Early Coverage of Sunday’s Earthquake

By Doug Drew 

The earthquake that rocked Southern California on Sunday produced quite a challenge for the local stations in San Diego where I live. The quake happened late in the afternoon leaving stations less than two hours to prepare for the early evening newscasts. KGTV did a good job early on, breaking in almost immediately and going with non-stop coverage during their early newscast.

KGTV and another station both interviewed the same person from the fire department over the phone for the latest on damage, injuries and emergency dispatches. KGTV simply put up a graphic and cut back and forth between the graphic and the anchor, but the other station overlaid video over the interview. The problem was that the video we were looking at had nothing to do with what the fire rescue spokesman was talking about.

While he was talking about a hotel being evacuated, we saw water sloshing in a swimming pool. When he was mentioning that an apartment complex had cracks, we saw video of the San Diego Sports Arena. When he was talking about a water line break, the viewers saw pictures of broken glass, and then when he went back to the issue of the hotel and started talking about the elevators, we saw the sloshing pool water again.


Since I had seen KGTV’s earlier newscast, I knew that there were broken windows at the Sports Arena, and the hotel had been evacuated and engineers were going to the facility to check on damage.

But for most viewers, the pictures that were overlaid over the telephone interview on the other station made no sense at all. This is a trouble spot for local news. Too often the control room simply throws up video over an interview.

We all know that what we do best in television news is show pictures. However, sometimes no pictures are better than using poor pictures. How many times have you seen stories about overnight car accidents with video thats mostly black? Its great that your photographer got to the scene, but if all you have is dark video, then you have to ask whether it helps tell the story.

This happens in interviews in non-breaking news situations all the time as well. A guest is being interviewed, and a producer or director in the control rooms feels compelled to cover the interview with lame wallpaper video. Often it’s a distraction. If the interview is with an expert on teenage sex, what’s the point of covering up the interview with shots of teens holding hands, kissing, or even worse, blurred video so as not to show their faces. Or a story about obesity is often covered up by generic video of overweight people walking down the street. This is usually file tape, and often the specific shots have no relevance to what the person is talking about. Again, for the viewer it’s more of a distraction than a positive.

If the video doesn’t match what’s being talked about, it throws the viewer off. Result: confusion. End result? The viewer doesn’t find it interesting and wanders away, switches the channel or just turns off the television. When using pictures, write a script that matches what the viewer is seeing, otherwise, maybe no video is the best option.

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications. He can be reached at ddrew@602communications.com