The following was published by Tim Wetmore, Editor-in-Chief of DigitalTV, in their December 2001 issue, exactly as follows:
From the Editor
It is imperative that local broadcasters and national networks work together to serve the public in times of crisis.
[Editor's note: In lieu of my regular editorial, I thought it appropriate to include this insightful letter from a member of the New York City broadcasting community regarding the importance of broadcasters' cooperation in times of crisis.-T.W.]
In times of national import, the television broadcast industry is at its best. Stations with news departments switch to continuous commercial-free news coverage, other stations interrupt their broadcasts with news bulletins. Stations work together to carry emergency press conferences, and reporters rush to bring sounds, images and graphics to an alerted public.
The special issue of Digital TV devoted to the events and aftermath of September 11 should equally be a source of pride to the industry. The coverage was sensitive, diverse, compelling, and a fitting tribute to the heroes. It is definitely a keeper.
A story that Digital TV missed, but is worth acknowledging, involves Manhattan's two cable stations, Time-Warner and RCN. The older Time-Warner had created its own local cable-only station, NY1, which became a definitive source of crucial information for millions of locals. For a period of time, Oxygen gave up its channel slot so that RCN subscribers could also have access to NY1.
I do not know how this deal was brokered or its logistics, but it's a story worth telling. For local disaster events such as this, the industry should be inspired to develop new methods to serve its diverse audiences.
For example, we all know about the news pool, whereby a limited number of reporters are given access and share their information with a larger group. In a disaster that draws in national and international reporters, we need a kind of reverse pool - a way that the many reporters at a vast scene can pass on information to local reporters, information that may be only color to a national or foreign audience, or may require too much background for them to understand, but which may be critical to local residents. This will not be a one-way street, as local reporters can explain context to non-local reporters, if needed.
Another very important and simple thing that local broadcasters can do is direct locals away from national news coverage to local coverage, through the use of temporary or permanent inserts, scrolls or PSAs. A panicked local on September 11 found most of the local stations blank, and may have turned to a nationally-oriented broadcast like CNN or MSNBC or FOX, not NY1. At minimum, the blank stations could be replaced with a pointer to local coverage; at best, every channel would carry this information in some way.
I encourage further creative thinking and sharing of ideas on how local broadcasters and national networks can work together to serve the public in this crisis. We should be inspired by the example of the unity of FEMA workers, the National Guard, local emergency personnel and volunteers from around the country at Ground Zero.
-Barry Drogin, Communications Engineer
New York, NY
Mr. Drogin's personal experiences and reflections on September 11 can be found at www.notnicemusic.com/war.html
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