Air Check with Diana Marszalek

Viewers Help WBIR Do The Right Thing

When Gannett's NBC affliate in Knoxville must make a tough ethical call or simply decide what's appropriate, it uses Facebook to see what its viewers think. “Instead of us all pretending we know what the viewers are thinking, we should ask them,” says News Director Christy Moreno.

When an arguing Knoxville, Tenn., couple accidentally shot their baby last June, WBIR staffers were divided over using a photo of the 6-month-old girl in their coverage.

“We couldn’t come to a consensus on whether it was appropriate to use it on-air, online or at all,” says Christy Moreno, news director at the Gannett-owned NBC affiliate. Seeing the infant’s picture, taken from Facebook, really rattled newsroom parents, who were concerned that viewers would be equally upset. Others believed “the victim needed a face,” Moreno says.

Story continues after the ad

So, using Facebook, Moreno asked viewers for their opinions. Dozens weighed in, with the “overwhelming majority” said it was OK to air a picture of the girl, which is what WBIR did.

“Instead of us all pretending we know what the viewers are thinking, we should ask them,” Moreno says. "To think that we all make the best decisions in the universe without asking [anyone else] is a bit naïve on our part.”

Using social media to help resolve ethical issues – whether to air victims’ photos and names, 911 calls and the like – is a somewhat regular practice at WBIR, Moreno says.  It's particularly useful is making tough journalistic decisions that don’t have any clear right or wrong answer.

On another occasion, WBIR asked whether to air a crash scene showing a car engulfed in flames.  

Brand Connections

Moreno says she knew from past experiences that WBIR viewers are “very sensitive" to accident scenes. “People were very vocal. They told us absolutely do not air it. It would be tasteless.”

Feedback from viewers influences editorial decisions even when it isn't asked for, Moreno says.

Recently, for instance, the station stopped reporting the name of a mother who left her infant in a car, which was subsequently stolen, after an outcry on Facebook, Moreno says. “We were bombarded by viewers, saying leave her alone."

When WBIR staffers make judgment calls – airing 911 calls, for example -- that test the limits of viewers’ comfort zone, the team uses Facebook to spell out the process that went into making such decisions.  “We just like to let them know why,” Moreno says.

Purists, such as Kelly McBride, Poynter’s expert on journalistic ethics, however, don’t like the idea, saying the average TV watcher doesn’t have the skills it takes to resolve journalistic issues.

“Making ethical decisions about journalism is a process,” McBride says. “When you crowd source a decision, you come out with the lowest common denominator. That’s just the math of it.

“I worry that it would eliminate all the other journalistic concerns [newspeople] should be paying attention to – the redeeming issue of the story and the challenges that a community needs to face or the fact that horrible things happen."

“Sometimes the news should upset people,” she says.

McBride says she believes using social media to do things like discuss story angles with viewers is beneficial, but has limitations. “I think you could use social media to encourage debate in a community because that’s part of what journalism is supposed to do in a democracy,” she says. “But if you are just trying to use it as a litmus test for whether we should cover a story, that’s a cheap way to make a decision.”

Moreno, however, says accepting viewer input in no way usurps journalistic standards. It is just one factor in the decision making.

“At the end of the day we certainly know what is completely right and what is completely wrong,” she says. “But if it is something that’s not black and white, I want [viewers] to know that we are listening to them and sensitive to what is going to be on their TV.”

Moreno also says she knows the method is not foolproof.  “Sometimes, [the issues] are just as murky as when we started,” she says. “But at least at that point we can be transparent and show them how we make decisions.”

Moreno regrets not seeking audience input at times it might have helped her out. Orchestrating the coverage of last year’s government raid on the Knoxville headquarters of Flying Pilot J, one of the country’s largest family-owned companies, was one such instance.

Covering that story included reading on-air documents that were packed with curse words, leaving Moreno struggling with “how to put all the expletives on TV.” She decided to replace the actual curses with the word “expletive," but “wasn’t happy with it. It sounded silly.”

"I assumed on their behalf that they wouldn’t like us saying 'the F-word.' In hindsight,  I just should have asked.”


Comments (0) -

Marketshare Blog Playout Blog




Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 29, 2016
  • 1.
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4.
  • 5.
  • 6.
Source: Nielsen


  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

This advertisement will close automatically in  second(s). You will see this ad no more than once a day. Skip ad