Written by Kym Geddes, International Representative, RTDNA Canada Despite the development of Periscope and Facebook Live, electronic journalists still have superior ability and opportunity to provide viewers and listeners with vital news information instantly. Journalists have a special responsibility in such situations to be accurate and to be measured in the tone of their coverage.
Written by Kym Geddes, International Representative, RTDNA Canada
Despite the development of Periscope and Facebook Live, electronic journalists still have superior ability and opportunity to provide viewers and listeners with vital news information instantly. Journalists have a special responsibility in such situations to be accurate and to be measured in the tone of their coverage. A good guideline in such situations is to overreact in the newsroom and under-react on the air or online.
Going live has always presented dangers for reporters, but in the wake of some deadly and disturbing high-profile cases, newsrooms have had to revise policies to help keep staff safe in the field. The WDBJ case, in which a reporter and a photojournalist were shot to death during a live report, is evidence of that. The return of the “F Her Right in the P” vulgar prank on reporters doing live standups is another.
So what measures should be considered in the wake of these two examples? Questions to ask before going live:
- Are there extra resources to send out with your live team to provide additional security — at least in situations recognized as unusually risky?
- Should you make law enforcement aware your staff is working in the field and where?
- Is there a better, safer way to tell the story? Is it essential for a reporter to do a live standup in the middle of an alcohol-fueled, rowdy crowd, or can it be done somewhere else and still provide the visual context and content needed?
- What alternatives to the traditional live shot should be considered in light of safety concerns? Going “live” from a disaster zone, shooting scene, protest or rally can also present unique challenges. The information is often unvetted, out of context, unconfirmed and changing constantly. So what do you do to provide an accurate picture of what’s happening?
- It’s essential for news managers — ideally, news directors — to be hands on in these situations and walk a team through the story as it unfolds. Guiding live reporters and photographers regarding tone, use of language, and choice of visuals and/or audio helps to ensure the information is accurate and to minimize
- Some “eyewitness” accounts require respectful and thoughtful skepticism. Asking good questions can help separate legitimate sources from those who just want to get on the air or hope to advance a particular political perspective. Such questions include:
Can you show me exactly where you were when you saw this?
What initially drew your attention to the incident?
What else were you able to see/hear/observe?
Reporters should “pre-interview” as much as possible before going live.
A special note about law enforcement in live reporting:
- During breaking news events such as protests, riots and rallies, police sometimes impede journalists’ access to the story, sometimes resorting to the use of force and arrest. Reporters and photojournalists need to know their rights and their responsibilities. News managers need to set clear expectations and establish practical protocols for field crews before such incidents occur.