#8 Doctor declares people dead. Not the newsroom

Steve Kowch blog photoFrom where I sit On The Kowch, there is a great line in the fourth episode of HBO’sThe Newsroom that should be posted in huge letters in all newsrooms, news booths and the studios.

It’s a person. A doctor pronounces her dead. Not the news.

It should be the rule when media is dealing with breaking news and has to decide whether or not to report that someone has died. The quote comes from a senior producer who rejects demands by the president of ACN Network to order anchor Will McAvoy to report that Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is dead because all the other TV networks were reporting she died after being shot in the head during a political rally.

News Night anchor McAvoy listens to the producer and ignores his boss. The message that it’s a person and only a doctor can pronounce someone dead, not a news network is something to live by in a breaking news situation when other news outlets are reporting the unconfirmed death of someone.

While the show is fiction, the story line is true. The congresswoman was declared dead by one news outlet and everyone else jumped on the bandwagon to report she had died from the gun shot to the head. Turns out, she wasn’t dead and today she is making an incredible recovery.

If you’re not in media, you can’t appreciate the pressure that exists during breaking news stories involving famous people when they’re injured in an accident, victims of foul play, illness or just old age. One news outlet reports the person is dead and bosses are shouting why don’t we have the story.

The bigger the name, the more pressure to follow the crowd and declare them dead. Funny how there is never a rush in media to kill off someone who isn’t famous.

From where I sit On The Kowch, it’s better to be last to report someone is dead, than be first and have to bring them back to life on air because you were wrong. Nobody will remember you were last to report someone died. But they will remember FOREVER you made the mistake to be first to report they were dead when they weren’t.

Steve was in charge of programming Canada’s two largest newstalk radio stations for 14 years

You can email Steve at steve@kowchmedia.com

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