Total Pageviews

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Is This Thing On? Yahoo Firing Proves the Perils of Feeding Many Platforms


David Chalian, the Washington bureau chief of Yahoo News, was fired in record time on Wednesday after he was overheard on a hot mic making a remark about Mitt Romney and his wife not caring about the African-American victims of Hurricane Isaac. The comment came during a webcast at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., where Yahoo is partnered with ABC News.

The fact that a journalist for a large digital news enterprise was fired for what is a classic television error is a reminder of how much things have changed. Webcasts have little of the audience of television, but all of the potential pitfalls. As digital enterprises move toward the complicated world of prompters, microphones and live commen tary, it's clear that some eggs are going to get broken in making this particular new media omelet.

It was not that long ago when a journalist had a single route to the ocean. If she or he was a print reporter, they did their reporting, wrote their stories and then went home. But now, instead being issued a hammer to make a story, reporters are handed a whole tool belt of power equipment to get the word out, which is great until it is not.

Reporters, especially in political realms, are supposed to be dervishes of content, writing stories, blogging items, doing updates on Facebook and Twitter, going on cable to serve as a talking head or making their own videos. The campaign bus has been replaced by a rolling, always-on and always hungry media apparatus.

But sometimes reporters fall into the crevices when trying to cross from one platform to the other. Television broadcasters end up in trouble for something they tweeted. A radio person can get the gate for s omething he popped off about on cable television. A print journalist, working in the high wire world of live television, ends up saying something dumb and ill-considered. Or journalists can get so jammed up feeding all manner of platforms that they end up cutting a corner or getting sloppy.

With new media moving into legacy media realms, and so-called old media adopting the tools of the insurgency, the possibility for pratfalls multiply.

Mr. Chalain was dismissed for making what many described as a bad joke during an online broadcast for Yahoo News. Certainly, if you are in the business of live-streaming coverage of events in a way that combines audio and video, it behooves participants to remember that they are working around pipes that head out into the world and you have to know when you are on “air,” or whatever it is called on the Web, and when you are not.

But working journalists have to punch in with the knowledge that someone is always poised, l ike crows on a wire, looking for evidence of bias or error. (Some suggested, on Twitter, of course, that given Mr. Chalain's history of fair-minded reporting and solid work, that Yahoo moved too precipitously.)

Media outlets want their reporters to be everywhere, creating a persistent media identity regardless of platform and developing news muscles as different routes to an audience open up. It's made for a golden age of sorts, a time when audiences have access to voices and thinking they crave on almost any medium they wish. But it makes a once simple task - find the news, report it out, make a story - far more complicated.

When news of his hot-mic miscue mushroomed, Mr. Chalian, a former broadcast editor and producer, took to Twitter and then Facebook to apologize.

Mr. Chalian said something really dumb and tasteless that suggested significant personal bias, so it is no surprise he ended up in trouble. But you get the feeling that the bold new world we operate in played a role in his demise. The answer to “Is this thing on?” is always yes.