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Wednesday, August 7th 2013

9:06 AM

More Answers Create More Questions

It's been almost two weeks, since my last "Namegate"-related post, so it's time for an update.

To recap, "Namegate" refers to the airing by television station KTVU of fake, racially insensitive names of the pilots on board an Asiana Airlines flight that crashed at San Francisco International last month. Two people died. KTVU covers the San Francisco area and very publicly congratulated itself on its initial crash coverage.

The unfortunate airing of the obviously fake names happened Friday, July 12, six days after the crash. Since then, KTVU has done little to explain how the names made it on air. It did provide an apology which a) didn't make a lot of sense in terms of believability; and b) threw the NTSB (ultimately, an NTSB intern) under the bus for "confirming" the fake names. KTVU has said little else, but it did eventually fire two veteran producers, a third veteran producer retired, and a fourth producer (who was not involved in the story) got fired for violating the station's social media policy. He Tweeted "Oh s**t" just moments after the names aired.

The most insight into exactly what went down at KTVU has come from Bay Area blogger Rich Lieberman. His POST from yesterday indicates that the source of the fake names was a trusted source, an ex-pilot, who had helped out KTVU before. Lieberman's sources say the names were run by a newsroom manager of Asian descent who supposedly questioned them. But, confirmation by the NTSB (intern) seems to have trumped any doubts, and the fake names ended up on a graphic and on a script that the anchor seems to have had time to look over before actually reading the names on air.

The other point raised by Lieberman's source (and which has been pointed out before) is that the real names of the Asiana pilots had already been made public several days prior to KTVU airing the fake names. I have yet to hear of KTVU reporting the "real" names on-air, but the names did appear in several articles posted to KTVU's website in the days immediately following the crash.

THIS article, posted on Monday, July 8, two days after the crash, contains the names of two of the pilots and notes that material for the article came from both the Associated Press and from KTVU.com. THIS article posted the following day, July 9, is similar. It also contains the names of two of the pilots and indicates that content for the article came from both the AP and KTVU.com. Other posts from around that same time also include the names of the two pilots but cite only the AP as the source.

A simple SEARCH of KTVU's website turned up any number of articles, posted within two or three days of the crash, containing the actual names of at least two of the Asiana pilots on board the flight. I can only imagine that a search of the Internet would have yielded similar results.

So, I still don't get it.

Here's a station that bragged about its initial coverage of the crash - on the web, on the air and on social media. First! First! First! But, it seems that no one at KTVU paid attention to its own continuing coverage. Information about the real names of the pilots was out there. KTVU staffers contributed content to articles that contained those names. Someone at KTVU had to have seen the real names days before the fake ones made air!

Yet, it appears that the KTVU crews covering the story on the ground (which would include pretty much anyone directly involved with a newscast) never bothered to read their own station's website. Or, for that matter, any newspaper article about the crash. It also appears that the people involved with newscasts and the people involved with the website don't talk to each other. About anything. At all. Ever.

Considering how my own newsroom works, I find that hard to believe. Granted, I work in a smaller market than KTVU. They probably have more staff dedicated to the station website than we do. It's possible that their web staff may be separated from the newsroom, maybe in a different room or even on a different floor. If that's the case, that doesn't seem like the best scenario for two departments that need to work in tandem.

What Rich Lieberman's efforts reveal (and WHAT I HAVE SUSPECTED ALL ALONG), is that quite a few people had hands and/or eyes on the fake names before they ever made air. In fact, that number seems to be growing. So, again, KTVU, by its silence, is asking us to believe the unbelievable.

We're being asked to believe that NO ONE at KTVU who "touched" the story about the fake names had ever seen or heard the real names. That's even though the names had been out there, including on the station's own website, for several days. As a journalist, how do you provide continuing coverage of a story that you claimed to own from the start without reading about it or watching other coverage? At the very least, don't you want to check out the competition?

We're being asked to believe that when the fake names came into the station, and even after a news manager raised questions about the fake names, no one bothered to search the station website or the Internet. Not even the veteran "Investigative Projects Producer" who seems to have been the one to receive the fake names? Just speaking from experience, I know people (me included) who will attempt to get information though all kinds of avenues if it means they don't have to make a phone call. A phone call, especially to a government bureaucracy like the NTSB, is often a last resort.

We're being asked to believe that, even though the NTSB (intern) "confirmed" the fake names, no one in the KTVU newsroom still had questions. Still, no one bothered to Google them?

And, we're being asked to believe that, almost a week after the crash of an airplane owned by an airline from another country and filled with mostly foreign passengers, the people at KTVU thought the "names" of the pilots were so important that they had to be rushed onto the air. Why does it matter? It's not like their names (their real names) are going to go down in infamy. "Remember that plane that Lee Gang-guk and Lee Jeong-min were flying?" no one will say. Ever.

The more we learn about this whole debacle, the less we know.
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