Wednesday November 23rd 2011 was a very interesting online news day.
Not so much for the actual news story – but rather what followed.
The Twittersphere was abuzz earlier in the day after a helicopter crashed at Auckland’s Viaduct Basin while installing a fake Christmas Tree.
Video coverage of the installation work was at the time being webstreamed live by the tvnz.co.nz team.
It’s an event you can never imagine free-to-air television affording live coverage but if they are able to do it online and keep a corporate client happy at the same time… then why not?
So the impact of the accident was that all of a sudden tvnz.co.nz found itself with high currency news footage it could use and pass onto to all its affiliated global news partners.
It’s what happened next on the live web-stream that so interested me and made me realise how inexperienced traditional media is in it’s treatment of the medium.
By the time I tuned in to the live webstream the accident had taken place and I was confronted by a live image of the mangled helicopter and an audio feed from the camera that caught the ambient sounds from the location as well as the incessant ringing of the cameraman’s phone as people attempted to contact him for further information.
Enter one TNVZ reporter Kate Lynch – she arrived at the scene uttered an expletive at what she saw had happened and then got on with the task at hand of setting up for a live cross due to happen in just under ten minutes time (11am).
The poor cameraman was unaware of the pending live cross until she arrived but then that’s the nature of a fluid unfolding event and a newsrooms desire to get the story to air as soon as possible.
Now I’m no media guru, but you would think that the TVNZ folks back at mission control might have nobbled the audio feed on the web-stream at this point – but noooo.
Instead if you were ‘tuned in’ to the webcast you got to watch and listen to the reporter and cameraman set up for the crossover.
It was insightful stuff.
Viewers were treated to the reporter sharing with us how she was taking off her shoes to get comfortable and then listen to her obtain the name of the unfortunate helicopter pilot via cellphone from her newsroom counterparts. The camera audio and then the lapel microphone worn subsequently were very good.
Around 3-5 minutes into the set up the cameraman (bless him) did have the presence of mind to state the webcast was taking place and that the audio was live.
Sadly at that point it was too little too late and the damage was done.
Now don’t get me wrong I think that Kate Lynch is a good reporter for the most part and was just unfortunate to find herself in these circumstances.
What’s of greater interest to me however is the way TVNZ will approach online webcasting in the future.
By all means allow the viewer webstream access to a video feed – even one that includes the setting up for a live free-to-air cross but next time kill the audio!
It just seems so really simple as to have to suggest this.
Asides from the obvious embarrassment the poor reporter felt afterwards at the realisation things were broadcast to viewers that really shouldn’t have been there’s another issue at stake here… and that’s the right to privacy of individuals involved in the story.
What if the pilot had died in the accident and the reporter found herself reporting on a fatality?
Under those circumstances the newsroom phone conversation identifying the pilot and webstreamed to viewers would have surely breached accepted privacy protocols dictating the non release of a deceased name until next of kin etc. had been informed?
When I review the Twitter chatter around this event it’s obvious to me just how important it is that a traditional media broadcaster such as TVNZ actively monitor this sort of distribution channel for feedback about their online content and then proactively adjust their output accordingly if necessary.
If anyone at TVNZ had been paying close attention that day they would have very early on seen the incredulous online chatter pointing to the fact that their reporter was unaware of her perilous webstream circumstances.
I remain optimistic that some lessons will be learnt here.