There Are Better Ways to Cover Routine News. (Words & Images)

By Saltzman, Joe | USA TODAY, May 2003 | Go to article overview

There Are Better Ways to Cover Routine News. (Words & Images)


Saltzman, Joe, USA TODAY


THERE ONCE MAY HAVE BEEN some logic in having two-dozen reporters or more, many equipped with cameras and microphones, cover a public event such as a trial, a crime scene, a suspected criminal's home, or a police activity. But whatever that logic was, it no longer exists. Having camera crews and reporters stumble over themselves in an attempt to get the same story back to their print or broadcast media just doesn't make sense any more.

Pool coverage, in which one or two reporters and camera crews cover such a public event, makes perfect sense. It saves money and time, and it would get rid of the media circuses that clutter the news media's coverage of simple public events. Resources spent on these criminal cases could be better used to fund improved local coverage of the community.

The print and broadcast news media in a given geographical area could contribute to the expenses of the coverage with a pool of reporters and camera crews from all the media involved. This coverage could even be extended to natural and man-made disasters and augmented, when necessary, by additional pool reporters. One camera covering a car chase with the video made available to all stations or one camera and reporter interviewing the winners and losers as they exit a courtroom would satisfy the individual station's need to cover a specific event. It would get rid of the chaos that occurs when every station and news agency tries to get the same story at the same time.

No one enjoys the spectacle of media descending on an individual--not the individual, not the public officials, not the media, and most certainly not the public, who, in poll and after poll, condemns the practice. Mass media coverage of trials and criminal events creates the worst possible image of the journalist and usually results in public officials and the public itself crying out for restraint, and then asking for laws ordering such restraint. This kind of coverage serves no one, especially the public interest. So why do it?

The media circus has become a staple in every television movie and feature film dealing with public events. It is an embarrassment to anyone working in journalism and the cause for constant apology by journalists everywhere: "This is not what we really do." "Don't judge us on this kind of a story." "The hard work of journalism is not chasing after police or a suspected criminal." Hardly a day goes by when these phrases aren't uttered by journalists to friends, family, and the public.

Is there really any reason for every station's helicopter to cover a car chase, a rescue from a burning building, or a police shoot-out at a local bank? What valid reason can there be for every print and broadcast media pursuing these stories? Sharing the information as well as the video and audio seems like the sanest way of covering these instant news events.

Analysis of the coverage of these kinds of events generally shows that the information given by different faces on various television stations is basically the same material. Reporters covering live events seldom have time to get any special information. They use the information they are given by police and public officials at off-camera briefings or televised press conferences. Each station reports basically the same thing. …

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