter @PeteMundo.
Twitter Facing Several Questions After Multimedia Struggles
Everyone should have the ability to say what they want but that doesn’t mean they have the ability to make up their own truths that aren’t factually based.
When Kim Kardashian broke the internet and Twitter, we marveled and were astonished at her attempt and it worked. Her infamy continued to skyrocket more positively than negatively because she embraced her sexuality in a sensual but respectful way.
When TMZ broke the internet, they became a dependable source for news about celebrity deaths even if the method behind their madness was and still is pure madness.
On Wednesday, when Elon Musk and Ron DeSantis broke the internet it was just plain trash.
Your local waste management company couldn’t fix the travesty that was Wednesday night on Twitter. Tech issues, hosts having trouble connecting, listeners hearing nothing — that was the main story of what was allegedly supposed to be the launch of Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign.
On Twitter Spaces’ biggest night, it made the platform seem out of space and out of touch with the rest of society. When you fire key engineers from your staff, only allow groupthink in your office quarters, and don’t feel the need to answer to anyone because you’ll still get bank credit even if Twitter goes bankrupt, this is the result. Hubris.
At the beginning when things went haywire and nothing was working, the stream drew about 600,000 listeners. By the time the stream actually started working it was down to 100,000 concurrent listeners. Media journalist Oliver Darcy joked that more people are watching CNN at 3:00 AM than were listening to Twitter’s live stream.
With that being said, drawing 600,000 listeners is no small feat. If used effectively, Twitter can become an influential voice in this upcoming election.
Twitter, as a tool, has always been impactful. Journalists, commentators, and newsmakers have used its real-time functionality to shape the national conversation. Twitter as a company hasn’t played too much of an editorial role other than putting their name brand on town halls and debates until the Musk reign. The company has already been able to secure conservative brands Tucker Carlson and The Daily Wire to join their alliance. Both entities plan on posting daily videos to counter the “mainstream media narrative.”
It’s extremely smart to have them posting original content natively to the site. It will increase engagement, it’ll increase the amount of time users spend, and their success could convince other news organizations to produce content that is exclusive to the site.
In the past, Twitter has partnered with BuzzFeed and even the NFL to try and steal a share of television’s audience but it hasn’t proven profitable or viral. Tucker Carlson’s removal from Fox has caused a major splinter among conservative media audiences and could be an answer to Twitter’s content desires. They’ll be serving an audience that can’t find what they want anywhere else.
The problem Twitter faces is that it has already established itself as the place for real-time content and breaking news, as well as the most active social home for many of our country’s most reliable sources. Whether Elon Musk realizes this or not, he has a moral obligation to ensure the user experience stays as neutral as possible even if he wants the company to become a conservative brand.
Musk needs to make an effort to bring Democratic representatives in to commit to Twitter Spaces sessions as well. A conversation doesn’t exist if two sides of the spectrum aren’t involved and, eventually, interest in Twitter’s political media initiatives will die off because Dems will seek audiences on bigger platforms Twitter can’t compete with.
The Biden campaign could decide to solely focus on TV audiences, YouTube, and webinars just like they did in the last election and still have a chance to win, leaving Twitter’s efforts irrelevant. They could even use Twitter’s tools to promote themselves without the help of Musk. It won’t help Musk or Twitter the brand feel more reliable or trustworthy among Americans without allowing both sides to speak. Twitter has to sell itself to everyone as the tech home for political conversations in the world of fragmented media.
If he’s going to go the activist route with conservative Spaces by having supporters of a particular politician moderating the discussion, then he should do the same thing for Democratic politicians who appear on Spaces as well. A word of advice going forward, though: A journalist always makes the most sense. Journalists are trained to be objective and facilitate conversations for a living. Everyone knows how to cook scrambled eggs, but I guarantee you Rachael Ray’s scrambled eggs hit differently.
Twitter can look to CNN as an example of what happens when a town hall is technologically sound and the moderator treats their panelist with fairness. Since Trump’s town hall, CNN has been able to garner time with Mike Pence and Nikki Haley. Both candidates saw the jump that the town hall gave Trump in attention and hype among his base and, quite frankly, understand that they can reach more people on TV than online. Trump’s town hall reached 3 million viewers. After DeSantis left his Twitter Spaces, he promoted his candidacy on Fox News to the tune of 2 million viewers, ironically Fox’s largest audience since Carlson was let go.
Musk also needs to create a tab dedicated to news and have running video options and audio options that display straight news along with conservative and liberal opinionists. These feeds are already available on other platforms. Why not sell advertising against it and keep viewers right on Twitter where they are already having the discussions? The best thing about Twitter’s old BuzzFeed morning show is that you could multitask.
You could catch up on news and thoughts on your feed while live video discussing what was trending could be placed towards the bottom of your phone screen with the window in window option on Apple devices. Users didn’t have to leave the app to catch up on what was happening in the world.
Allowing Carlson and The Daily Wire to become the only two sources of media that are promoted or favored on the app will only heighten tension before the election and will literally put lives at stake because of the possibility of both outlets spreading misinformation.
