News Outlets Thrive With Online Coverage of Shooting


April 19, 2007 — -- In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, TV network Web sites provided a bevy of information, much of it created by their online staffs.

The big three networks were generally late in coming to the online game, but several media analysts said that the shooting coverage has been a sort of coming of age for their sites.

Graeme Newell, a broadcast and digital-media consultant in North Carolina, said what this story shows the public and the business world is "how far the networks have come in their online presentation."

"It's been so great to go to a lot of the Web sites now and to be able to see how these guys are breaking the story out into so many incredibly different angles," he said.

Julio Rumbaut, a media consultant based in Miami, said that the sites are gaining users due to general migration.

"Certainly events like these, which can be viewed and analyzed by users at their convenience, portends well for the increased future use of network Web sites," he said.

Joseph Jaffe, president of Crayon, a new marketing consulting company, added, "Truth is that people don't want to tune in to regurgitations of things they already know in the hope of finding out the one nugget or insight they're searching for.

"The networks' Web sites offer a smorgasbord of information -- in multiple media formats -- and allow the consumer to self-select, quickly and efficiently," he said.

"I also think blogs are playing a major role in this transformation through linking or tracking back to the 'hub' or source of the information," said Jaffe, who has his own blog.

One of the most shocking -- and talked about -- bits of news came Wednesday when NBC News received a video from shooter Seung-hui Cho.

The video was aired by the network and shared with media around the world, but also quickly found a home on the Web.

NBC News issued a statement about its use of the video, saying the same decision "was reached by virtually every news organization in the world, as evidenced by coverage on television, on Web sites and in newspapers."

"We have covered this story -- and our unique role in it -- with extreme sensitivity, underscored by our devoted efforts to remember and honor the victims and heroes of this tragic incident. We are committed to nothing less," NBC said.

ABC News said in its own statement that it plans "to severely limit the use of the video. Obviously in the first news cycle there's some breaking news value to that video. But once that first news cycle has passed, the repetition of it is little more than pornography."

NBC's decision to air some of the video and pictures sent by Cho drew a lot of criticism but is highly unlikely to have an impact on its bottom line, according to media experts.

For the most part, they said, advertisers won't abandon the network, especially considering most major new outlets, including ABC News, chose to air the same footage.

"I think this is an issue that transcends any business decision," said Tom Wolzien, who runs his own media consulting business. "Over time, I don't think it helps or hurts" NBC News.

He said it was not like the network broke a big story by doing its own investigative piece.

"Some days you happen on these things. Some days you don't. It just goes with the territory," Wolzien said.

Controversial issues and footage is nothing new.

Over the years, TV networks have had to deal with the Columbine shooting, the beating of Rodney King, the O.J. Simpson trial and the assassination of President Kennedy.

Rumbaut said NBC aired the footage in an effort to explain the mental state of the alleged killer as background to the story after the fact.

"It was also aired by most of the major networks immediately," Rumbaut noted. "This kind of airing should have no impact on advertisers. In fact, clients should see the recognition of NBC's strong banding in their news."

Rumbaut mentioned that the killer addressed the package to 30 Rockefeller Avenue, instead of the correct address, 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

"I find it interesting that he was able to identify an address with NBC News, even if it was the wrong address," he said. That mistake shows that "rather than having looked it up in the phone book, he seemed to be operating from the location branding which NBC does for its headquarters."

So does the killer's choice of NBC signify a level of importance for the network?

"He probably picked the name out of a hat," said Jaffe, the new marketing consultant. "I certainly wouldn't go ahead trust this guy's selection process in terms of which is the network du jour in terms in integrity or in trust and influence."

NBC shared part of the video with most major news outlet around the world.

"To do the degree that they did share it, that is a pivotal component," Jaffe said. NBC would have faced criticism "if they had horded it and kept it to themselves and really milked the excusive footage."

Jaffe added he doubted advertisers would bail out on this issue. Besides, he said, advertisers have gained too much influence.

"Since when did Madison Avenue become the arbiters of ethics and morality, when advertising per se has been exaggerating and misleading and lying for decades upon decades?" Jaffe said. "It seems to me almost bizarre and twisted that Madison Avenue should get to have Don Imus' fate when he had been spewing similar type of drivel for countless years."

Jaffe, however, is concerned over how The New York Times is marketing its coverage.

If somebody does a Google search on "Virginia Tech shooting" one of the paid ads they get is from the newspaper directing people to a special section on its Web site for "the latest news and updates" on the shooting.

"I just find that to be sickening," Jaffe said. "In times of such tragedy, maybe it's time that capitalism takes a back seat. … I just find that a little too opportunistic for my liking."

Diane McNulty, executive director of community affairs and media relations for The New York Times said in an e-mail to ABC News that this is routine practice of the newspaper.

"On a regular basis we buy thousands of key words related to important news events and topics," McNulty said. "In this way, we can demonstrate to people who do not regularly come to the breadth and depth of our coverage."

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