Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The reporter who saved a guy and caught crap for it

Campion assists the man from a safer depth. (KTRK)
KTRK reporter Steve Campion ended up doing a lot more than his day job during flooding in Houston-- he saved a man's life in the middle of a live broadcast.

If you haven't seen the video, go watch here. It's really something.

And yet, somehow, the internet has found it to be very important that Campion be shamed for his tone while rescuing the man.

Campion hollered to the man to swim from his sinking car. The video shows that the victim began to understand Campion's instructions and eventually did begin to swim-- a move that may well have saved his life.

But numerous bloggers (apparently self-appointed experts in swift water rescue) couldn't help but remark that Campion seemed "annoyed" during the rescue.

Indeed, Campion does seem flustered while yelling back and forth with the confused driver, who had trouble understanding Campion's advice to abandon his sinking car.

The victim begins to swim. (KTRK)
"Ugh is right, Steve," declared one of the more prominent posts circulating on social media about the incident. "I, too, would not want to muddy my reporting pants until absolutely necessary."

Several people voiced frustration about this to Campion on his facebook page.

"Next time, be a man and put your microphone down and do something," wrote one person. "Like maybe help the old man out of his sinking vehicle and walk him to safety."

These critiques are asinine. Campion DID do something. He focused on how to help the victim help himself.

Reviewing this video, I don't hear frustration from Campion so much as I hear concern.

Regardless of that distinction, he is damned well right to be flustered.

Campion is not employed as a swift water rescuer. He had no lifesaving equipment at his disposal.

Assisting the victim. (KTRK)
Yelling instructions to swim was the best and safest thing Campion could have done in that moment.

The old way of teaching water rescue was to "reach, row, throw, go." (Boy Scouts pretty well drilled that into my head.) Today, the Red Cross teaches a modified version, which ends with "don't go."

The reason is simple: a decision to go to a drowning victim is extremely risky. You can die trying to help.

An Australian study found 86 cases of "rescuers" who died while trying to save others over a 15-year period. The study sums up the problem this way:
A drowning victim’s behavior in the water is predictable. A victim’s uncontrollable instinct is to grab at any exposed part of a rescuer and to try to climb to safety, submerging the rescuer. The rescuer is submerged or strangled making breathing difficult or impossible. Victims who believe they are drowning exhibit extraordinary strength and children can incapacitate adults who go to their aid...
So put yourself in Campion's soggy shoes and actually think about the consequences.

Campion first tries to get the driver to rescue himself instead of going to the man: SMART!

Campion then appears to wait until the driver reaches water that's shallow enough that his feet can touch the ground: ALSO SMART!

Campion runs toward the victim. (KTRK)
Campion literally gave himself leverage by conducting this rescue in the manner he did. He preserved the ability to use his leg strength to help haul the struggling man to safety, and gave himself a fighting chance of breaking away if the victim started to panic.

The reporter's actions were nothing short of heroic. He focused a victim's attention and then rendered aid when he felt he could safely do so.

Did he hesitate? Yes! And he should!

That doesn't show any sort of cowardice on Campion's part. It shows a person who's thinking about how to come home to his loved ones alive at the end of his shift.

I couldn't have blamed him for choosing to keep out of the water altogether.

So, somebody give Campion a medal, and let's get the blogosphere back to shaming Kardashians.


PS-- As for holding on to his microphone through the ordeal: I do not know whether Campion would have had a place to set the mic down. It's a tool of his job (which is to inform the public of the exact danger in this scenario) and he's right not to toss it into the water if there's no compelling need to. I don't see how it interfered with the rescue. It's not Campion's fault that the driver ran into danger during the middle of a life shot-- that's just how it happened.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How Cam the Ram got political with a bull

Cam the Ram in TV ad for question 2C. (Source: A Smart Deal for Denver)
It flashes by so quickly, most TV viewers in Colorado might not give it a second thought.

Cam the Ram, the mascot for Colorado State University athletics, appears on screen for two seconds of a 30-second political ad asking voters to vote in favor of extending a tourism tax to benefit the area around the National Western Stock Show complex.

