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Major Media Fails

When Asiana 214 crashed on landing in San Francisco, I knew who to ask about it.  My son George, who is 13, hadn’t heard the news yet when I picked him up for Saturday night “Dad Time” a few hours after the incident because he doesn’t pay attention to the news.  But he did just come back from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Air Academy and is very into flying.  Shortly after he heard what happened, he speculated that the pilot screwed up but went on the ‘net to find out.

Within about 20 minutes he had scoured the aviation chat boards and found links to primary sources that told the story very well.  Asiana 214 came in so slow that it was in danger of stalling, which is when it no longer has enough lift to avoid dropping out of the sky.  The pilot apparently realized this too late, but did call in “214 Abort!” just before the crash (1:54 on the audio).  The airport started diverting planes and 30 seconds later called for emergency vehicles when the plane had twisted to a stop.

But neither of these key points were on CNN or other major news outlets, and didn’t show up for a day.  Why does this matter?  It’s not that George is smart (he is), but the failure to report key information in hours of time filled point to what is wrong with the major news media’s model for 24 hour constant reporting.


AAR 214 – Our thoughts are with the two 16 year old Chinese girls who didn’t make it out alive.

There’s no reason to believe that we won’t get the whole story on this crash eventually.  Investigators will tell us months from now exactly what went wrong and fill in the great mystery that George couldn’t possibly answer – how an amazing piece of machinery like a 777 could be at stall conditions and the pilot wouldn’t know it immediately.  It will all be answered in time and there will be the context that allows us to understand what happened.

But that wasn’t there right away.  The anchors filled time going over the same stuff but still missing key pieces of information very publicly known from primary sources.  What was their point?

Speculation immediately after an event is always dangerous, and instant news is becoming wary of that problem.  It’s reasonable that they don’t want to point fingers at the pilot or the equipment right away.  They are at their best when they rely on primary sources, which is what they did – eyewitnesses, airport officials, and hospital pressers loaded with stats.  That’s good stuff.  But they never reported that the pilot called for an abort or the speed at approach which also was available from primary sources.  How did they miss that?

Regular internet users know that there is a wealth of information on the ‘net.  Too much, in fact.  No one can possibly understand everything that is written and reported.  We have to rely on sources that can “translate” and refine the raw data into a story.  Context makes all the difference in the tremendous information overload.  If there is a use for big news media in this world it is to provide that context and weave it into a coherent story that people can understand.

CNN, among many instant news outlets, relies heavily on twitter as their window to the internet.  It can be a primary source for eyewitnesses and dynamic pics.  But in this case, like so many others, they utterly failed to make use of the great resource that extends beyond twitter and links to other primary sources.  They seem to have bought the conventional narrative that the internet is a place where people swap messages about their personal lives and little else.  If it doesn’t fit in 140 characters, they aren’t interested in it.

We will eventually know just what happened

We will eventually know just what happened

That is a terrible failure by any measure.  If they can’t find the pertinent information as quickly as George can, what are they doing by staying on the story, on the air, for hours at a time?  If all the facts and the context that holds them together are going to have to wait no matter what, why have instant news at all?

The story here isn’t that a 13 year old can find out what happened in an area he or she has expertise in immediately.  It’s that the rest of us who are novices in thousands of areas have to wait even in this era of instant info because the guardians of the stories have a window on the world that is apparently far too narrow to give them access to the story as fast as they claim to be able to deliver it.  We’ve seen this play out in politics and economics many times, but here is an example that demonstrates the problem without any color of partisanship or subjectivity.

Without the ability to grasp the great resources at everyone’s disposal, what is the airtime filled with?  How is it useful?  What stories are being told?   What is the context that fills the spaces between the people, ideas, and facts that interact more intimately than ever before?

Major media is failing us.  No wonder George doesn’t pay any attention to it.  He is growing up understanding that in order to understand the world, he’s going to have to make sense of it himself.  He’s smart enough to grasp an awful lot, and his old man has made sure that he carries deep in his DNA the realization that things do make sense –if you don’t “get it” it’s because you are missing something.

