Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tampa TV Reporters Fired For YouTube Video

WFTS-TV fired three people and disciplined four others for creating a mock newscast and posting it online. The spoof, anchored by Kerry Kavanaugh (left), reported that a Ch. 28 employee was one of Tiger Woods' mistresses. It was apparently meant as a gag gift for the woman's birthday. Click here to read details from the St. Petersburg Times.

Fake newscasts and blooper reels are as old as TV news. Before YouTube, they were the products of harmless fun that only a few people would see. You edited them on tape, gathered the intended audience into an edit booth and showed off the results in person. Tapes were inconvenient to copy, at least compared to copying-and-pasting a bit of text, so you were relatively assured that your inside joke would stay inside the group with whom you shared it.

Now, editing happens on computers, and you get a video file that is all too easy to upload to the Universe. Once there, you lose any control over who sees it and shares it. If it goes "viral," it can cause a fatal illness to your job, if not your entire career.

That's why I feel bad for those who lost their jobs. They thought they were doing something funny for a friend. It's the brain surgeon who thought he or she had to share the video on Facebook and YouTube whose career ought to be kaput.

Firing seems excesssive punishment. The station's GM told the Times that the video could risk the station's credibility, which I understand to a point. But I saw the clip before it was removed from YouTube and if the only people still watching TV news are ones who couldn't immediately tell that this was a fake story, I'm not sure that the business has much credibility left, anyway.

Meanwhile, I remain grateful that the bulk of my broadcast career happened in the ante-YouTube era. My on-air mishaps haunt me enough in memories. I'd hate to think how I'd feel if they were conveniently available for anyone to view.

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