'Sun' Rates Mall Shooting Coverage

The Baltimore Sun has some smart commentary on the coverage of the mall shooting in suburban Maryland (Jan. 25) over the weekend. David Zurawik gives WJZ and WBAL—which went live shortly after 12:30—high marks for their live reporting, and says WMAR did a better job on the story than it has on ones in the past.

Zurawik is critical of WBFF, which he says ran infomercials, syndicated programming and NASCAR while the others were live, eventually going live itself at 2:30, only to go back to NASCAR 30 minutes later.

General Manager Bill Fanshawe said WBFF was using social media to update viewers when it was in previously scheduled programming.

Zurawik said CNN showed "some of the most impressive hustle," on the air shortly after 12:30.

Several outlets reported the shooting to be a "domestic" situation, which Zurawik says has not been confirmed by officials yet.

The veteran TV critic says weekends, when stations don't typically have their A-team on, are a good test of how local TV outlets operate in breaking news mode.

Here are his conclusions.

First, despite all the turmoil and confusion at CNN about its changing mission the past year, it showed it can still cover a big, breaking news story like no other cable channel going. The fact that Ahlers was on the air within a whisker of the best local stations is impressive.

Second, WMAR was in the hunt on this one after being mostly missing in action (by my analysis) on other stories. It got on the air almost a half-hour after the other stations.At 1 p.m., it started airing an infomercial for the “Ninja Kitchen” after finishing an infomercial for a mattress that aired while WJZ, WBAL and CNN were covering the shooting. But this time, WMAR quickly dumped out of that “Ninja” infomercial and ran competitively all afternoon with WJZ and WBAL. There was a bump or two in the coverage, but the station’s effort deserves praise.

Third, WBFF’s lack of coverage is inexcusable. You can talk to me about new media and streaming all you want, but on this story, you get your team out there and you cover it for your viewers if you want to be considered a credible TV news operation.

This didn't make Zurawik's report, but WTTG Washington had an interesting source in its reportage: Kristin Paolini, wife of the station GM Patrick Paolini, was in the mall when the shooting went down, and was under lockdown for hours. Here's what she said on air.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.