He's there because CSU stands to gain a new Agricultural facility as part of the master plan that ballot question 2C would help to fund.

While working on a Truth Test of the ad for 9NEWS on Monday, I wondered how it came to be that CSU would participate in a political ad this way.

In similar circumstances, local school district officials are loathe to appear as though they are campaigning in favor of bond issue questions, even if they think the measures are vital.

So, we asked CSU what made it okay to use Cam on camera.

"In August, the CSU Board of Governors approved [a] resolution in support of the tourism ballot measure," said university spokesman Mike Hooker. "Because of that official action of support by the board, the university approved the use of CAM in the video."

The resolution cites a specific Colorado law, which states that agencies are not prohibited from "passing a resolution or taking a position of advocacy" on ballot issues.
Sources familiar with school district bond issues told me that school boards tend to turn over advocacy for their bond measures to independent committees, who are allowed to raise funds for campaign purposes.

In this case, an outside group is also doing the campaigning for the ballot question. CSU simply allowed its mascot to appear in the ad.

It's a tricky business, though. Even when it's perfectly legal, sports mascots have to be careful not to upset fans-- remember when the Nuggets mascot Rocky made an "unsanctioned" appearance at an GOP rally with Mitt Romney and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez?

With much less of a partisan edge, it's doubtful that Cam's appearance would rile too many fans here-- and CSU does stand to gain if the plan at the stock show complex moves forward.

In its resolution, the board of governors states that CSU plans "an equine sports medicine clinic, a water resources center, and a collaborative education and research center, and CSU's programs and facilities at the Fort Collins campus would provide support to and integration with those activities at the National Western Center."

But if the ad made you go, "hmm," now you know how it happened.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"WEED got that b-roll!"

A presumably normal woman, blowing marijuana smoke. (Image: DPA)
After celebrating some victories on the ballot, marijuana advocates have another issue to blunt: They want pot to be seen as a substance that normal, everyday people do.

Which is what sparked a new high in pro-marijuana public relations.

I give you: the marijuana b-roll project.

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: Yes, the puns in this post are on purpose. This is all supposed to be in good fun.

B-roll is TV shorthand for footage that can be shown while somebody talks. The Drug Policy Alliance is (fairly, I think) sick of, in their words: "watching cheesy b-roll footage of textbook stoners for every television news story about marijuana."

What they offered is an amusing, too-perfect collection of 21 clips of people buying and using marijuana-- which brings back fond memories of the infamous "we got that broll" YouTube sketch:

1. He's helping, but looks like grandma's teaching Bong 101

DPA title: "Young man helping older woman smoke marijuana with a water pipe"

2. Weed makes me bendy (in a healthy way, though)

DPA title: "Woman using a marijuana vaporizer pen and doing yoga"

3. Pass the Sorry on the left-hand side!

DPA title: "Diverse group of women smoking marijuana around a table"

4. OMG! Pot makes YouTube even FUNNIER!

DPA title: "Young woman and man (couple) vaping marijuana at home"

5. Wait for it... aaaaaaand... action!

DPA title: "Young man uses water pipe to smoke marijuana"

MORE: see the entire collection at DPA's marijuana b-roll project page

Okay, okay... so the likelihood that major news organizations will use this material is slim-to-none.

We generally prefer our own video and we avoid staged video as much as we possibly can.

These just don't scream authenticity.

Just casually using my bong in my bamboo garden! (Image: DPA)
That said, the folks at DPA raise a fair point: the file footage that many TV stations have in their archives was shot back to the days when we had to find people willing to let us shoot video of them committing a crime, a problem we are no longer saddled with in Colorado.

Many people have a stereotypical image of pot users and there's a good reason for pro-pot groups to try to burn this one down.

With marijuana legal in states like Colorado, it opens the drug up to more casual use. People can pop into a shop for an occasional purchase and get a nostalgic dose of their college days.

