News organisations need to take special care when reporting about ‘war stories’ – especially news stories about major battles. TV audiences are often more ’emotionally connected’ to these stories and they will judge you harshly if you make errors.
(The Battle of Long Tan)
In a recent stint as Deputy News Director and sub for a major Australian commercial channel, one of the biggest ‘saves’ was correcting a battle name for a story about the 50-th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam.
It almost went to air in an update as the battle of Lone Pine – another major battle for Australians – but from a different war (WWI at Gallipoli).
Now, it’s a sub’s job to catch mistakes before they go to air. No big deal there.
My point to you is that all news organisations should have a heightened awareness when it comes to war stories. Whenever I’d see a story about a ‘war story’ I would give it extra time and attention. Whenever it was a news day including a war story – I’d pay special attention to the updates.
In part 1/2 on this topic, I mentioned how and why ‘war stories’ are so important to Australian audiences.
From my experience in the United States, war stories are very important to Americans too. Many families (including many of my US friends) have special connections to US war stories.
From my experience, ‘war stories’ pose special problems to news organisations.
- the audience’s heightened sensitivity to any errors
- younger reporters and producers may make mistakes because these stories may seem like ‘ancient history’ to them and they may have as much knowledge about or care for these stories as their audience does
- many battles happen in ‘foreign fields'(like France or Turkey or Vietnam – and more recently Afghanistan and Iraq) – so you have to be careful with spellings and pronunciation.
I was very lucky in my reporting days to train as an Accredited Correspondent with the Australian Defence Force (at a time of peace for Australia). I befriended and learned from journalists and ‘real’ war correspondents who are incredibly knowledgeable and experienced in stories about war.
I understand the pressure on modern news organisations to pump out an ever-increasing volume of news bulletins and updates. I also understand the importance of paying attention to avoiding mistakes in covering war stories.
As mentioned in Part 1 on this topic, 2016 was a big year for war stories.
2017 and 2018 will be big years too.
Because this is an area I am particularly interested in and passionate about, with the help of my ‘Australian battles expert’ colleagues – I’ve developed quick training sessions and resources to help newsrooms prepare to cover the big war stories coming up in 2017 and 2018.
Newsrooms are busy places and are usually focussed on the news of the day. My colleagues and I have done the heavy work – carefully studying the various military/Anzac Day style guides to help the media and distilling the most common errors for reporters and subs and producers to avoid.
Here’s a link to part 1: