Thursday, February 5, 2009

How About Having an Expert Available?

This morning the FAA released the voice recorder from US Airways flight 1549, the flight that landed safely in the Hudson. And as luck would have it, I happened to have CNN on right when the tape was released. And CNN being CNN wanted to put it on the air immediately.

I’ll give CNN credit for a couple of things here. They really did try to make this whole thing work. They brought on a survivor from the crash so the survivor could hear the recording for the first time on the air. They played the tape from start to finish right after it was released with no editing.

Only they forgot one small little piece to put the whole thing together – someone that actually understood what was on the voice recorder.

For those of you not familiar with how the voice recorder on a plane works, it simply works on an endless loop, recording all transmissions the plane sends and receives for the last few minutes. As a result, the tape contains not only communications intended for that plane, but all air traffic control (ATC) communications on that frequency that the plane picked up.

When they started playing the voice recorder tape on the air this morning, the first few minutes had normal ATC chatter, with planes being given instructions on altitudes, headings and who to contact next. And it was 30 seconds in that the entire plan fell apart.

The anchor that was on the air did not understand what she was hearing. And the producers clearly didn’t understand either, and nobody gave her information as to what it was she was hearing. As a result, as she didn’t understand that the first part contained chatter for other planes; instead she informed the viewers that “obviously” the pilot was trying to figure out what to do with the plane and that everyone was calm. Well, yes, everyone was calm – because it wasn’t flight 1549 that was communicating with anyone at this point. And this continued for the bulk of the airing of the tape, until they finally got to the very end when the flight went into the Hudson.

I will give 24 hour news networks credit for trying to get actual news on the air as quickly as possible. But what I don’t understand is how they don’t prepare themselves to be in a situation where they can give accurate information. Every network has contacts that are experts in nearly every subject. Why didn’t CNN get a pilot on the phone either during the airing of the tape or beforehand to prep the anchor on what it was she was about to hear?

At the end of the day, accurate information is much more important to the populous than rushing it to the air.

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