So you’re in management at LocalTV’s WTVR-DT (CBS6) in Richmond.
You’re showing the ACC Basketball Tournament. It’s almost a religious experience here in Richmond. It starts at noon.
A major earthquake and tsunami devastates northern Japan, and that tsunami affects U.S. interests in Hawaii and the West Coast. President Obama schedules a press event at 12:30pm.
You announce at noon, via an on-screen crawl, that at 12:30, ACC coverage will shift from digital channel 6.1 (primary) to channel 6.3, and the Obama press event will air on 6.1.
Speculation: WTVR’s switchboard is blown up by a deluge of ACC fans (although anyone who can get the game on channel 6.1 or on cable would also be able to get the game on channel 6.3 or on cable). One would assume that some calls were anti-Obama ranting as well.
So what do you do at 12:30? You dutifully put the Obama presser… on channel 6.3 (and on your website). You keep ACC coverage on 6.1.
To be honest, I think the final decision was the correct one. In our multi-channel age, anyone who really wanted to see the Obama press conference had at least a half-dozen choices. Anyone who wanted to see the ACC tournament had only one choice. And let’s face it, this wasn’t emergency information that Richmonders had to react to immediately.
I think what we saw today was a test-drive of a change in how broadcast television covers breaking news. There is no longer the urgency for broadcast television to break into entertainment programming for all but critically-important and/or locally-specific events. We have CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. We have multi-channel digital television, so breaking news can go on a subchannel.
Please don’t mistake this for callousness. Not everyone wants their escape from reality interrupted by reality. I think the broadcast networks would better serve us by staying with programming, albeit with a crawl indicating that there is breaking news, telling us where to tune to find it. Broadcast TV should only break in if the safety of their local audiences requires it, or if the event impacts the entire nation directly.
Those who want to follow a breaking story will be able to… those who want to avoid the story, or simply not focus on it, should have the ability to do so as well.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to bouncing between CNN and the ACC tournament on WTVR…