Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney Houston Shows Why Newsrooms Never Assume Nothing Will Happen Over the Weekend

Meanwhile, a Call for Less Fawning Coverage; Don Lemon, We're Talking to You

While jumping in between the cablers' Whitney Houston coverage last night, it was clear the networks had learned from others' past mistakes. Then again, they made some new ones.
At least their programming dictated that there were live bodies in the newsroom for breaking news, though it's safe to say the crew at MSNBC was skeletal because the net was settling in for its weekly dose of prison reality shows. But they were at least nominally up to the task of covering the ultimate demise of a pop diva turned 40-car pileup.
Nowadays, nobody assumes it's going to be quiet on the weekend. Heads were rolled--or, at least, shuffled when I was working at CBS and there was no one from the TV network who was ready to go on the air late Saturday night on Labor Day weekend in 1997 when Princess Diana was on the losing end of an escape from paparazzi in Paris.
The network eventually had to rush in Vince DeMentri, an anchor from WCBS-TV to fumble his way through reading wire service bulletins until Anthony Mason was rustled up to head up coverage. Meanwhile, at CBS News Radio, where I worked, London bureau chief Adam Raphael and Paris correspondent Elaine Cobbe were riding herd on the story. Raphael was first in the U.S. to confirm that Diana was dead.
So, now every network always has a correspondent in the building at all hours who can go on the air on short notice. And so it was last night.
As the cable nets went balls-to-wall with Whitney well past midnight, they gradually gained their footing after playing the same, tired file tape they had. Gradually, they scared up more while frantic bookers tried to find someone, anyone, with anything relevant to say.
Most of the coverage I saw was fairly even-keeled. A notable exception, however, was CNN's Don Lemon, who was a little too start-struck. That was painfully evident when he was interviewing professional has-been Jermaine Jackson about Whitney/Michael parallells, and Lemon was name-checking any connection he had to the former pop royalty in an effort to establish his bona fides with Jermaine. It was a treacly interaction from a newsman who ought to know better.
Of course, that was then. And after the requisite tribute on the Grammys tonight, the media will inevitably rev into "it's-a-shame-but-not-exactly-a-shocker" mode. In fact, that's already started, as this story on Yahoo indicates.
You just know that this will be the only story on TMZ this week, while Entertainment Tonight, Extra and Access Hollywood have likely commissioned new sad music while they show Whitney montages. The juxtaposition of an erratic addict who could not discard her demons as opposed to the divviest of pop divas with scary talent is a great story. Now the Don Lemons of the world have to be prepared to cover it from all sides.

1 comment:

S.White said...

Who's The Heavyweight On The Celebrity Seesaw?

I saw the Whitney Coverage overtake Cable and Internet from Saturday evening around 8 pm EST or so, which by 11 pm in my pre-comatose state, I'd had enough. In my post-slumber phase the next morning, I was confronted with Whitney Coverage that probably never slowed down at all in the overnight hours.

What I found interesting was not the untimely passing of Whitney Houston, but that the Whitney Coverage only gave the Baby Carter pictures coverage 15 minutes of fame, especially via the Internet! I am glad that the baby pictures were posted by mom and dad to lighten the Don Cornelius Death-President Obama-Contraceptives-Roland Martin-GLAAD coverage load, giving me something nice to look at and happy to think about.