Saturday, August 31, 2002

The Non-Jumper Non-Story

On Friday, a man pulled over by police managed to steal an unmarked police car and lead police on a high-speed chase around the city. It stopped on the I-40 Bridge, literally, as he left the car and climbed down onto a bridge piling. He threatened to jump, leading police to send in a negotiator who succeeded in getting the man in custody about six hours later.

The local television coverage was bizarre. Two stations went to "live around the clock" reporting -- Channels Three (CBS) and Twenty-Four/Thirty (ABC/Independent). The others stayed with regular programming, even "all crime all the time" Channel Five (NBC), which was broadcasting a football game. Yeah, nothing interrupts sports.

Sadly, this was the wrong kind of story to go "all live" with. It was basically two guys standing around talking. That's what suicide negotiation is! The negotiator has to establish calm and rapport then get the jumper to start talking until he is led to a realization that he should get help. It's inherently anti-dramatic to just watch. But that didn't stop Three and Twenty-Four. And with all that quiet time to fill, the anchors and reporters blathered on, and on, and on, and on....

Even worse, Channel 24 kept reminding viewers every five minutes that they would cut away if the man should actually take the jump. It had the tone of "He's gonna jump any minute; keep watching."

This was a nadir for local news.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy

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