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News Media Must Walk Fine Line Between Informative and Exploitative in Crisis Coverage

One person’s useful insight might be another’s Chicken Little routine.

Bill Zito

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A photo of the Key Bridge collapsed on top of a cargo ship.
(Photo: WBAL Newsradio)

News media all asked the same question. Atlanta, Cincinnati, Houston, Charleston, Vicksburg, and a bunch of others, all wanting to know the answer.

Could it happen here?

After the Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, local media outlets everywhere — and I do mean pretty much everywhere — grabbed onto that low-hanging fruit that dangles in the wake of another city’s tragedy and inquired.

The short answer: Yes, yes it can.

I mean, if you have a bridge and a body of water underneath it, chances are, it’s possible.

Next question.

Flippant? Yes, but I’m also exploring here a bit. Where’s the line between “Let’s do our due diligence for our curious audience,” and “Let’s exploit somebody else’s misfortune so we get the attention we’re seeking.”

It’s not an easy choice and there’s no immediate criticism offered here. I think the situation presents a real poser to most news outlets in most situations.

Let me start by saying I watched, read, and listened to some incredibly strong wall-to-wall coverage by Baltimore’s news community.

In the modern era, the prospect of having video and audio of random news events is far more likely than in the past. And despite the pleas of Baltimore’s Mayor, it is very unlikely that news outlets are going to refrain from making use of those elements whenever possible. “Business before honor”, they say.

Most of the answers I’ve seen have been along the same theme.

“It’s not likely.”

“Our bridges are stronger than their bridges.”

Kentucky apparently wasn’t as confident.

“What happened in Baltimore today could easily happen in Kentucky,” said Sen. Jimmy Higdon. (WKYT)

So aside from the news media’s standard strategy of localizing or trying to localize a national or world event, is there a dog in this fight when asking if something that happened there could happen here?

Local will do it with just about everything else, mass shootings, plane crashes, outbreaks of disease, and the errant overly aggressive parking dispute.

One person’s useful insight might be another’s Chicken Little routine.

In 2003, a Staten Island Ferry vessel crashed into a New York City pier. There were multiple fatalities and numerous injuries and I was working at what was then KOMO NewsRadio in Seattle. It was lunchtime on the West Coast, it was an unfolding story so we took air coverage from 1010WINS in New York for a couple of hours. A smart move on the part of our management, especially at that time in the work of simulcasting and technology.

Of course, it wasn’t enough for one of our anchors at the time who immediately jumped into Could it happen here? mode.

If you know Seattle, you know that there are at least ten different ferry routes to the various local islands so the short answer was yes, we have ferries, so it could happen here.

Next question.

Hey, just like the Key Bridge collapse, there was loss of life and major impact so yes, attention must be paid to what has happened and where.

There can be a great deal of effort and investigation put into a story like this or on the B-side, someone could literally just look out the window and realize we also have a bridge.

When we (the news, I mean) decide to point a finger inward and pose that question, are we doing the right thing?

I mean we all have bridges, buildings, and baseball stadiums.

Hedge your bets.

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BNM Writers

News Media Should Have Thrown Shade at Eclipse Hysteria

Just stop it. You know better.

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A photo of an eclipse

The news media coverage of the eclipse this week was borderline ridiculous.

“In the cozy corners of our homes, where the laughter of our children should resonate
with joy and curiosity, a shadow has been cast—not by the celestial ballet of the sun and moon during a total eclipse, but by the media’s relentless frenzy surrounding these celestial events. As a parent watching this unfold, I can’t help but feel a mix of frustration and concern.”

Those aren’t my words. They were posted earlier this week on LinkedIn by a man named Chuck Leblo. He continues: “. . . the media’s approach to covering total eclipses has shifted from educational and awe-inspiring to sensational and anxiety-inducing.”

I’ve never met Mr. Leblo. He describes himself as a strategist and professional problem
solver. More to the point, he’s a family man with uncommonly common sense.

“Gone are the days when an eclipse was a chance for families to gather, armed with nothing but protective glasses and a sense of wonder, to watch the moon dance with the sun. Instead, we’re bombarded with headlines screaming about potential disasters, the dangers of improper viewing, and an array of eclipse-induced calamities waiting to befall the unprepared.”

Chuck – (I sense a kinship, I believe he’ll allow me to address him by his first name) was blessed to be in the path of totality for Monday’s stellar phenomenon, as was I. Because of that, we were probably dosed with more frenzied hyperbole than most Americans suffered. Weeks ago we were warned that half of the planet’s population would surely descend on our neighborhoods, throwing our lives into chaos.

Headlines:
“The April total solar eclipse could snarl traffic for hours across thousands of miles” – USA Today, April 7

‘Plan now’: Dallas leaders urge residents to prepare for crowds, congestion during solar eclipse” – NBC-DFW, April 2

“Large crowds in the path of the total solar eclipse April 8th could put a strain on cell service” – TheWeatherNetwork.com, April 5

The governors of Arkansas and Indiana issued proactive states of emergency. Cities and counties from Texas to Toronto did too. This all hit home for me around two weeks ago when my wife ordered me to stock up on food and tp as we did during the COVID-19 crisis.

