Posts from October 2002

News is what happened, not

News is what happened, not what happens
: So today we had an object lesson in the difficulties of live news.

I wasn’t brave enough to predict this publicly as it happened, but be honest: We all knew that the white van at the gas-station phone had bupkus to do with the sniper.

If you were a city editor at a paper, you wouldn’t have hesitated: You’d send lots of reporters and photographers and that’d be OK because by the time you were ready to publish, you’d know whether the story had merit — and the world wouldn’t be watching your reporting.

But on cable news, the world watches. The world can’t help but watch. It’s a great show. So the nonstories become stories because it’s all live and there’s no time to find out what we know and don’t know … and it leads a few blogs to jump to conclusions (see below).

Beware: News isn’t about being a pundit. News is about being a factfinder.

Bali memorial: Thomas Nephew sends

Bali memorial
: Thomas Nephew sends word of a memorial to the victims of terrorism in Bali; details here.

Misinformation: Metafilter jumped on the

Misinformation
: Metafilter jumped on the same white-van story this morning under the headline, “Sniper Suspect Arrested in Richmond, VA.”

But nobody said that. A van was hauled away. A man was taken into custody. Nobody said a sniper suspect was arrested.

A pro would know how to handle this; it’s just a trick of the trade. But those tricks do have value.

: Meanwhile, Wired reports on blog reporting on the sniper, quoting MIA blogger Ken Layne.

Card-carrying: TV reports that the

Card-carrying
: TV reports that the white van hauled away by police proudly displays a National Rifle Association bumper sticker on the back.

How perfect.

Is it live or is

Is it live or is it cable news?
: I’m watching all the news channels cover the arrest of a driver in a white van at a gas station in Virginia getting on the phone. Now I’m watching the helicopter chase the flatbed truck carrying the van away, OJlike.

As has been the case throughout this story, the cable news networks quickly run out of footage to show, so they keep repeating the same scenes over and over (here’s the van; here’s the van getting on the truck; here’s the truck driving away…).

The problem is, you don’t know whether you’re watching a live scene or tape. They should say.

It’s about credibility.