Monday, January 28, 2008

We're not in Utah anymore Molly

President Gordon B. Hinckley

I've had the most surreal morning. I had a feeling this day would come during my tenure at Fox 5, and today it came. President Gordon B. Hinckley died. I always wondered what this day would be like from a Washington DC news standpoint; and having just experienced it, I have to say I feel like I'm shocked... stumped... and maybe a little sheepish.

I received the news last night via a phone call from my Mom. Of course she was watching my old station, KSL, who broke in to regular programming, brought in the religion experts (Carole Mikita and Duanne Cardall) to reminisce and dedicated no less than three (maybe four?) other reporters to the "breaking news" story. Half of the 10pm news was then spent on President Hinckley's life, death, community reaction and explaining how the Church will name his successor. After the 10pm news, came a full-fledge documentary KSL has had "in the can" for years. If I know KSL, I trust they will be all over this story for the next two weeks. It's HUGE news in Utah. If I was still at KSL, I would have just finished one of my busiest nights/shows yet.

Instead, I'm in Washington DC, where I still think it's BIG news. The greater DC area is home to 50, 000 Church members, a prominently-placed LDS temple and viewers who care about national and world events. But apparently the death of the beloved leader of the fastest growing church in the world only merits a :20 second mention. And it didn't even earn that last night.

When I learned the news, I immediately called our assignment desk to alert them. I told them to watch the wires where it would surely be breaking soon. I spoke to a writer and even emailed him information so he could write a quick "breaking news" or "this just in" blurb for our 10pm newscast. Instead of the gratitude I was expecting for giving them "the scoop," I was met with phrases like "who" and "never heard of him." I backed off. No one wants to be the producer who cries breaking news. I figured the 10pm producer would at least put something on the air once she saw it cross the wires, but she didn't. Oh well, I figured. That means my show can be the first to report it!

I really tried to not let my personal bias and interested in the story influence my show today. I vowed to put my church membership aside, and here's what I came up with: Nothing of substance happened overnight that as a news producer, not a Church member, I felt trumped President Hinckley's death. The other major story out there is the State of the Union, which, while big, is just a preview at 5:00am. I made the decision to lead with President Hinckley's death off the top of my show. I branded it "new this morning," spent 25 seconds on the story and moved on. Then at 5:30 (in morning TV you pretty much have a brand new audience every 15 minutes) I led with local stories, covered the State of the Union and latest election news and then aired a nearly three minute obituary package on President Hinckley's life and legacy. This is about double the length of a normal news package, although only slightly longer than your average obituary package. I went back and forth about whether it was "too much." But seeing no worthier stories and feeling validated in the fact that his death remained the top story on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC websites all night, I justified it. My manager questioned it. He asked if a package that long was "worth" it. I argued my points and he told me to go forth with my plan. So my viewers got a whopping 3:20 minute total look at the news story that will trump all else, in all shows, all day at KSL.

Over the next three hours of our morning show, we repeated a :20 second mention twice. The 7am (most important show) didn't even do the story. Granted we had a lot going on in the 7am today (like a mentoring phonebank that chewed up multiple minutes in multiple places) so time was precious. But not even a mention?

When my co-workers asked me how "big of a deal" this was I tried to keep perspective. I told them it's the equivalent of the Pope dying for Mormons. (By the way, the Pope is coming to DC in April and we already have major team coverage plans and all employees have been told they CANNOT take time off work that week. Too bad I'll be on maternity leave...) ((Double by the way, my biggest battle... which I chose to pick, eliminating the word "Mormon" from all newscasts today! Something about the correct term "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" is just too long in this snappy news world!)) My colleagues validated it was news and agreed it must be reported... but only for :20 seconds.

Maybe they know best. I was SHOCKED to watch the first 30 minutes of the Today Show to find NOT EVEN A MENTION! Not even in their quick "other news of the day" segment. Wow. But what did they waste two and a half minutes on? HEATH LEDGER'S DEATH AND "POSSIBLE" DRUG PROBLEM. Really, are we still talking about this? Old news people! We've beat that one to death (no pun intended). And for the record, we don't even know if there WAS a drug problem. And while I'm at it, if someone brings up the pointless Mary Kate Olsen connection one more time, I'm going to boycott all Full House re-runs forever! Anyway... the Today Show really let me down! I didn't expect wall-to-wall coverage or the story to beat State of the Union or the Kennedys endorsement of Barack Obama as the lead, but could you make a mention? 20 seconds. Come on! It's NEWS!

More than anything I guess I'm feeling really insecure now of my own news judgment. Of course this is a big deal to me. But I really thought it would be a bigger deal to America. Isn't it? Don't people care? Of course, my blog readers are 95% LDS so YOU care. I must solicit the opinion of Logical Libby (not LDS and KSL producer extraordinaire). Throw me a bone, girl! Have a lost it?

