Fox News Channel’s Fox News Deck premiered three weeks ago, but it wasn’t until Friday’s shooting at LAX that Shepard Smith and his team of information specialists got the chance to show off its capabilities.
“This is week three or week four and we’ve been waiting for some type of event where we’d be able to open up the engine a bit,” Jay Wallace, vice president of news, told TheWrap. “To have a story like this — which is obviously tragic in its own right — did allow us to get on the air, get some of the facts and eye-witness reports on quicker than we would’ve been able to.”
Fox News was the first cable news channel to break into programming, Wallace said, helped by the fact that the Fox News Deck is housed within its own dedicated studio with its own staff, ready to break in when needed.
“There was no moving of furniture, changing of lights … it was all sort of a turnkey operation,” Wallace said “Once the story started taking on a bit more heaviness to it, we decided to turn on the News Deck, basically get Shep into position.”
Wallace was pleased that Fox News was able to report on the scene through social media reports even before it had people on the ground.
“While everyone talks about Twitter and Facebook and social media and all of that, they still haven’t necessarily mastered a way to use it in reporting and there have been a lot of missteps along the way.”
“By having Shep and his team in place, they were to really give us the behind the scenes – ‘this is what one person’s reporting’ and ‘this is what the LA Times is reporting,'” Wallace said. “And Shep is so good at couching these things and cautioning people.”
When asked if he was concerned that the real-time reporting Fox News Deck is pushing could lead to errors, Wallace said Fox News was keenly aware of the potential for mistakes but trusted that Smith and his team would be able to handle and vet the information.
“We’re still dealing with human beings,” he said. “The technology is a blessing and a curse. We’ve tried to run the traps on everything, whether it’s in rehearsals or as we’ve had meetings in designing the software. There are going to be times when we’re going to have to pull stuff back, but that’s why we’re trying to use Shepard in a way where he’s able to say where we’re getting everything from in real time.”
During the LAX shooting, Canada’s Globe and Mail and the LA Times incorrectly reported information: the Globe reported that the ex-NSA chief Michael Hayden was killed, based on a tweet from a hoax account, and the LA Times reported that the shooter was an employee of TSA and had been killed, citing “law enforcement sources.”
When reports began to circulate that the shooter was a TSA agent, Smith urged his viewers to hold off before drawing conclusions, saying: “These reports are everywhere. Multiple sources have reported to multiple news organizations that he was. Fox News cannot confirm that and the authorities did not confirm it for us. Quite frankly to get ahead of ourselves on that matter would be a mistake.”
But Smith didn’t rely solely on social media reports. Old-fashioned journalism had a place in the News Deck as well.
“Shep was able to use his giant device, toggling between showing a great Google Earth image of the airport where he was manipulating and doing everything as it was happening,” Wallace said. “He was able to switch over to show everyone what AP was reporting as we all see it on the wires in the newsroom. I thought it was really a good blending of old media and new media.”
“This was a good usage of the News Deck and it worked admirably,” Wallace said. “Watching it and watching the competition, I think it helped us get things on quickly with the proper context.”