Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Protest

A Viewer’s Perspective on the Greenpeace Protest Coverage

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St. Johns Bridge

I watched drama under Portland’s St. John’s bridge unfold yesterday.

At 7 a.m., the CBS Morning News began as usual. But at 7:05, local affiliate KOIN cut in with breaking news about a protest by activists to prevent the Fennica, a ship owned by Shell Oil, from moving northward on the Willamette River. Apparently, as the ship left dry dock around 2 a.m., protestors were already positioning themselves to dangle themselves in front of it. The ship is an icebreaker and has the ability to cap blown out oil wells.  The US Government gave Shell permission to drill in the Arctic only if that capability is on site.  By blocking its passage and preventing the ship from leaving, activists were preventing the drilling.

The protest was clearly illegal, but it was also quite elegant. Thirteen protestors suspended themselves in hammocks from climber’s ropes beneath the deck of the bridge. They hung low in the shipping traffic route of the Willamette. Their intention was to prevent the high masted Fennica from passing by daring the ship to endanger them in an attempt to pass them. As the Fennica approached, the protestors lowered themselves another 50 feet to make it even more difficult for the ship. And, connecting each protestor was an even lower hanging cable that looped from one to the next to the next. Long and colorful red and yellow streamers waved downwind of many of them.  Over the next hour, the Fennica would stop, turn, retreat and advance as authorities tried to figure out what to do.

I soon realized that this was an great chance to see how all of Portland’s TV news teams covered an event with international appeal. So I started switching between all four stations; KGW Channel 8, KPTV Channel 12, KOIN Channel 6 and KATU Channel 2. It was hard to pay attention to all of the nuances of each station’s coverage considering the story was fast developing and had lots of moving parts. But I had some overall impressions.

  • CBS affiliate KOIN’s video feed from the river shoreline was intermittently terrible. Perhaps it was because the microwave signal for the camera operator was in a bad location. Or maybe they were using a technology other than microwave. But the picture was frequently pixelated. However, Ken Boddie in studio, Brent Weisberg on the river, and Elishah Oesch at the street level were professional and comprehensive in their reporting despite technical difficulties. KOIN did get some beautiful shore level video of protestors hanging from the bridge.
  • NBC affiliate KGW relied heavily on their helicopter, as did KATU and KPTV, although I couldn’t tell if KGW had a reporter in theirs. The footage they shot gave excellent perspectives on kayakers, protestors hanging from the bridge and the moving Fennica thanks to anchor Russ Lewis and reporters Stephanie Stricklen and Rachel Rafanelli.
  • ABC affiliate KATU’s Mike Warner was their reporter in the air. His reporting personalized what was happening on the water and made me appreciate that his play by play was just as if not more important than an aerial view with no commentary. I counted four and maybe five KATU staff on this story including reporters Katherine Kisiel, Matt Johnson, and Warner as well as anchors Lincoln Graves and Natalie Marmion.
  • KPTV provided the most long lasting coverage. As each network affiliate left Portland’s local coverage at 8 a.m. PST to rejoin network programming, channel 12 stayed and continued to follow events. Anchors Pete Ferryman and Kim Maus, along with reporters Anthony Congi and Debra Gill worked it for at least another hour.

One takeaway for me was the advantage a helicopter provides to a station’s coverage. For example, both channels 8 and 2 seemed to report on a hang glider dangerously manuvering amongst the suspended protestors from their choppers at least a minute before 6 did. But KOIN had some impressive water level shots of the Fennica. And using its long range lens, the ship looked massive and imposing. Plus, KOIN’s Carly Kennelly seemed to be the only one I saw using ODOT traffic views of the St. John’s bridge.

By afternoon, U.S. Coast Guard and Portland Police had cleared a path for the Fennica ending a nearly 40 hour standoff. Portland’s fire and rescue team rappelled off the bridge and managed to remove three of the 13 protestors who hung over the center of the river channel.

Overall, the coverage by all of the locals was outstanding. And this kind of unique protest is what Portland is known for. Although opponents could argue that the protest was illegal, supporters can also argue that it was both ethical and necessary. If there is a positive, it is that worldwide attention was focused on something other than a mass shooting.  Here, both sides can claim a degree of victory with no injuries or loss of life.

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Written by Interviewer

August 1, 2015 at 03:25

Eyes Wide Shut on the KGW Rally

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KGW Pioneer Square

A Google search as of 4/28 at 4 p.m. reveals eleven results with the search terms “KGW, IATSE, IBEW, SAG AFTRA and rally”.  Of those, one is a blog post from me, two are from NWLaborNews.org and the rest are a collection from Facebook, YouTube, IBEW and a few scattered others.  Even a search of the Oregonian, a non-broadcast medium, shows no coverage of Saturday’s event.  Perhaps the alternative weeklies will have something about the rally when they go to print in a few days.  But it seems no local, major TV or print media have yet produced anything about the event.  A search of those terms at the online archives of KATU, KGW, KOIN and KPTV show no stories about the rally with some search efforts showing no results for IATSE and SAG AFTRA acronyms.

