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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

A Critique of the Coverage: L.A. Reacts to the Wilson Verdict

This week news traveled in more ways than I could count. It started with a sound. I heard helicopters overhead when I was sitting in my apartment on Monday night. Within seconds, I received an email. It was a USC alert informing me that campus was in lockdown. Next, the news came through word of mouth. I turned to my friend sitting next to me and asked if she knew what was happening. She said she heard that a friend was stuck on the freeway for two hours coming from Santa Monica, because protestors were blocking the freeway in reaction to the grand jury's decision in Ferguson. Then came the "money shot." My boyfriend iMessaged me a video that he took on the Southeast corner of campus. In it, protestors raised their hands in the air as they chanted, "I believe that we will win!" I was shocked! I instantly shared the video (seen below) via Twitter. For the rest of the night, I watched the local news through a digital live stream on my computer. 

To put it simply, news travel is complicated. News coverage should reflect that. I was surprised by the news segment I watched Tuesday night on KTLA from 6 to 7 p.m. Although there were many things I liked, I felt the news producers could have done so much more to improve their reporting of the public outcry after the verdict. First, I will address what went right with their evening newscast. 

Positive Feedback:

  • KTLA did a great job at shaping their back to back 30 minute segments around the Wilson verdict. At the top and end of each news block, they cut to a great helicopter live shot showing the protestors on Figueroa by USC. This was very smart, because they were clearly aware that most Los Angeles residents turning on the news that night were eager to hear the latest developments regarding the protestors in their own neighborhood. 
  • I also really appreciated that the producers provided their viewers with excellent context and reported the news from multiple angles. They started the show with the local angle, about what protestors in Los Angeles were doing, where they were headed and how they were affecting the freeways. I was so impressed by the b-roll they used from the protest in Los Angeles. The best shot was of a man holding up his fist to form the iconic black power symbol. That moment made me feel like I was really watching history in the making.
  • The next segment focused on the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. I loved that Chris Welch, a KTLA reporter, was live in Ferguson, informing viewers about the current number of arrests made and the most active unlawful assemblies. Welch then tossed to his excellent package, in which he provided sound from President Obama and the Governor of Missouri. He gave great background information, including details about Officer Wilson's ongoing civil case. My favorite part was that he ended on what was new as of that night; he reported that police in Ferguson set up concrete barricades "preparing for another night of destruction."
Constructive Criticism:
  • As I hinted at earlier, the thing I disliked about the coverage the most is that it did not engage with a wide variety of reporting techniques to reflect how nuanced this story is. For example, news of the Ferguson decision and reactions in the streets of Los Angeles ignited through social media. It was the first time I realized the power of "citizen journalism," when I saw video and eyewitness accounts on Twitter of people who were caught in the center of the protests. I wish KTLA could have reported the story from the angle of social media by discussing the conversation online and encouraging their viewers to tweet at KTLA to interact with their own reporting.
  • It took 40 minutes for viewers to finally hear sound from protestors! I will admit that once we did hear from people on the streets, the sound bites were phenomenal. For instance, they interviewed an elderly woman who said, "I've been demonstrating for civil rights since the sixties. I didn't think it'd be necessary anymore but Ferguson makes it necessary again. I'm glad I can still do this." This interview was so compelling and should have been used in the 6 p.m. "A block" in their opening segment about the local Los Angeles angle.
Overall, KTLA was very wise in framing their show around the grand jury's decision in Ferguson. They followed the story throughout the broadcast and cut to a live shot of the L.A. protest at least once every 15 minutes. I hope that next time they will get more creative in their coverage and consider incorporating eyewitness accounts and "citizen journalism" into the show, especially for a story that strongly resonates with their audience. 

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