**Shout out to Marie (LDS and former KSL producer extraordinaire) who was quick to validate the hugeness of the story over g-chat at 2:00AM! Missing the good old days, girl!**


Crystal and Jake said...

I would love to see the package put together for your morning show- can you link it to your blog. Of course I live in Utah, where there is non stop coverage. In fact- the entire hour of "Good Things Utah" was a tribute. I was also suprised that the Today's show didn't mention it, at least not the last hour that I watched.

JessK said...

Thanks for devoting 3:20 to the prophet. I, too, was shocked that none of the morning shows had it, though our local news gave it 10 seconds at noon. I'm hoping it at least makes the evening national broadcasts.

Ryan and Cheryl Harris said...

I hope you're printing all these out and making them into a journal...this would be a fun thing for you grandkids to read.

The Petrini Post said...

I agree...people out here don't seem to care that much...but I guess I didn't care much when the last pope died or a new pope was named either....but boy, did the news cover those stories for weeks.

Marie Davies said...

I miss the old days too. As I watched the coverage I thought about how we would have planned and executed such a fabulous tribute-- and think of all the broll/bites/heartfelt taylor pre-pro we would have had at our fingertips. Everyone tuned in from 5-7 would have been a little teary-eyed, and grateful for such a wonderful leader! BUT that said, I'm so so glad you're in D.C.-- holding your own with the top of the top-- and sharing IMPORTANT [and I mean that as a producer, not as an LDS member] news stories with a much bigger part of the world-- news that actually makes a difference in people's lives. Anyone who saw your coverage had a brighter day, and perhaps some were inspired to become better, kinder, and more reflective after seeing a person who influenced so much good pass on.

Nicole said...

Agreed! I turned on all the national stations thinking they'd for sure say something about it. I too was disappointed with the Today Show. I'm glad you did what you did.

Miss you!


Kellie said...

You know I have to agree big time. I watch Good Morning America and they didn't even mention it all... spend a segment on the next fad diet!!! Please!!! I'm glad that you were able to aire it on your show. Fives to you!

jaredandmatisse said...

This is Jared. I agree with you for many reasons. I work in a building in downtown Hartford and the Captivate Network does the news in our elevators. When I arrived at the office on the Monday morning after the prophet’s death, there was a spot on their network about President Hinckley’s death. Then when I arrived at my desk I went to and it wasn’t the main story, but one of the links near the top of the links on the front page said, “Mormon prophet passes away” or something like that. So other networks did notice the following morning and that should justify your actions to air it.

Plus, Mitt Romney is Mormon. I would want to know if something major happened to the world leader of Barack Obama’s church. (Assuming his church has a world leader). I would guess that death constitutes something major.

As for your coworkers that didn’t know who he was. Maybe they should know about someone who has been personally invited to the White House multiple times. After 9/11, President Hinckley, along with other church leaders, received a personal invitation to go to the White House to speak to President Bush. Then in 2004, he was invited to the White House again to receive the Medal of Freedom, our Nation’s highest medal for civilians. President Bush even sent a personal message to be read at President Hinckley’s funeral.

I would say that all this, along with the more than $600 million in humanitarian aid sent to mormons and non-mormons all around the world under President Hinckley’s watch, merits 3:20 on your news station.

You are AWESOME and Matisse and I are proud of you for standing up for what you believe to be your responsibility.

We love all three of you (Wendy, Harley, and little one) and wish you the best in all you do.

jaredandmatisse said...

This is Jared again. I just found out that according to the 2005 Statistical Yearbook of the Catholic Church (source: wikipedia) that they have more than 1.1 billion members worldwide (86 times our 13 million). That number is incredibly large. However, I still stand behind my earlier post and I bet that the Pope gets way more than 86 times the coverage.

Wendy King said...

Crystal -- I'd post the package, if our web people had found it worthy to put on our site... but they didn't!

Jared -- great stats, you actuary, you!

Libby -- thanks for devoting an entire entry back to me! Anyone who is interested can read it here: Just please ignore the first line where she calls me fat.

pickaplicka said...

I was really interested in what you had to say in this post, and I agree with you. I had the same thoughts and kept checking news online to see what would be posted--and I found little outside of Utah news media. I would think that the fastest growing church, and the Romney thing, would merit more attention. I think you were professional in your actions and made good judgment calls. Just think, there were probably many LDS viewers who watched your early show and thought, "Good. That's what I would expect and hope for." and then went on with their day not knowing everything that you went through, and the continuing thoughts you had about it all.

felipethedragon said...

I've lived in Maryland too long... I totally agree with you but I wasn't surprised that there wasn't much coverage. I read the Washington Post Express on the way to work and at least they had a small article on President Hinkley's death a couple of pages in.

Can you get me a copy of the package you put together? I'd like to see it!

(And by the way... see I do read your blog... not just Harley's.)