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Breaking news, and TV gets it right

Posted Monday, November 12, 2012, at 10:34 AM

As a journalist and a media consumer myself, one of my biggest complaints with television news has always been its liberal interpretation of what qualifies as "breaking news."

Other than an almost fatalist fascination with turning every sprinkle or snow flurry into a "weather event" in order to ballyhoo their "storm team," TV stations' definition of breaking news leaves the most to be desired.

"We have breaking news from the West Side," one of the Indianapolis news readers gushed the other morning.

That "breaking news" amounted to a garage fire, which earned its TV time solely because of flaming video shot from their chopper. Sort of a variation of the old "if it bleeds, it leads" TV news philosophy. Despite the crisp video, that garage fire was "breaking news" that might actually affect you only if you live in that same block.

But Saturday night, I must admit, Indianapolis TV news got it right.

I was about 15 minutes away from making a Saturday night decision whether to go to bed or stay up and hope maybe this would be the week "Saturday Night Live" might be worth watching for once.

Breaking news, however, intervened. And the next thing I knew, it was about 2 a.m. and I was still glued to the local news.

By now, you know the story. An Indy southeastside neighborhood explosion destroyed five homes, damaged 80 others, killing two people and injuring several more.

How it played out on Indianapolis TV Saturday night, beginning about 11:15 p.m., was nothing short of compelling television.

Channel 13, WTHR, had a reporter and camera crew on another story and was quickly able to reroute them to the other side of town.

Channel 8, WISH, was fortunate enough to have a cameraman living in the area. When he heard and felt the blast, he instinctively grabbed his camera and went to work.

Meanwhile, the constant story updates reminded me of staying up half the night to watch Mike Ahern of Channel 8 and then-Indy Mayor BIll Hudnut help Hoosiers get through the Blizzard of 1978. That was local TV news at its finest back in the day.

Reporters at the scene Saturday night did nice work, finding homeowners and neighbors to share their interesting stories on camera. Fear, horror, heroism, uncertainty. Raw emotion showed.

Adding to the endless drama were cellphone video and digital camera shots provided to the TV stations by those in the area -- each one better than the previous one as viewers got an eyeful of tragedy and a true sense of what was playing out in that neighborhood Saturday night.

Sure, some of the on-air callers droned on, and others sounded like they just wanted to hear themselves talk on television or were trapped in a "Frasier" rerun. But for the most part it was quite compelling news coverage. Certainly far better than anything coming out of the recent election.

That assessment is steeped in the notion that I couldn't turn it off. Not even with knowing that no definitive cause would be announced in the pre-dawn hours nor would there be any immediate confirmation about fatalities or the identities of the victims.

It was clearly "breaking news" in the truest sense.

And one heck of a job by our TV news brethren.

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Eric I enjoyed your blog, my wife was the producer at WISH that night, Im sure she will appreciate your nice words.


Eric Twigg

-- Posted by GHS22 on Tue, Nov 27, 2012, at 2:23 PM

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A native of Chicago and a graduate of the University of Missouri, Eric Bernsee has enjoyed residing in Greencastle for more than 25 years. Years of consuming McDonald's iced teas, Dairy Castle flurries and Marvin's GCBs have helped make him the man he is today.
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