ORLANDO, Fla. – In today’s conspiracy theory-fevered world, context is important.
So let us be clear: mistakes were made.
But without a proper search for the context of those mistakes, one does not have clarity. Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake, and it’s important to own up to it.
But if you are a news organization, pointing out a mistake should never come without asking about the circumstances surrounding the mistake – the context.
It’s why we are supposed to fact-check stories.
A recent mistake on a News 6 broadcast led to a viral tweet, which led to an article on a major website.
The tweet was made without context by a podcaster, meant to support someone’s own worldview. The Chron.com article and its writer, however, did nothing but merely promote the tweet, and the implied conspiracy behind it.
Consumers of news media should expect better.
“They’re giving oxygen to a conspiracy theory. We made an honest mistake,” said News 6 news director Allison McGinley. “I believe transparency equals greater trust with our viewers and readers so I thought it was important to share the details behind how this could happen.”
So here is the context that is so egregiously missing.
A producer setting up a recent story on the deadly mass shooting in Buffalo mistook a cue in the TV script for the reporter’s name. Here’s what the story looked like:
At the top, you’ll see a cue that says the following: (WALKER GRAHAM LOOK LIVE INTRO). At the bottom is a similar cue: (WALKER GRAHAM TAG).
A producer took that to be the name of the reporter. It wasn’t. The reporter’s name is Brandon Walker, a reporter for our sister station KPRC in Houston who sometimes files stories for other stations throughout our media parent company, Graham Media.
Mistakes were made.
The tweet, by a podcaster who goes by @JalisaDanielle_ on Twitter, was posted on Tuesday. In it, @JalisaDanielle puts two pictures of Brandon Walker – one from one station, one from News 6, with two different lower-third name graphics.
“So he just got two different names depending on the news station? One day people, one day you’ll realize why people like me question EVERYTHING,” they tweeted.
They followed it up with a tweet calling making a mistake even worse.
“Like it don’t matter if it was a reporter or a witness, why are we not double-checking names before they go out to MILLIONS of viewers?” the tweet said.
We agree. We are not going to go into all the reasons this could have happened and offer up excuses. Again. Mistakes were made. We are human. The trick to making mistakes is to own up to them and find out how to make sure they don’t happen again. Which we intend to do.
Whatever @JalisaDanielle_ thinks of us, this story is not about her tweet.
It’s about what happened next.
“Houston reporter Brandon Walker becomes subject of viral conspiracy theory after news station typo,” read the headline on Chron.com, a news website with a national audience owned by Hearst.
“A simple chyron error during a recent report by KPRC 2 reporter Brandon Walker has snowballed into an all-consuming identity conspiracy thanks to a would-be Internet sleuth,” read the second line.
The reporter of the story, Ariana Garcia, whom we understand covers trending topics, proceeded to provide readers with the tweets in question and a laundry list of reactions – from random tweeters to Brandon Walker himself (sorry Brandon).
Nowhere in the story is something that should be important – context.
To our knowledge, neither Garcia nor anyone else at Chron.com, contacted News 6 for an explanation of what happened, or even a reaction to the “outrage” on Twitter we were largely oblivious to until this article.
Nor could we get anyone at Chron.com to take our calls. Well, almost anyone.
McGinley called Chron.com seven times and no one responded. Eventually, she got someone in advertising sales who was, understandably, unable to do anything.
We are not sure how a story of this kind advances local news. We suppose it’s human interest. No one likes to be the butt of other people’s jokes.
But what we find inexcusable is that this could have been an opportunity to advance the story, and instead Chron.com and its reporter muddied the waters and, as McGinley says, gave oxygen to conspiracy. In a world where we are working so hard to fight misinformation, we have a duty as members of the media to provide context.
“The fact that a reporter from a Hearst Publication made no effort to reach out to either station involved represents an astonishing lack of effort and journalistic rigor,” said Jeff Hoffman, News 6 general manager. “We misidentified the name of our affiliate reporter by using the last name of our company- Graham, which is how the story was identified on our feed. The stories he did for our group were both well-reported and presented.
“To suggest this is some sort of conspiracy, particularly given the circumstances of mass murder in Buffalo is careless at best and completely out of line,” Hoffman said.
If nothing else, Chron.com should perhaps not be so quick to encourage the throwing of stones at glasshouses. After all, the reporter called us an NBC affiliate in their story.
We’re a CBS affiliate.
They did issue a correction the next day. McGinley also finally spoke to the editorial director, Matthew Kitchen, who said he would talk to his entire team about making sure to contact all parties involved in a story.
After all, the reporter is only human.
And mistakes were made.