What appears to be the cataclysmic failure of checks and balances at KTVU today should give everyone working in a similar operation reason for pause.
I've never been inside KTVU and I don't know anyone who works there. I can't say I know how that report got on television, and I'm not going to sit here in judgement of a TV station I know very little about.
What it does do is vividly illustrate a real world example of what can happen when there is a lack of focus and/or discipline in any facet of a news organization. It prompted me to reflect tonight on some best practices I have tried to instill in my own news teams over the years.
1) Never build a graphic you wouldn't want to see on the air. Photoshop is cool and the art department is so talented and its all on fun... no, no, no. While you may think the likelihood of a gag graphic getting to air is next to impossible, the computer engines that drive newsroom graphics systems are far from perfect. Making things even more complicated are ambiguous are naming conventions that make getting the right graphics to air challenging enough.
2) Nearly every viewer has a DVR and a Facebook account. In a world of DVRs and Social Media, the smallest mistake is likely to make it to the web. Within 30 minutes of KTVU's "incident" today, the video went viral. The genie was out of the bottle and it was not going back in.
We are living in an unforgiving age where everything is recorded by almost everyone. To further prove that point, compare how easy it is find video of Sue Simmons dropping the F-Bomb on Live live TV in 2008 as opposed to finding video Warner Wolf's teeth falling out on live television 10 years earlier.
3) Being Second and a Right is still better than Being First and Wrong. Aside from KTVU, KPIX is the only other English-language station in the bay area with a Noon newscast on. Was the rush to beat them worth the credibility crisis KTVU is facing right now? Yes, I sit at home and watch simultaneous newscasts and several TVs but I've never met anyone outside of the news business who does the same.
While there does linger some promotional value in being first, it's never worth the gamble if there is ever any degree of uncertainty.
4) Rundown Slug Lines Should Always Maintain Professionalism & Accuracy. Don't forget your rundowns are fair game if litigation comes in to play. Don't think that a cutesy slug line such as "Dirty Doctor" or "Pervert Arrested" won't come back to haunt you. These both illustrate the perception of a foregone conclusion on the part of the news staff, producer or management for someone who may be presumed to be or actually is innocent of the allegations they are facing.
5) Report, Don't Rip & Read. I had a news director once who was very critical of anyone pitching stories from press releases. We're not "hand out specialists," we're journalists and as such should approach every nugget of information we harvest with a healthy dose of skepticism. Remembering that nearly everyone has an agenda they're trying to push and that not everything printed in media alerts is always going to be true serves as a great starting point.