S—’s getting real.

As I write this on Tuesday, April 9, the day after the eclipse, I can’t find a single reported case of hotel and car rental madness anywhere in the U.S. Traffic snarls? I was out and about yesterday before totality. Traffic actually seemed less than usual, as it has been this morning.

I’ve heard some radio reports (aka rumors) suggesting that fear of traffic congestion has people holing up in bars and drinking heavily. Allegedly. No sign of that, either, officially
or anecdotally.

Zebras, ostriches and people huddled at Dallas Zoo as solar eclipse darkened the grounds – Dallas Morning News, April 9

That’s the biggest morning-after headline here in the largest city in the path of totality.

Chuck and I think the news media has jumped the shark. We’d be laughing about it over a beer if we ever met and it wasn’t so maddening.

“What message does this send to our children,” Chuck asks. “Instead of marveling at the wonders of the universe and the scientific principles behind such events, they’re left wringing their hands in worry. The media’s penchant for dramatizing natural phenomena has transformed a teaching moment into a source of stress. Our children, who look to us for understanding and reassurance, are met with our own concerns, magnified by sensationalist reports.”

On December 16, 1982, I was anchoring the news at KGNR, Sacramento, when a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber crashed shortly after takeoff from nearby Mather AFB. Rumors of nuclear weapons on board flashed through the community.

My boss, WGN of California G.M. Robert Henley, came into the studio and reminded me to keep our audience calm and reassure them that we’re still looking for facts. I knew that, he was just reminding me. We didn’t add any conjecture or speculation. We never said things like, “We’ve heard…” or, “What if…”. All we said was, “Here’s what we know right now…”

In that case, nine crew members died in the crash but there were no nukes on board. Local and national media handled the story with the proper, professional perspective that was beyond question in those days.

Professional news reports beyond question, just the facts, no hype. Just imagine.

If that bomber was to crash locally now I shudder to imagine the shock wave produced by local media following the lead of social media lies and hysteria.

“In a world where information is at our fingertips, it’s disappointing to see fear used as a
tactic to grab attention. The total eclipse should be a moment of unity, wonder, and learning, not a cause for anxiety.” – Chuck Leblo

Yesterday afternoon I stood in my driveway with my officially approved protective lenses and watched the total eclipse. Pushing 73, it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before and will never see again. I shared the thrill with Chris, my teenage neighbor. We usually only howdy at the mail box but we shared some real neighborly excitement yesterday.

Chuck, his wife, and their eight-year-old son watched the eclipse with a picnic blanket in their front yard.

Chuck and I want to end the hype. Stop the bulls—. Just stop it. You know better.

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Kristina Koppeser Takes Pride in Leading Community Service at KYW Newsradio

We’re really proud of the Crystal Award nomination. I’m going to be there on Tuesday. So I hope I’m accepting and I’m accepting it.

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A photo of the KYW logo and Kristina Koppeser
(Photo: Kristina Koppeser)

As many in the industry head to Las Vegas for NAB, Barrett News Media was able to catch up with some of the speakers this year, including, KYW Newsradio Brand Manager Kristina Koppeser.

Not only will she be speaking on recruiting and talent retention she will be representing station as they are nominated for a Crystal Award.

Krystina Alarcon Carroll: How did you get into the industry?

Kristina Koppeser: I have been working in news media in some fashion for over a decade. Radio I kind of got into a few years ago. I’m actually new-ish. I worked in television before [radio] and before [TV] I work in traditional digital media. I worked at Twitter, now X, for a while, and [Twitter] is where I sank my teeth into breaking news for the first time in my career, and I really enjoyed it.

So that kind of parlayed a job into a Hearst Television role. Then the pandemic hit, my husband and I were living in New York City but the space was just not doing it for us anymore. So we started looking at other cities we could live in and I saw this opening for a digital managing editor got that job. Now I’m here and I’m running the station, two years later.

KC: So what are you going to be talking about at NAB?

KK: So I am doing a talk on recruiting, talent retention, which is something I think we’re all thinking about constantly in this industry. Radio is one of the oldest mediums, but I think as we move into the next generation and the 21st century, we’re kind of thinking about ways that we can diversify, not only what people are doing, but what audio is. Radio is still the bulk of our business, but people are on their phones now. So, that digital aspect is important.

Finding people who can learn both do both and are not afraid of trying new things is a really important part of what I’m doing.

We have a very diverse newsroom that I’m very proud of. It’s very reflective of Philadelphia, and I think that’s really important in our storytelling and making sure that we have people in our newsroom who know and understand the city in a way that I think less diverse newsrooms don’t have that kind of breadth of knowledge. So I’ll talk a little bit on that, but really, it’s about how to find the right people and how to kind of look for diamonds in the rough.

I’ve always in any job tried to go off the beaten path to find somebody who I think might not be a shoo-in on paper, but there’s something about them that I’m like, ‘I think that I can make this work,’ and I think I can find something about their background or whatever that might not be. I think I speak to that, too. I’m not a traditional radio person in that I’m running a radio station.

KC: Your station was nominated for a Crystal Award this year. Is volunteering something you look for in your team? And why is that so important?