Others may just have a little pot to unwind, in much the same way they'd have a beer at the end of a long workday. (With the caveat that in Colorado, you can legally get fired for this.)

The stereotypical stoners are still there, and they still represent a healthy chunk of the millions of dollars worth of pot sales being made in legal shops in Colorado.

Bored games? Not when you have a joint! (Image: DPA)
But it's not unfair to try to get those of us in the news media to use shots that look more like your friends and neighbors who casually use pot.

This is just one front in a much larger fight.

Marijuana advocates are also trying to reshape the language that we use to talk about it.

I've had people take issue with my use of the word "weed" and even my use of the word "use."

The trouble is, particularly in broadcast news, we use conversational English in our writing.

I might write:

"A bunch of people smoked pot at the rally."

Pro-pot groups would much rather have me write:

"Many people consumed cannabis at the rally."

I'm not going to write that way, because you would never actually say that out loud.

RELATED: That's not marijuana-- that's cannabis (by Trevor Hughes)

Vaping... on a couch! (Image: DPA)
The news media is just a group of people-- which means to some degree, it's always going to reflect mainstream societal views.

If people start thinking and talking about pot differently, you'll see the media do the same.

It's a chicken-and-egg conundrum for those who want to normalize marijuana.

This b-roll project isn't likely to hatch up new opinions in the intended manner.

But hey, it's got us talking about the issue.

Come to think of it, I think our own archive footage of pot smoking could use an update...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What's it like in there?

It's a question I keep getting in some form as the Aurora theater trial crawls forward: "what's it like in there?"

As I write this we are in week 3 of what's anticipated to be a 4-5 month long mass-murder trial, so large in scope that it can be hard to grasp.

This case has more victims of attempted murder (those wounded in the July 2012 shooting) than there are seats in the courtroom.

Countless others are touched by the loss of the 12 people who died as a result of the attack.

The truth is... there just isn't a simple answer to the question of what it's like to cover this trial.

There are many moments in which I feel like I'm on a 1,000-mile long moving walkway: this thing is moving, but I can't even imagine being near the end yet.

There are other moments that I know I'll remember for the rest of my life. I can't even begin to fathom what it's like to have lost a person to an attack like this, but I do get glimpses.

Inside the courtroom, raw emotions are palpable. You can feel pain and sadness from across a room.

And those are the moments that have made it hard to sleep some nights.

Perhaps the most pointed memory of the trial for me came on day 4 as investigators walked the jury through photos of the 10 bodies left to lay in the theater.

The press sits on the left side of the courtroom behind the defendant. Victims and family typically sit on the right side, behind the DA's table.

On that day, just across the center aisle from me, I watched a woman (I presumed a grandmother of one of the victims I'll choose not to name here) break down and leave the courtroom in tears.

She'd made it through two photos of her granddaughter's body lying between rows of seats.

When a third, wider angle, was shown-- she didn't see the girl at first. There were two other bodies in the frame.

When the prosecution pointed out the girl's body on the edge of that photo, the woman across the aisle lost it. I felt an impulse to chase after her and give her a hug.

I can only begin to imagine the tug of war that goes on on your brain in that circumstance: wanting to know everything you can about how your loved one passed and not being able to bear one more ounce of the sheer horror of that reality.

I saw images that I'll never un-see that day, but the graphic nature of what was in those photos is only part of the reason it'll be forever burned into my memory.

It's the impact it has.

It's the pain.

It's the immeasurable human suffering.

And observing people trying to cope with that which cannot be understood.

There's nothing I'm going to say that's likely to make anybody connected to this case feel better.

I can't feel what they feel, but I feel that they're feeling it.

I wish them well. They've suffered more than anyone should have to.

-Brandon Rittiman

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rep. Klingenschmitt Sings a Motion

Rep. Klingenschmitt reaches the end of his song.
You never know what you're going to get when you show up to the Colorado legislature.

On a snowy February Thursday morning, business got underway in the state House of Representatives with an original song.

