July 17, 2005
First we had 9/11 in New York, and now with the London bombings
7/7, news media code for July7th, the day of the bomb attack
subway system and a double-decker bus.
Beyond the sadness of the events and my silent prayers for
the dead and
injured, what struck me most about this event, as a life-long
media professional and news watcher, was the way the Brits
tragedy. In four simple words, 'They whipped our ass.' Our
ass. They were absolute pros.
Not once during the hours and hours of coverage, on BBC America,
well as other channels where British reporters were the key
tellers, did I hear the word 'exclusive' as in, 'we have an
interview with'..' or 'here with EXCLUSIVE footage'..'. Not
once did I
hear some anchor boast, 'In a story you will only see right
Channel Blah Blah Blah '.'
What I did not see, and did NOT miss, was the truly American
of 'It's MY story!' The British media, thankfully, was not
outdo itself, as we often see done here. Instead, the Brits
the tragedy itself, the wounded, the shocked, the survivors,
an exceptional level of professionalism like we used to see
years ago, in the U.S. on major and tragic stories.
When it became apparent that the first photos from the subway
taken by people using their cell phone cameras, we were shown
photos. PERIOD!! A factual report on the story, nothing else,
fancy or outlandish. The BBC didn't go out in search of cell
experts to deluge us with useless information on the spread
technology into unusual and historic situations like the subway
explosions, and no prognostications that 'this is the wave
future'. The Brits just accepted it, reported it, and remained
on the tragedy. The stiff upper lip never looked better.
Past experience on how we handle events in the U.S. leads
me to imagine
how we have made a big deal of video footage shot by an amateur
fire, a shooting, a police beating, or a plane crash. We end
hearing the entire life history of the video camera owner,
as if we
give a damn and it mattered in the overall scheme of things.
man, or woman, for their film and let's move on.
It wasn't very long after the bombing that CNN had Dr. Sanjay
their resident doctor/reporter, evaluating the types of injuries
victims may have suffered in the bomb attacks. 'Injuries from
debris' we were told were to be expected. Duh! 'Possibly severe
concussions from the force of the blast' the doctor told us
possibility. Darn, I never would have thought about that.
Are we so brain dead in America that we have to reply on
a media doctor
to tell us what happens when a bomb goes 'BOOM'' Did CNN seriously
think we were incapable of imagining or conceiving the terrible
that happen to people when bombs explode in close proximity'
them if they did, and shame on you if you fell for it.
Another area in which the Brits and their media excelled
was that the
reporters didn't interfere with the work of rescue crews,
medical personnel demanding to know, American style, 'what
do we have
here' or 'what are the extent of the patient's injuries''
Instead, the UK media types waited patiently for the timely
with the police and fire commanders and the UK terrorism guru
both the right people to answer questions and very informed,
and informative. Reporters politely identified themselves
asked a question and there was no rude yelling from reporters.
tried to out-yell or out-scoop the other reporters. Civility
No one demanded to know the identity of the victims immediately.
British media, though shocked and possibly as emotionally
shaken as the
rest of the English populace, never lost its professionalism
handled a very difficult and delicate state of affairs with
When one American reporter began pressing the issue of whether
fatalities had been accounted for in the tunnel blast, the
commander very calmly and succinctly told him that there were
bodies in the 'carriages' (the train cars) and that they would
removed when it was safe to enter the tunnel. He also assured
media that anyone found alive in the tunnels had been removed.
British media accepted it and respected the sensitivity of
I have been a reporter/writer/editor/commentator/talk show
many, many years, and I can be as aggressive as they come.
But even I
know that there is a fine line between assertiveness and aggressiveness
that a professional should never cross. It is a lot like the
between humor and stupidity. No reporter's career is ever
showing the ability to be a pushy, rude, careless, and insensitive
British reporters did the obligatory 'man on the street'
spoke with the blood-splattered and bandage-covered victims,
the shaken and woozy survivors tell their stories. I did not
English reporters trying to impress their news directors or
interviewees by serving up complicated, truncated questions
show off the reporter's presumed intelligence.
Instead, we got a lot of natural sound, slow and wide pans
damaged and the undamaged, victims, onlookers, the authorities.
the story unfolding ourselves without the need for a blow-by-blow
description from some voice jockey behind a desk.
I realize all of this may come as a shock or an unwelcome
news directors, assignment editors, producers, photographers
reporters in the good old USA. But you need to understand
reason television news viewership is dropping is because people
sick and tired of too damned much contrived BREAKING NEWS
traffic jams, 'storm watch' every time it rains, street corner
car chases, and the like.
The average person seeking real news is already wise to the
if they read the morning newspaper, the local television stations
picked the stories to cover from the newspaper and by 10 or
it's already old news.
The London train bombings, on the other hand, were REAL breaking
when we awoke and we were riveted to the televisions and radios
we knew it was NOT contrived, and it was not a 'ratings sweeps'
special. It was horrible, it was sad, but it was real, and
of us who were able to compare the British press' outstanding
versus the usual U.S. molasses, it was an important and enjoyable
to watch a very difficult event.
We should all learn from this experience. It will make us
better servants to our audiences.