KK: Not actively, because it’s one of those things where we have — the brand kind of attracts people who naturally are inclined to volunteer. We’re really proud of the Crystal Award nomination. I’m going to be there on Tuesday. So I hope I’m accepting and I’m accepting it.

But I think that people who do spend their time — their free time — giving back to the community is very much what it’s about. In our work and our personal lives, our community always comes first. I like to think of us as public servants. What we’re doing is we’re providing a public service through information to this city under the collar counties and South Jersey. So while it’s not something that I think is an absolute must, it comes up naturally in interviews.

If you look at the nominees, when I was talking to our staff about all the things that they did I was humbled and floored. We’ve got people who volunteer in anything from community theater, volunteer firefighting, the Boy Scouts, Gift of Life, American Cancer Society and National Brain Tumor Society, coaching youth sports, food programs, historical societies, and more.

We have all sorts of people from all different walks of life just donating their time, which I think is great. I can talk about it forever because I’m so proud of everybody and we have such an amazing group of people who are just really selfless. On top of everything else.

KC: What’s the advice you have for young people who are looking to follow in your footsteps?

KK: Oh, that’s a really good question. One piece of advice I have just in general is I say yes to everything that excites you, right? I talk to young students who are trying to go into broadcast and be an on-air talent. I say it’s great to have a goal but I think that it’s important to know that there are many paths to get there and that it’s not it might not be the first thing you do, and your career is going to be long.

It’s hard sometimes to communicate that to people who their professional life is only one year, right? So, I tell them to say yes. To look at every interview as a learning experience, to like the interview process can be rigorous and sometimes really, disheartening if you’re going to know if you’re not going to return back.

Another piece of advice I have for young people wanting to get started in the industry is focus on being versatile. Media is not just one thing anymore — social media skills, as well as broadcast skills — are essential to reporting and journalism. So learning early to be adaptable, and to find ways to become a newsroom “Swiss army knife” as I like to call it, puts you in a better position to learn and succeed.

All of those things are going to make sense one day and it’s hard to kind of find that faith, but I can look at my resume and I have said yes to a lot of very different types of roles over the years. But the reason I did that is because I knew that if I could try something different or new, challenge myself, I’d come out the other side more knowledgeable and a better candidate for whatever came next.

Lastly, be comfortable with chaos. Someone once told me that in an interview, and I was like, ‘I think I could do that.’ Everybody should be comfortable with chaos.

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Why News/Talk Radio Should Champion Debates in 2024 And Beyond

We should want them to get on stage because if not, it will only encourage those all the way down to our local level not to step on the debate stage.

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A photo of the 2024 Republican Presidential candidates
(Photo: Fox News)

This week, news broke that the major TV networks were working on sending letters to the Donald Trump and Joe Biden campaigns, essentially pleading with both men to commit to Presidential debates later this fall. And it should be of concern to each and every news/talk radio host in the country.

The letter, which included NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News, and CNN and has not been finalized, notes that general election debates have “played a vital role in every presidential election of the past 50 years, dating to 1976,” with “tens of millions” tuning in to watch a competition of ideas for the votes of American citizens.

“Though it is too early for invitations to be extended to any candidates, it is not too early for candidates who expect to meet the eligibility criteria to publicly state their support for – and their intention to participate in – the Commission’s debates planned for this fall,” the letter states.

Biden has not publicly committed to debating Trump, although he has not ruled it out.

“It depends on his behavior,” Biden said in early March.

Trump has posted on social media that he will debate “anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

I have seen many in the News/Talk radio space opine that the debates are overrated, don’t matter, and we should not care whether or not these two take the stage. But we should care. And we should want them to get on stage because if not, it will only encourage those all the way down to our local level not to step on the debate stage.

I can speak firsthand about how difficult it has been to get even our most local candidates, like mayors, to debate in recent election cycles. Candidates don’t want to do it, partly because the quality and depth of candidates get weaker by the cycle and because their consultants and advisors tell them not to debate. They perceive the downside to exceed the upside. No one will remember the good things you say, but if you have a massive blunder, it may sink your campaign.

It’s fecklessness from the candidate and control from the consulting class. And in the end, the biggest loser is the voter. They get bombarded with TV, radio, and digital ads while not really knowing how a candidate handles anything of substance, thinks on one’s feet, what their presence is like in the public arena, and so much more that allows voters to gauge the quality of a candidate beyond their political party identification and talking points.

If Donald Trump and Joe Biden never step on the debate stage this fall, you can likely kiss most debates goodbye. They’re already falling by the wayside in federal, state, and local races, and if the two Presidential candidates opt out, you will only see more of that down the ballot.

“If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high,” the TV networks stated in the letter. “Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation.”

This is the pitch that local TV and radio stations should also make to their area’s Senate, Congressional, Gubernatorial, and Mayoral candidates. Given the partisan nature of our politics, the voter may not need it, but they certainly do deserve it.

Selfishly, these are content generators, and can be revenue generators for TV and radio, but two things can be true at once. Yes, they’re good for our business, but they’re also beneficial for the voter.

Without them, it’s another barrier being put up between our candidates and the electorate. And nothing about that is American.

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