Town Square

Ho Lee Fuk? Give KTVU a break

Original post made by Gina Channell-Allen, Danville, on Jul 15, 2013

By now I think everyone in the U.S. and China has heard about the ill-fated Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco and the ill-fated KTVU news report that reported false names of the pilots.

Everyone is asking how such an epic failure could happen. How did the news anchor, Tori Campbell, not know the names were made up?

Being in journalism for more than 25 years, and watching how the Internet has changed the way news is reported, I can see how it would happen. All media organizations are racing to be first with breaking news. I would bet money the reporter who wrote the script got the information - or confirmation of the information from a National Transportation Safety Board summer intern - shortly before the newscast. So, being in a rush, the KTVU reporter failed to check the credentials of the source.

Then, even if the reporter included phonetic spellings of the names, which would have done in a hurry, it was "cold copy," meaning the anchor didn't have time to read the script before the newscast.

And anyone who has ever read from a teleprompter knows it is difficult to focus on how to say what is scrolling rapidly on the screen and comprehend what the words say at the same time. That's why phonetic spellings are often provided.

This is all speculation on my part. I don't know exactly what happened, but I can absolutely see how it happened. In the day and age of "get it out first," the media - print and broadcast is setting the stage for failures to occur.

Let's use this as a reminder to slow down and check our information, whether it's from a person or (especially) a website.

And give Campbell and KTVU a break. We've all made mistakes, just not ones so public - with video that can be replayed over and over (for a majority of us anyway). "There but for the grace of God" go we.


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Posted by Rick Pshaw
a resident of Danville
on Jul 16, 2013 at 8:04 am

The confirming source was the NTSB, but who/where was the originator? KTVU checked with the NTSB, it is true, but where did the original list of names come from? This question has never been addressed or answered.

My guess is that it originated within the KTVU organization. How about a follow-up, KTVU or do you want us to ignore the ORIGIN of your embarrassment?

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Posted by Citizen Paine
a resident of Danville
on Jul 16, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I'm afraid I have to go all-counterpoint on this one.

First, I'll agree that it was unintentional -- an accident. But that doesn't mean it wasn't negligent -- it was. The world is full of incidents that happened because somebody's behavior fell below the standard of "reasonableness." Even if we ignore the blindingly obvious phonetics, it's also true that the actual pilots' names had already been released -- at least two days prior to last Friday! It didn't need confirmation from an unpaid intern, elsewhere -- all it needed was any KTVU staffer with a pulse, paying the slightest bit of attention. And somebody else must've produced the graphic -- again, an easy opportunity to have avoided the gaffe.

Second, if we're looking for first causes, chalk another one up to greed. It's greed that drives the over-reporting, the headlong dash to be first (even when you're not), and the leaving of editorial decisions to un/underpaid staff. If you weaken the structure, without providing any cross-bracing, sooner-or-later it will fail -- sometimes embarrassingly.

That's not to say that it isn't hard to do a good job -- harder than it used to be. But I would resist the conclusion that it's therefore forgivable when the inevitable consequences are suffered. It's a management problem to maintain quality in difficult times. Negligent mismanagement is what happened here.

I think it's also interesting that that this happened on Friday. I used to drive 200 miles early on Monday mornings to go to work, coming home on Friday evenings -- all in the era of CB radios. Mondays were always quiet, but Friday afternoons were full of mischief. The hilarity on the web in this affair was due, in part, to that timing -- the humor, more sophomoric than offensive in my view, was perfect for the impending weekend. If your tastes run in that direction, check-out the sfgate thread on the incident -- it'll have you giggling like a schoolchild. You might want to wait 'til Friday.

But alas, in this era of over-lawyering, Asiana has announced that it will sue the station for defamation. There really is something wrong with that tactic, in the context of a tragedy caused by the airline's pilots flying, well, way too low.

BTW, here's a newsflash: Asiana will be represented by the estimable law firm of Dewey Cheatham & Howe, ably assisted by Dilly, Dally, Doolittle & Stahl, as well as Petty Phogg & Chern.

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Posted by Derek
a resident of Danville
on Jul 18, 2013 at 6:53 pm

The first line on a Faux Nuus employment application asks your IQ. If the number is above 86, better try elsewhere.
So ask yourself a question Gina: How likely is it this could have happened on PBS's News Hour?

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Posted by cardinal
a resident of Diablo
on Jul 25, 2013 at 7:17 am

Update: four producers have been fired over this incident, according to station HR chief Hugo Paknow.