Major media sure misses a lot.  Don’t think that kids like George don’t realize that.  Don’t expect them to tune into this stuff when they become adults and start running this new world we live in, either.

14 thoughts on “Major Media Fails

  1. I don’t doubt that your son got a big part of the story before CNN. They are useless. If the kids today aren’t watching that stuff they probably are better informed than adults to say nothing of Fox “news”. They are pathetic.

    • Yes, I think that on balance teevee nooze makes people negatively informed – ie, they have the wrong impression about nearly everything. There was a study that showed this for Fox Nooze viewers, but I would think it should hold over all of them.

  2. Points well taken here. I think a failure of meaningful reporting is more the rule than the exception.

    One possible reason applicable to this story: Big media used to have reporters whose beat was aviation (or whatever) and had knowledge and contacts. Who would immediately have identified the key question: How did an airliner with two pilots, stick shakers, warning horns, auto throttles, auto land capability … you name it…get low and slow enough to make a landing this bad? The *what* happened seems fairly clear, the *why* of may or may not be immediately obvious. Incompetent crew–the obvious thought–, some bizarre stackup of airplane malfunctions, strange weather phenom?

    These things do happen. A few years ago a C5 operating out of Dover AFB had a problem indication near the beginning of a transatlantic flight. They turned around. The flight deck crew apparently went completely to pieces, got low and slow, stalled the airplane into the ground a mile short of the runway and broke it into pieces. Amazingly nobody died. (Very basic report: http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123021742)

    • I liked this story not just because I could brag on George, but because it shows the problem in a way that is very politics-neutral. The information was out there, but they couldn’t find it. They did eventually, but if it takes that much time why stay on the air?
      As for the many things that had to go wrong at once to drop a 777 out of the air like this, that is indeed speculation. What we do know is that they came in too slow and recognized the problem too late. Why? That will take a lot of time.
      But hey, I don’t break news, I fix it. 🙂

  3. There is no point to 24 news channels. It is always better to wait for a story to develop if you want to know what is going on. I hear that there ratings are terrible and getting worse all the time. Maybe you just explained why but its pretty obvious to everyone.

  4. While I agree with the last comment, to some extent it depends on which story we are talking about. If it’s Iraq and/or Afghanistan, there is little point, because reporters are so thin on the ground, there is little that changes from the ‘official line’, whihc is generated by the American/British military and there is little chance of verifying whether or not they are speaking the truth!

    • Yes, that is the case. I don’t doubt that there is a big role for professionals to be on the ground in places like Afghanistan, where amateurs speculating at home cannot tell what is really happening. That makes sense to me. But if all they do is parrot the official line there isn’t much point to it. Stories at home require “curation” skills that apparently CNN simply doesn’t have. Context is king, and if they can’t provide that they are not more useful than an open http port.

  5. Direct experience is always best. Your son, as well as anyone, who wishes to know can find out anything with a little work. And more power to him and congratulations for recognizing that the young fellow is awake to bullshit news. It sounds like you may still believe that there is a little value in it ……… there is not! And NO, …….. “There’s no reason to believe that we won’t get the whole story on this crash eventually.”……. I would NEVER assume that. EVER!

    The news media is the last place one of intelligence would go to find out anything of consequence.

    And TV news is so lame that only a total idiot would even turn it on. That actually goes for ANY TV, period!

    It is set up to prevent you from knowing and I think people fall for it because it’s easy. You don’t have to do anything ………. so you get what you put out! Nothing = Nothing.

    There are constant examples of managed news and information that in truth keep the population in the dark ………..

    The entire fiction of 911.

    The gross full pitched SELLING of the Iraq War.

    The Bradley Manning coverage. Shameful!

    The entire Snowden affair and the lack of open reporting.

    The current NSA spying continuous episode.

    And on and on.

    My only hope is that your son George and his generation will stay awake to the fact that TV, internet, social media and all the rest is only the starting point ……… a critical mind using critical thinking is the only way to proceed if one is seeking an understanding of the hows and whys of this world.

    Great post, Erik. Thanks.

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