We’ve often remarked that journalists snap into brain freeze when faced with the prospect of covering a story filled with (shudder) numbers.
AP television writer David Bauder proved to be Exhibit A yesterday, narrowly misreporting not one, not two, but three facts in his early-afternoon story on ABC’s announcement of its new anchor duo for “World News Tonight.”
With the confirmation that Elizabeth Vargas, 43, and Bob Woodruff, 44, will indeed boldly lead ABC News into the future, Bauder wrote that “Vargas and Woodruff will do new versions of ‘World News Tonight’ for the Central time zone and West Coast.” But as an ABC press release clearly said, “beginning Jan. 3, the 6:30 p.m. ET, 8:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. PT) and 9:30 p.m. ET (6:30 p.m. PT) feeds would all be anchored live each night” in the network’s efforts to appeal to West Coast viewers — no mention of that tricky Central time zone whatsoever.
Rather, as Matea Gold explains in the Los Angeles Times today, the standard broadcast will continue to be fed to the East Coast and Midwest, while the 8:30 p.m. ET version will be shot “for West Coast cities such as Sacramento, Las Vegas and Fresno that show the network news at 5:30 p.m. locally,” with the final edition filming at 9:30 p.m. ET “for other West Coast cities.”
Sure it’s a little complicated; scheduling often is; but it’s not that complicated.
Several paragraphs down, Bauder mentions that “The top-rated newscast, NBC’s ‘Nightly News,’ is anchored by 47-year-old Brian Williams.” But Williams is actually 46, as Howard Kurtz correctly reported yesterday.
Finally, Bauder said the “WNT” changes will take place Jan. 2 — though the ABC press release states multiple times they will happen Jan. 3. Reporters for numerous other outlets also jumbled the January date yesterday afternoon — a sure sign they were writing their own stories using Bauder’s inaccurate dispatch as a primer. (This Hollywood Reporter piece not only reported the incorrect Jan. 2 date, it also subtracted one year each from Vargas and Woodruff’s respective ages.)
None of this is of major import. But it is just one more case study in the mysterious numbers phobia that grips all too many reporters, a breed that likes to boast, “I was promised there would be no math.”
Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.
In Bauder’s case, three near-misses in a row add up to a strikeout.