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Some bridge coverage criticism

Posted at 2:46 PM on August 5, 2007 by Bill Wareham (1 Comments)

The feedback on our coverage of the 35W bridge collapse has been overwhelmingly positive, but there have been a handful of criticisms. Since I suspect they don't represent unique opinions, I'll address them here.

1) One e-mailer expressed extreme dissatisfaction with our delay in going to exclusive coverage of the collapse. When this listener tuned in to MPR News he heard our regularly scheduled program The World.

I think this is a fair criticism, but not without some explanation. I'm not sure of the precise time we found out about the collapse, but it was sometime after 6:15 p.m., when I left to go home. I heard Tom Crann mention it a 6:29 p.m., at which time he told listeners to stay tuned for updates before turning things over to Marketplace.

We sent reporters to the site immediately, but we had very little information we could relay to listeners until they got there. Our first eyewitness on the scene was Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer, who just happened to be near the scene. We put her on the air shortly before 7 p.m., kept her on the air as long as we could, but started experiencing cell phone problems. We went back to regular programming and mentioned the collapse and the developing situation in breaks until a little after 7:30 p.m., as I recall, when we went to continuous bridge coverage that lasted until about 11 p.m..

In retrospect, I wish we had gone to continuous coverage earlier, but it caught us at a time when almost all the on-air staff was gone and Tom Crann and the ATC production staff were running solo. While TV stations could run continuous helicopter footage, we needed that space between on-air updates to bring Tom up to speed on what we had, what our plan was, etc. Once Mike Mulcahy walked in the door to help out on-air and reporters started calling in from the scene, we were able to go to continuous coverage.

Still, I understand the e-mailer's frustration. We want the MPR audience to expect the quickest reaction to big news, and while I think we did our best to provide info in a timely fashion, we were all frustrated by the lack of reliable information in those first minutes.

2) Another e-mailer has been frustrated at the inability to hear the questions during all the live news conferences we've been airing the last few days. It's another frustration I understand, but it's not one we can readily fix. These events are not occuring under ideal logistical circumstances; often we've been lucky just to get a crew to the site (there have been at least three regular news conference sites) and establish a connection. We just haven't had the capability to get the questions miked.

This frustration will become moot after today, when we stop airing these news conferences live. We will continue to staff them with reporters and will get the most relevant information on the air and online as soon as we can.

3) An unidentified caller was upset that we identified one or two of the victims by race on Thursday evening just before 6 p.m. This was unfortunate, and against our style guidelines, which call for identifying race only in circumstances when it is directly relevant to a story (for instance, in a story about racial discrimination).

Again, this was regretable, but you should know the circumstances before you pass judgment: We were finishing up an hour-long special report on the collapse when we got information we had been waiting for all day long - identification of some of the dead. It seemed important enough to rush in to Tom Crann, who was handed the unedited release we received from authorities. Tom started reading the information aloud on the air, but when he realized it contained information he should not be reading, he paused, read through the rest of the release and edited out the race information from the remaining victims on the fly. To any listeners who were offended, I apologize.

And folks, please continue to let us know what you like and don't about any of our coverage. We're doing it for you, so it helps to know.

Comments (1)

It saddens me that anyone critiques the coverage of such an agonizing event. Race? Who cares? Information is what is needed, whether relevant or not. To those who feared for their loved ones, I doubt political correctness was on their minds. People, get over yourselves!

Posted by K Gardner | August 5, 2007 4:56 PM