This goes into the next idea to make Musk’s “public square” a safe and accurate space for everyone. Musk needs to either contract or hire fact-checkers. The fact-checkers should be in charge of verifying Community Notes, adding Community Notes to streams/videos/tweets that are posted by publishers to correct or clarify anything that was said, and creating videos of their own based on trending topics or viral videos that aren’t accurate.
Everyone should have the ability to say what they want but that doesn’t mean they have the ability to make up their own truths that aren’t factually based.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
AM Radio Will Still Ride Along…For Now
The math itself is simple. You don’t use what you don’t want. And you probably won’t use what you don’t believe you need.
In our last chapter on the fight to keep the AM radio in your car, things were not looking so good for the Sunday morning religious shows, exhaustingly predictable talk hosts, and the largely underpaid local news anchors.
But Ford has apparently heard the call from lawmakers, FEMA, and a variety of other concerned citizens, enough at least that they have announced they will back off their plans to do away with AM band in their new vehicles. For now, at least.
So, I will say the U-Turn decision by Ford is nice. Yes, I would venture to say it is nice. But is this a victory or merely a stay of execution?
And since no matter what, AM radio is not disappearing or soon to become unavailable, why don’t we just say this is more a case of bail continued until sentencing day.
What it means is there will be more cars and trucks with AM radios on our roads than we thought there would be last week.
How much of an impact will it make? I don’t think it will make much at all.
There are still a lot more car manufacturers going ahead with their plans to do away with AM so the math will not be grounds for celebration.
The math itself is simple. You don’t use what you don’t want. And you probably won’t use what you don’t believe you need. Even if you might need it now and then.
My vehicle has a trailer hitch. I don’t use that either. I don’t need it. It just happens to be there.
In other words, it does nothing for me and for many people neither does AM radio.
Where do you think these car makers got the idea in the first place to take the AM band out of the vehicles?
I’m sure they asked a few people.
How likely are you to not buy this car if it doesn’t have an AM radio in it?
Ever hear of market research? We did this already.
I’m glad, for now at least, that a few more people will have a choice. We deserve that. We are the ones buying stuff. Treat us with respect.
I have expressed this opinion before. You can put an AM radio everywhere but if the content is not worth the effort, then all it becomes is a receptacle for go-to emergency broadcasts and possibly some inane chatter or white noise to fall asleep by.
I’ve said this before too: Give them something worth listening to and they might listen. They might give it a try and they might actually like it. But here is the trick. Now that you have them, how do you keep them?
Well, now you must be consistently good or at least not awful. That’s harder than it seems, just zigzag across the country and find out.
Oh, when you do you have to turn your AM radio on and keep it on. No cheating, no flipping to the FM or satellite or your own playlists or podcasts or audiobooks.
Could you do it?
The blame for subpar content or a lack of listener-friendly programming is not all the fault of those behind the microphone or those producing, writing, or booking. But you already know that and so do I.
So just look up.
If management or corporate executives are physically upstairs as opposed to around the corner or down the hall. My experience over the last few years has been they are rarely in the building.
But regardless of where they physically might be they are often the ones behind all that glitters or does not.
I have found a good clue to what you might be getting on the air can be taken from a glimpse at the station’s website.
Most stations and managers put a great deal of emphasis on driving viewers, listeners, and readers to their home page. So, go there but go past the landing page with the obligatory three web stories that are less than 24 hours old and delve a bit deeper.
You are most likely to find a lot of material from last week, last month, and even last year if you click on a few sections. Some outlets I have some familiarity with have a mostly corporate-run website with plenty of room though for local elements like news stories, programming schedules, and show host biographies.
You’d think at minimum they would update their lineups, their show schedules, and add some information to entice that reader back to the air product. You’d think.
Nostalgic as I might be, I do not particularly care who was hosting in 2021 nor do I want to listen to an interview with a losing mayoral candidate from a year and a half ago. If your air drives somebody to your website or vice-versa, there should be something of value waiting there for them.
Remember, respect for the audience, the customer is always right, or karma is a …
Back on that cross-country trip, you are likely to find some good things in your travels, largely local and national sports talk, maybe a bit of financial chat, or solid religious conversation. But is it enough to fight off the eviction of AM from your car?
And don’t forget the demographics. The only time my kid listened to the AM band was to hear me (once) and even that took a bit of prompting. Her generation and the one after her, are the last chance to bring on some additional support.
After then, who will be listening?
Tell us why these stations need to stay there when we can generally find them or what they offer in other configurations.
Just as I asked last time, what can AM do that others cannot?
If I know my gene pool, my grandchildren are not going to be fighting for AM radio in their space boats or their flying cars.
Bill Zito has devoted most of his work efforts to broadcast news since 1999. He made the career switch after serving a dozen years as a police officer on both coasts. Splitting the time between Radio and TV, he’s worked for ABC News and Fox News, News 12 New York , The Weather Channel and KIRO and KOMO in Seattle. He writes, edits and anchors for Audacy’s WTIC-AM in Hartford and lives in New England. You can find him on Twitter @BillZitoNEWS.