|When Jonesboro residents turned to their local television
station for answers Tuesday, they got them, but only in the form of a question.
Although many media outlets from the MidSouth and beyond began reporting the events at Westside Middle School that afternoon, many Jonesboro residents chose to get their news from the familiar faces at Jonesboro's only network television affiliate, ABC's KAIT.
Unfortunately, getting the news from their "Good Neighbor" station proved frustrating.
At one point, KAIT abandoned its Westside coverage to return to "Jeopardy." Rather than answers about the shooting, viewers got "answers in the form of a question" about trivia.
For the first hour following the shooting, KAIT offered viewers only staccato snippets of sketchy information sandwiched between soap opera interruptions.
While WMC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Memphis, Tenn., took to the air live and stayed on most of the afternoon, KAIT slowly mobilized with few live remotes and vacant studio banter that offered viewers few details.
Jonesboro residents with cable television watched as CNN and CNN Headline News began coverage within an hour and a half of the shooting.
Residents frantically flipping channels for the latest information might have been angry that news organizations from hundreds of miles away could provide more news than the lone affiliate in Region 8.
But as the initial media pandemonium began to subside late in the evening, KAIT still bumbled, repeatedly misspelling the name of Craighead County Sheriff Dale Haas, a source with whom KAIT should have been more familiar. KAIT also ditched the end of the first live press conference on hospitalized victims for commercials.
Granted, the hours following the tragedy were chaotic. Anytime Jonesboro radio's drive-time deejays Rick and Foster must cover such an important story, listeners and viewers can expect a furious and often flawed flow of information.
But when viewers need information the most, KAIT gave them game shows and soap operas, and that is anything but neighborly.
What is there to say?
The shootings in Jonesboro
The rule in this business is that, if there is nothing to say in an editorial, then don't say it. But there comes a time to break that rule, too. We cannot think of anything to add this morning to the sick feeling, the tears, the grief that is like fear, which all of Arkansas feels now.
We are so, so sorry. So mystified. We cannot even think of what to pray, except "Oh God!" We look at the bank of televisions in the newsroom and see our own children's faces in the place of those on the screen, and we are wordless. We have nothing to say and yet to Jonesboro, to the families, to the teacher, we desperately want to sayÉsomething. Consider this a long silent hug.
-- Reprinted from the Wednesday edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Back to March 27, 1998
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