Did NBC Nightly News Mislead with Tornado Video?

NBC Nightly News got it wrong when it showed video of one Alabama tornado in a story focused around one’s man’s experience escaping another tornado.


I know I’ll catch some flak for what I’m about to write.

But, as a longtime viewer of NBC Nightly News, I had to point out a slight video flaw that dances dangerously close to an ethical line.

Television is a visual medium.  It conveys emotion even in ways strong still images can’t.

But, sometimes in the effort to find the right video, we can stumble.

I think the NBC producers/editors stumbled tonight in their story about Reginald Epps, the Coaling, Ala. firefighter, whose tale of survival has been told by several other national media outlets.

Here’s the key point:  Epps and his three sons and wife– were caught in an early morning tornado on Wednesday that rolled through Coaling, Ala.   ( I watched on one of the Birmingham TV stations that caught the storm as it blew through downtown Tuscaloosa minutes later)

Unlike the tornado that claimed dozens of lives here in Tuscaloosa that came through late Wednesday afternoon, some have called the most-documented storm ever,  the  pre-dawn tornado that struck  Coaling was NOT caught on tape in Coaling.

In Lester Holt’s piece tonight, the producers used “cover video” of the evening tornado in Tuscaloosa.

Isn’t that a bit misleading?   In his narration, Holt described the Coaling tornado as  the “first of many that day” as they showed Chris England’s famous video of the afternoon tornado.

As a middle school kid wanting to do TV news, I watched Lester Holt  as a local anchor at WCBS-TV Channel 2  in New York City. He’s a class act.   At one time, Holt was known as “the most visible African-American newsman in broadcast television.” But, this video issue spoiled what could have been another one of his great examples of broadcast journalism.

In the haste to tell great stories when we need good video, we as broadcast journalists have to be especially careful that our images are always telling the WHOLE TRUTH.

I had heard Reginald Epps’ story earlier this week on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and read it in the Wall Street Journal. It was also reported on Web site like The Daily Mail.

Nightly News’ story showing Holt at Reginald’s bedside here in Tuscaloosa’s  DCH Medical Center— one African American father to another African American father– was the best of the bunch.  It tied together the morning and afternoon tornadoes and the experiences of those (both doctors and patients) who went through both storms.

It’s a shame that the video editing was a little sloppy.

Am I being nit-picky?   Yes, probably so.

But, I download Nightly News in my iTunes feed almost every night.  Elsewhere, I’ve praised the show’s producers when they’ve gotten it right.

Because of a poor video choice, this story wasn’t one of those times.

Dale Long, Ron Mott Reflect Media Change Worth Watching

The February 23, 2011 story of Dale Long as reported by NBC News’ Ron Mott as part of the second year of THE GRIO 100, represented progress in the effort to diversity both media images and the conveyors/producers of those images.

As a regular viewer of NBC Nightly News’ podcast on iTunes, I wasn’t expecting to see the story of Dale Long,  a Dallas, Texas man who has been mentoring young men for as long as I have been living.

Grio.com Photo of Dale Long, featured as one THE GRIO 100

Tonight, NBC Correspondent Ron Mott told his story in the latest installment of NBC’s multi-platform commitment to telling stories of African American making history NOW, a collaborative effort with the African-American targeted Web site,  The GRIO

You have to see the story of Dale Long and his fraternity brothers in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. who have embarked on an ambitious effort to recruit Big Brothers for 7,000 young men.

As we saw in tonight’s story, A-Phi-A’s Barbershop Mentoring Initiative reaches beyond the men of the black and gold.  In the story, you saw those from other historically black fraternities also stepping up to be mentors.

The idea of mentoring is not unique.  But, the national commitment made by A-Phi-A  along with Big Brothers Big Sisters and other groups such 100 Black Men of America, an organization to which I belong, is rarely depicted in such a positive way on network television news.

The Power of the Storyteller

But, this particular news story was about more than just the initiative that Dale Long was doing.  It was also about the storyteller.

NBC Correspondent Ron Mott Joined NBC News in May of 2005, a few months before he was cast into a major role reporting on Hurricane Katrina

You see, the reporter, Ron Mott, an African American himself, was serving as a role model for other African American men who are watching the news and may believe they too can tell stories like Dale Long’s.

As has been reported elsewhere online, Mott made a name for himself in much of his Post-Hurricane Katrina reporting for the nation’s top news network.

Covering NBC’s Southeast bureau, he followed in the footsteps of Fredericka Whitfield (a fellow Howard alumnus I might, add) who moved over to CNN a decade ago.

Tale of Two Rons

While I’ve never met Ron, his reporting reminds me a lot of another African American male reporter at NBC,  Ron Allen.    Their voices even sound alike.

Lately, you see Ron Allen filing stories from overseas.  Most recently, he was behind the nightly (and morning) coverage of  the unrest in Egypt.  This freeze frame from MSNBC shows one of his updates earlier this month.

My point in mentioning NBC’s two Rons is to highlight the network has shown the role models about which many have been talking for years– as representative of ALL Of America when it comes to those in the audience for many of these news programs.

At NBC, Lester Holt, another African American man would be another example.

But, tonight’s story about the work of one African American man and his historically black fraternity told by another African American man shows the power of both story and storyteller to reflect CHANGE that has been a long time coming at the top levels of  broadcast news industry.

We won’t even mention who might be happen behind the scenes in the effort to diversify our media presentation of reality.

GRIO- NBC effort: Round 2

The fact is– there are a number of African American journalists and my fellow media workers among the 2011 installment of GRIO 100, a cross-platform effort by NBC News, and other on-air networks along with his sister niche Web site, The GRIO (all soon-to-be Comcast subsidiaries).

Mark Luckie, the author The Digital Journalist’s Handbook (a textbook we use in our multimedia classes here at Alabama) is also among them. Luckie (seen at the right) is now on staff at The Washington Post as their innovations editor.

Bill Burton,  the first African-American to hold a senior-level position in the White House’s press office is also featured in GRIO 100.

Like President Obama, Burton is the son of a black father and white mother.

This is the second year that NBC and THEGRIO have done this project.

The 2010 list is still online.   They are fascinating stories worth further study and stand as a shining example of diversity in media portrayals.