Get it right. Get it on. Those are the top two goals of the breaking news desk. They also conflict more times than we’d like.
My nominee for Most Nerve Wracking type of Breaking News Story is most certainly The Verdict. Sure, it would be easy if every court case was a simple guilty/not guilty, but for the cases we report on, that’s almost never true. The Enron case comes to mind, in which we were keeping track of 34 counts against Jeff Skilling and Kenneth Lay, reporting them live on the air as we heard them, trying like heck to draw up accurate dekos (chyrons) that matched the facts.
[Editor's note: dekos, a.k.a., chyrons = caption/info boxes, often at bottom of TV screen.]
Granted, the "Scooter" Libby CIA leak case isn’t as business-oriented as was Enron, nor did it have nearly as many counts (five), but it was of sufficient interest that we decided to put it on as breaking news.
Of all the facts you don’t want to get wrong, you certainly don’t want to confuse guilty with not guilty. Yet -- it almost happened, thanks to our ability to look at our central computer file WHILE it was being written by a reporter, but not necessarily finished.
A “not guilty” and a “guilty” were initially interchanged between two of the counts -- and since I was looking at the file before it was technically finished, I drew up dekos that contained that reversal. They were done, and ready to go on the air. Or so I thought.
Thankfully, I saw the error get fixed in time to lean into the control room intercom and scream “DON’T PUT THOSE ON!!”. I corrected our chyrons and they aired within seconds, while paramedics worked to revive me.
OK, that last part didn’t really happen, but I have to say I was breathing pretty hard for a minute or two.
We are all set for tomorrow’s biggest breaking story -- if there’s a winner in the $370 million dollar Mega Millions drawing.
If this space is blank tomorrow, you’ll know why.