Oh, you have got to be kidding me.
The producer of the newscast in question was an interesting person to watch on Twitter…
Obviously, the names didn’t come from the NTSB. Here’s what almost certainly happened: some clever producer or graphics op thought they’d be cute and slipped in what they thought would be funny placeholders. Which is funny for about ten seconds on a slow news day. And then breaking news happens and all hell breaks loose and the funny placeholder graphic gets forgotten.
Until it’s on the air being read by someone who will almost certainly bear the brunt of the blame for it, because they’re the talking head who just said “Sum Ting Wong” and “Wi Tu Lo” on everybody’s screen. (And let’s not forget, this station is in San Francisco, an area with a significant Asian population.)
I know, better than most, that a news operation is a pressure cooker that demands some outlet for letting off steam. This is why you still see epic, all-hands smoke breaks taking place at TV stations, even though we’ve had I don’t know how many Surgeons General warn everyone of the dangers.
When I was a promo producer, I was still the goofball that I am now, but I was still a terribly serious little pain in the ass when it came to what wound up on the air. After all, as it was drilled into our heads, promos have a greater chance of getting a station sued than a news story, simply because the story runs once and the promo runs a bunch of times up until the story to get people to watch the story.
Now that we have folks who can drop stuff from DVR onto Youtube, and Twitter, I’m not so sure that rule really applies anymore. Everything is out there forever. Few things exist in isolation, witnessed by only a few. Everything eventually makes it out there.
Particularly if you screw it up on the epic scale that KTVU did.
Of course, people everywhere who have never set foot in a TV station are calling for heads to roll. Who do you fire? The producer or graphics operator who slipped this in the rundown and forgot about it? The director who didn’t catch it at any point from marking the rundown all the way up to the graphic sitting in a preview monitor just before hitting air? The anchor who didn’t even so much as glance over the scripts before the show started? The department heads who hired most of the above? I’m not saying that the answer is to blame nobody… but the answer isn’t as clear cut as “fire the one bad person who made this bad thing happen,” when there was clearly a culture of complacency that allowed it to slip through all of these people’s fingers.
Sometimes you can hit the undo button on the damage, as in this local example of a station employee who posted something on Facebook, forgetting that they were logged into an official station Facebook account instead of their personal account:
…which, you know, let me tell you: if that was said in the newsroom, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Typical gallows humor. I myself am guilty of rejoicing when real news happens so we don’t have to lead with ear candling. But put it in front of the public – and from an “official” station Facebook outlet – and you have a PR disaster waiting to happen. (The above post was pulled in mere minutes; I made a lot of noise about it until it was.)
Everyone screws up. And it used to be that the news media were the arbiters of the biggest screw-ups, because they held the keys to what got reported. But in the social media age… the news media are as likely to be the story as they are to tell the story.
And the whole industry, which deals with “bubbleheaded blonde news anchor” stereotypes that news anchors find as tiring and offensive as I’m sure some Asians find “Sum Ting Wong”, gets tarred with the same brush. To this day, even though it has been nearly exactly two years since I worked in the television industry, I still call phone calls from relatives about various local stations’ news screw-ups. Sometimes it involves stations I’ve never even worked for, or people I’ve never worked with. I patiently roll my eyes and wonder if the minor detail has somehow been missed that I haven’t seen a pay stub from my former employer, or any other TV station, since 2011. The conversation usually ends with “What do you think of that shit?”
My answer then, as now, is: “Well, somebody got stupidly sloppy. They’ll probably hear about it.”
Let’s be careful out there.