I Resolve To Get My Resolutions In Sooner In 2009
...that said, let me reinterate the two I mentioned earlier this week on "Wisconsin's Morning News". They pertain to our industry, and they're crimes against journalism that I am guilty of committing. I vow to try to eliminate these from my on-air repetoire.
The first: I promise that I will NEVER, EVER play Shuttle wake-up music. I'm glad that the milliions and billions of dollars we shove into NASA's budget includes a provision that gives our brave men and women human alam clocks in Houston. Be that as it may, how in hell is it even remotely newsworth/interesting/compelling to hear the Carpenters' "Top of the World" for the umpteenth time as heard through a tiny, two inch speaker miles above earth? Why do the networks feed it to us affiliates during missions? And why do we automatically include it in our stories? I haven't in YEARS, and the practice will continue until further notice (although I promise to yank this edict if NASA pipes up a really, really good song: Nick Lowe's "Cruel To Be Kind", for instance, or maybe something from Big and Rich).
The second resolution is a little more serious. This is one I'm guilty of doing, too, and it's made me feel skeevy every time I've done it.
Why do news organizations feel compelled reflexively play the 9-1-1 tapes from every calamity, national or local, as soon as authorities make the sound available?
Yes, there are times when such audio is part of the story--when there are questions about the responsiveness of the dispatcher, or when there's an isue with response time. There are occasions when the 9-1-1 operator isn't up to the task, or is tragically dismissive. Or, there are the operators who truly save lives, or keep bad situations from becoming worse. Those are truly newsworthy events that deserve public airings and scrutiny.
There are way too many stories, though, in which the 9-1-1 calls are nothing more than macabre and voyueristic exercises in journalistic sensationalism. It gives a lazy newsroom an extra cycle or two in which it can run with a tragic story. It allows the public to hear some poor person experiencing the worst moment of their lives, and does nothing to advance the story one iota. There is nothing to be learned from a victim's screaming, crying or pleading. It's sad. It's awful. It doesn't need to be shared.
There. I've done it. I've broken with some of my electronic brethren who see nothing wrong with such audio, and who will argue that it's the public's right to know. After all, they'll tell you, 9-1-1 calls are considered public records and, as such, it's our job to save the listener a trip to the cop shop and make sure that the tapes get aired. I call b-s. There are mountains of papers made public all the time at city halls and courthouses around the area--do we read those verbatim, just because they're available. It's our job to be editors and filters--to go through that which isn't a part of the story to make sure there's time and attention given to the factors that matter. That's news. Most 9-1-1 audio is the electronic equivelent of hitting the binders at an accident scene, hoping to see something untoward.
That's my list, and I'm sorry it's late. By my estimation, I have 360 days to come up with a new list that I can deliver, fresh and hot like Domino's, come New Year's Day 2009.