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs,) who arrived in the legislature as a polarizing figure, belted out a motion to start up business for the day to the tune of "Yesterday" by the Beatles.

Just watch it:

If you find yourself inspired, here are the lyrics so you can sing at home:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Update: The day after abandoning my Facebook page

My first full day without my Facebook page is going well and the experience feels differently than I'd imagined, which I'll explain in a moment.

I heard from many fellow journalists yesterday after posting my detailed reasoning for shrugging off the "Pages" system Facebook wants us to use-- in favor of simply creating a second account, wanting to know how this goes.


It's a proposition that puts me at risk of being found in violation of Facebook's terms of service, though I sincerely hope not.


As I write this, my new account is up to 275 friends and a handful of subscribers.

Which means on just the first day, I'm at 71 percent of the total connections (386) I had on my fledgling page before I abandoned it.

I've had a steady flow of friend requests since then, and Facebook made it pretty easy to grow my audience by suggesting all kinds of friends for me.

I was giddy to discover the suggested friends were highly relevant to me! The list was rich in people on my beat as a reporter: Colorado politics.

This was an unexpected treat and one that I greatly appreciate!

Turns out, Facebook doesn't like this feature to be too helpful, too fast. My furious friend requesting convinced them I might be a robot:

While this significantly helped boost my top line number of connections, I've also noticed a significant amount people simply reaching out by seeing me here.

I don't think it's going to take long for my number of connections to exceed what I had on my Page when I finally threw my hands up over the way Facebook restricted its reach.


There are valuable aspects of this switch that go beyond metrics.

Another difference I noticed immediately by jumping off of Pages and on to a new profile: it's clear that these people are getting better interactions with me.

I expected increased exposure for my posts, but unlike Twitter, it trickles in over time.

Still, I've noticed richer engagement with the few items I have posted so far.

And I've had people reach out to me in messenger to ask follow-up questions about the stories they see me covering on TV.

Mostly, though, it just feels different for me, the user.

I feel like a member of the community that Facebook is building, rather than a barnacle only allowed to exist on the off chance I might pay to play.

It's a feeling I'd missed in work life on Facebook and one I'm glad to have back.

More to come.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why I kissed my Facebook page goodbye

I tried.

I REALLY tried... to do Facebook the way Facebook wanted me to do it.

But after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I've decided that as a journalist, Facebook's current system just isn't for me in my professional life.

I'm not leaving Facebook outright, (unless the social network giant decides to TOS me... more on this below) but I am kissing my reporter page goodbye... in favor of a second personal profile for work.

Why? It's simple: Facebook has consistently rewarded all of my friends in the news business who broke the rules-- while punishing those of us who foolishly chose to abide by them.

If you're short on time, I can show you my motivation in one chart, prefaced with the fact that my Twitter account and my professional Facebook page have both been active since 2011:

I earned more followers on my Twitter account in the past month than I have in several years of posting highly-relevant news content to my Facebook page. And, finally, I'm here to say: enough.

From here on out, I'm using Facebook the way the company DOESN'T want me to use it: I'm following the lead of many of my colleagues in journalism who have decided to simply be two people on the social network, rather than a person and a company.


As a mainstream media journalist, Facebook provides me three legitimate means of building a following on its platform:

  1. Create a "page" for myself as a reporter to connect with "fans"
  2. Allow "subscribers" on my personal profile who can only see my public posts there
  3. Ignore any separation between my personal and professional life and just friend everybody who asks
Now, as much as option 3 may gel with the dystopian future that my Silicon Valley birthplace is building, (you know, the one that has us checking work email whilst on the toilet) I actually prefer a wall of separation between work and personal life on Facebook.

I cover politics for the highest-rated TV news organization in Colorado, which is a job I love. But I'm a D-list celebrity at best... and that's plenty enough for me. I'm not Miley Cyrus, and I don't need all of my social media to be public-facing.

I want to share photos of my wife and dog with my relatives without sharing them with political junkies in Colorado, and I'm sure those political junkies appreciate not being bombarded daily with photos of my pup (though she is, objectively, adorable.)

