news judgement

Posted on April 30, 2011

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Brian Williams interviewing Red Cross workers in Alabama-screenshot from tonight's broadcast

Brian Williams interviewing Red Cross workers in Alabama-screenshot from tonight's broadcast

Two very different stories dominated the media over the past 48 hours. The first, out of London, was about a joyous fairytale wedding between a prince and his beautiful bride. The other was a somber story out of Alabama about the tragic loss of life as a result of horrific tornadoes. Reporters from all over the world traveled to London to cover the event, even as the death toll in Alabama began to rise. One news anchor left London almost immediately after arriving after deciding with the news president at his organization that his time would be better spent in Alabama. Of course I’m referring to the anchor of the leading nightly news program—NBC’s Brian Williams.    

After watching the nightly news from tonight (4/30/11), I immediately thought of the various discussions I’ve had in my journalism classes about news judgment. NBC made a bold decision tonight—after almost 13 minutes of coverage on the storms, a segment on the royal wedding played. 

Perhaps they were banking on the fact that people would be sick of hearing about the royal buzz, but considering Brian actually turned right back around and flew back makes me think that they were trying to make an ethical choice about which story was more news-worthy as opposed to which was more entertaining.

Although the other two nightly news programs also led with the story, both anchors were discussing the story from London. Brian and the four other reporters covering the story were actually in Alabama and Mississippi, walking through the devastation.

I think this example of excellent news judgment is part of the reason NBC’s Nightly News is the most-watched evening news program.  I like how the last segment by Lee Cowan actually addressed how different the two stories were and the reasons be hind covering both—I thought it was a good way to wrap both stories up.

Viewers definitely took note of the difference in NBC’s coverage. Some commentson the program’s Facebook page from satisfied viewers stuck out to me:

“I’m very happy for Kate & William and wish them the very best, but the tragedy on our homeland take precedence. I am very impressed that NBC thought so too. “

 “Thank you for realizing that what is happening in our country is much more important to cover than the Royal Wedding. You were (and I checked) the only nightly news anchor that cared enough to be here when it matters. Thank you Brian Williams and NBC!”

“The right decision is often the most difficult one to make. Thanks from all of us for making a difficult decision.”

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