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Locals beat the cable nets on actual info

July 10, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
The first thing to recognize about reporting is how not to speculate. Know what you can prove, not what you think you know. That’s a vital point now that everyone with a cell phone fancies themselves is a reporter and nobody is an editor. You’ve got a cell phone and it’s got a camera. You don't have training or a degree or experience, most likely, in reporting.

That’s what was so interesting to me about the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport — the actual paid national reporters participating in speculating.

I was taking a break Saturday and was home alone when a friend posted on Facebook that there was a crash at SFO and she was watching it on TV. I immediately flipped on the news channels, grabbed the iPad and started Tweeting. And I was 2,800 miles away. In my living room.

What I could prove was this: I saw a husk of an airplane on fire. I saw pieces of its tail back short of the numbers on the runway. I saw a debris field stretching from there to the burning fuselage. After awhile, I could see a bunch of passenger buses with scores of people waiting to board, quite possibly passengers being taken away from the scene.

And the cable channels droned on and on, telling us useless facts about the Boeing 777 and its reliability record. There was a lot of calling in of aviation experts, most of whom, God bless ’em, didn’t want to speculate about what might have happened, but still, they were on TV, so they had to give a couple of “what ifs.”

I used my eyes and my head. I looked at the pictures and listened for anything that wasn’t speculation, and Tweeted accordingly. The TV folks droned on and on without ever having noted what sure looked like a whole lot of what looked like passengers getting aboard those buses, and that two evacuation chutes were out.

And then it hit me. If I wanted info from the scene, go to the local media, now very possible thanks to iPads and apps and all that good stuff. I tuned in KCBS San Francisco via an app that also lets me hear KDKA on the way to work without static and AM fading. The same app let me listen to WBZ in Boston when the pursuit of the Pressure Cooker Guy was under way.

The reporters in San Francisco were finding that apparently scores of people had survived what looked like a pretty horrific crash. And I was able to Tweet two confirmed dead before 5 p.m.

The 24/7 folks were babbling, literally, filling time around their field of dramatic pictures, the news crawl, the crazy overlays of graphics for every voice-over talker, and they weren’t really noting what was in the pictures some times.

It takes time for a story to develop. At 3:49 p.m., I Tweeted, “Ok...waiting for now till some time passes and we learn more, foxcnnbabble is just filling time and speculating, as always.”

With all the info overload available in the palm of your hand, you have to be a responsible consumer of news. Separate the opinion from the fact, keep the facts and let ‘em talk for themselves. Form opinions later when the hill of facts indicates something happened worthy of the punditry. Don’t just eat the spoon feed of time-filling candy and info junkfood.

It gives me great cause for hope in the future because, despite their ubiquitous presence and their always-on function, the 24/7 folks still cannot do the job the local reporters do. They just fill time and call in the talking heads while the real reporting is done locally. It’s up to you to start noticing the difference.

Or as I Tweeted Saturday, “GOLOCALNEWS!”


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