What this tells me is that the public seems to see no story here and so the stations don’t cover it. Media companies in general and TV stations in particular are economic animals.  If the market wants it, they’ll begrudgingly report it even if doing so is against their interests.  But if the market doesn’t show any interest, and especially if that reporting works against owner interests, such a story won’t see the light of day.  And I know some people may think that a story like this one is surely in the public interest and so, stations have an obligation to cover it.  But again, the FCC has designated stations like KGW as the ultimate gatekeepers of the public airwaves and those stations have always determined what “in the public interest” ultimately means.  Because I can find precious little about a rally for employees of a television station, it reminds me how much of an insular racket commercial broadcasting actually can be.

I can imagine that the employees themselves are stunned at the completeness of the blanket media companies have dropped on them and their issue.  That they had to go to the center of the city and essentially scream at the top of their lungs because they knew they wouldn’t get an electronic megaphone speaks volumes to the power of media corporations rather than of media workers.

Thinking about the general public now, I don’t understand how so many people can benefit from unions but not do more to learn more about unions and what they are facing from a business climate that places efficiency and shareholders above all else.  But conversely, I’m sure a lot of those same union workers have 401K plans with Gannett or Clear Channel bundled somewhere in their asset mix.  And the closer they get to retirement, the better they want that portfolio to perform.  What a miserable conundrum.

One thing for sure … what ever happens, we’ll get out of it exactly what we put into it.  Here’s what I put into it.  The story begins at 27:28.

BTW, I tweeted that I’d produced that story to the three unions mentioned in the piece and, separately, to the local TV stations with employees who could be affected by KGW’s union fight.  As of 4/29 at 9 a.m., I have 253 impressions that seem linked to the unions and 25 impressions that seem linked to the the TV stations.

Written by Interviewer

April 29, 2015 at 23:27

The Thin Black Line

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Thin Black Line

Today, I did a story about protestors marching on a library at Portland State University.  They were representing the “Don’t Shoot” PDX movement (PDX is the nickname Portlanders use for themselves in many cases.  PDX is the designation the FAA gives Portland’s international airport).  While capturing natural sound of the protestors, now inside the library, talking about why they were part of the march, one young white student named Ryan Miller said he is marching because he is afraid that eventually, the police will treat him in the same way as some say they have already unjustly treated people of color.

It was one of those moments of pure honesty that people say they seek, yet are still hard to hear.  As a journalist, for me it was pure gold.  And as a storyteller, I assembled the story and sent it off for airing.  But for a moment, I almost slipped into what I consider to be a bad place journalistically.

Listening to Ryan talk about his fears of being targeted by the police, it was clear to me that he was afraid that the privileged status of being white might one day not be enough to protect even him from police abuse.  And that reminded me of the poem, “First They Came” by 20th century pastor Martin Niemoller.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

According to Wikipedia, “Niemöller was an anti-communist and supported Adolf Hitler’s rise to power at first. But when Hitler insisted on the supremacy of the state over religion, Niemöller became disillusioned. His poem, is well-known, frequently quoted, and is a popular model for describing the dangers of political apathy.”  The labels may be different as they apply to Niemoller’s day, but the context seems sadly timeless.

Listening to Ryan, I had the brilliant idea of using Niemoller’s poem in the story.  And I did.  But it suddenly hit me that the poem would be equating the Portland Police to Nazis.  And although there may be many people who feel that way, I realized it is not my job to editorialize.  So I undid what I did and then I sent it for air.

The police often talk about how they represent a thin blue line that officers say is the barrier between ordered society and chaos.  I think it’s also the line cops try to not cross, lest they become the thing they say they are fighting against.  I think in journalism, there is a thin black line, which might symbolically represent the ink.  This side is as credible and balanced as is humanly possible according to the highest and best ethical standards.  And that side is soapboxing, muck-racking, yellow journalism and all of the worst aspects of the quill.  Sometimes, as we’ve seen in the change of fortunes from Dan Rather to Peter Jennings, the self-serving slide from one side to the other can be almost imperceptible.

I don’t like what’s been happening across the country for my own reasons.  But I don’t think it’s my job to turn my stories into weapons.  By contrast, the listeners will hear them, judge me, my story, the events I describe and make their own decisions.  That is how it should be.