Wednesday, October 13, 2010

MSNBC's Lean Backward Miner Rescue Coverage

Compared with CNN's early coverage, from Anderson Cooper to Larry King, MSNBC had everything to grab the breaking news viewers with superior reporters on site, Kerry Sanders and Natalie Morales. Especially with a cranky Larry saying impatiently as a waiting period ensued before the hoisting of the second capsule with pregnant silences among his guests: "They're 'prepping' the capsule; what the hell does that mean?"

Here's the thing: It's a relatively simple repetitive process. It takes about 16 minutes each way for the capsule to make its way down 2,040 feet to the trapped miners and hoist them to safety. One would think the producers are timing this for commercial breaks and canned footage. Unbelievably, however, the personable but apparently scatter-brained Chris Jansing, who assumed coverage from the competent Lawrence O'Donnell, lost track of rescue number 4. As the capsule was making its way down (16 minutes) she kept repeating, "as we wait for the capsule to go down," apparently unaware that it was on its way.

Then, minutes from the capsule reaching the mine below — whose surreal live feed is no doubt one of the most interesting aspects of the coverage (supplanted only by the family reunions above ground) — Jansing cuts away to a commercial and returns with canned coverage of an earlier rescue, completely missing the live feed as miner number 4 is being prepared to be hoisted up in the capsule. Considering this aspect of the operation is the most perilous in terms of what could go wrong, this was an appaling lapse. At least CNN had the relevant live feed, despite the anchor with an Aussie/New Zealand accent.

It's not brain surgery; the producers and anchor can actually time the descent and ascent, and plan their cutaways, interviews, and commercial breaks accordingly. But when the capsule goes down and when it arrives, you really want to be there live.

One gets the sense that when these networks do wall-to-wall coverage of such events, they go into auto-pilot mode, and daytime folks like Jansing start nodding off before they get their Starbucks fix. For example, Chile's first lady was charming in comforting the families as they waited for their loved one to make his way up. But no one picked up on this. The underutilized Sanders and Morales might have some insights, but they were never asked. They get an A for their limited but vivid and enthusiastic reporting; MSNBC gets a C- for its inconsistent coverage. They could have creamed CNN.

Another Jansing gem: In one window one of the rescued miners is talking away describing his experiences in an interview seen silently. it would be nice to have Morales around to translate his words. From his gestures, he sounds interesting and relevant. Instead, Jansing is going blahblahblah with inconsequential and boring fill-in guests. It seems her main attribute is an ability to talk nonstop. Meanwhile, her viewers everywhere lean so far forward they're tipping over into sleep mode.

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