Instead, I opted to go with BOTH options 1 & 2. The "subscriber" approach is only as effective as the public posts you wish to make on a personal profile, and I honestly don't do much of that. It's difficult to manage, and posting work content their frequently is likely to bore all my relatives around the. country who couldn't care less what the Governor of Colorado is up to on any given day.

Which means that option 1 is really the one that should best suit me. I can write posts about Colorado news and politics as much as I want and reach the intended audience.

With one thing lacking: the audience.


About a year after I stated posting to my page, Facebook went public with what was generally regarded as a disastrous IPO.

Ultimately, the company decided it needed to show investors it could make money.

I get this. It's become a familiar cycle in web-based services:


While that last step never feels good, I'm not philosophically opposed to this. Innovation deserves to be rewarded and this benefits society by providing incentives for new ideas.

But journalists are collateral damage in Facebook's effort to squeeze ad dollars from every possible source.

As a journalist, I can use Facebook as a person (profile) or as a business (page.)

One chooses to be a page at their own peril, choosing to do battle with Facebook's "algorithmic python."

I call it this for a simple reason: IT WILL STRANGLE YOU.

To Facebook, it doesn't matter anymore that I am posting timely, highly relevant information that would benefit its audience. Because I am a PAGE, Facebook treats every post I write the way it would treat Bob's Tire Shop trying to promote a sale on tires.

The thing is: there is no ad budget for me as a reporter (though KUSA does promote its own posts on occasion,) and unlike Bob's Tire Shop, I do not stand to make any additional money by investing in paying to promote my posts.

It takes an EXCEPTIONALLY amazing post for Facebook to allow me to reach more than a dozen or so people on my page without giving them money to promote it.

For instance, when I broke the news that KUSA called the race for Governor of Colorado the morning after this year's election, Facebook tells me the post I wrote to break the news reached 24 people (as of 11/18/14.)

I could do better screaming on a street corner.

By contrast, the exact same post reached 14,457 people on Twitter. 66 people retweeted it. 54 of them clicked on my profile to learn more about me and possibly become followers.

I cannot ignore those metrics. Who in their right mind would see any value whatsoever to playing in the crappy sandbox Facebook put me in?


As mentioned above, Facebook could decide to find me in violation of its Terms of Service (TOS) for the choice I've made today.

The company hints at this threat in squishy language on the page where you can appeal to have your page converted into a profile.

If you tell Facebook that you want to "interact with fans," it informs you that it is a violation of the TOS to "use a personal account to represent an organization, business, brand, opinion, or fan club."

I don't view any of those as my primary purpose on Facebook as a professional journalist. My primary purpose is the same as it is on TV and twitter: to provide timely, relevant, informative news content to as many people as I can.

I submit that my activity posting news content to Facebook is a net benefit to the company, increasing its relevance to the sliver of its user base that has an interest in news and politics in my market.

There are other downsides as well, like the inconvenience of having to juggle logins between the two profiles and the cap of 5,000 friends Facebook will allow per profile.

Since Facebook has given no hope of ever coming close to that without paying them, it's an easy pill to swallow.

No. It isn't close at all...
Facebook is free to disagree with my view and shut my new profile down.

I hope not. Unlike some others who killed pages with far more fans than mine, I don't want to exit the space entirely.

It's their platform and they provide it free-of-charge, and while I find my personal profile's relevancy to be on the decline, the company is free to shape and mold its creation as it sees fit.

I do think Facebook would be wise to examine its treasure trove of information it has from classifying different types of pages and take a more mindful approach to the way it applies its algorithms to the different types of pages. Nonprofits, for instance, could benefit from this.

For me, right now, it's a simple risk/benefit analysis: I have next-to-nothing to gain by following Facebook's rules. I plenty to gain by by breaking them.


If Facebook decides to TOS my new profile, I'll be done making regular posts as a journalist there.

Thankfully, if that happens, It'll give me something to write about.

At least I can be confident it'll reach more than two-dozen people.