When C-SPAN came to Tucson after the Jan. 8 shootings, it chose the John C. Scott Show to provide a local talk-radio feel, on Tuesday, Jan. 11.
Scott, also the general manager at KJLL AM 1330, hosts the longest-running politics-driven radio talk show in the market—but that might not have been the only reason he got the call to broadcast nationally.
"Our relationship with these people for a long period of time opened the door, but ... we wanted to tell the nation our story," Scott said. "We were closer to (Gabrielle Giffords) and her aides because of our philosophy and their political views, which are ours. Everybody's just devastated."
C-SPAN contacted the station on Monday and asked for permission to broadcast the show, which airs live on KJLL from 3 to 5 p.m., weekdays. The television network, noted for its political coverage, then set up for the Tuesday broadcast, which featured numerous high-profile guests close to Giffords or otherwise connected to the situation.
Events like the mass shooting underscore the often woeful news resources available to radio—and, in Tucson specifically, the significant lack of a local-news focus.
Unlike major cities, Tucson, the 60th-ranked radio market, has no real local-news presence on radio. As a result, the stations that did try to cover the tragedy largely opted for local talk-show hosts and other options to attempt to piecemeal updates.
Clear Channel-owned KNST AM 790 carried the most live coverage the weekend of the shooting. Talk-show host Garret Lewis and program director Chris Patyk joined Paul Birmingham—one of only a small handful of actual radio newsmen in the market—to attempt to provide information as it became available.
"KNST started covering the breaking news live at about 11:30 Saturday morning—and continued to air live coverage ... for more than seven hours," said Clear Channel chief communications officer Lisa Dollinger via e-mail.
Lewis, Patyk and Birmingham went live on much of Sunday as well.
Meanwhile, the market's other top-rated news/talk station, KQTH FM 104.1, fell back on its Journal Broadcast Group connections to provide updates. Journal also owns KGUN Channel 9.
"It was at 11:15 when (radio morning host) Jon (Justice) went on and did a report of the shooting taking place," said KQTH program director Ryan McCredden via e-mail. "At 11:30, Jon did another report confirming that Gabrielle Giffords was shot. ABC News Radio also had an update ... . At noon, another ABC News Radio report had more details on the shooting. Then, starting at 12:06, Mike Swanson took calls from listeners. Mike is normally the host of the Computer Guru show, but that day, he basically just let people call in and talk about the news. Jon came on at 12:50, taking calls and getting reports from ABC News and (Journal Broadcast Group television partner) KGUN 9. Jon stayed on until about 2:20 p.m., and we then carried the KGUN 9 coverage until 6:45 p.m."
Arizona Public Media's NPR outlet utilized its resources to update listeners locally.
"We broke the story to NPR, and were the first ones to air the story nationally and locally," said Arizona Public Media director of marketing and brand management Wendy Erica Werden via e-mail. "On Saturday and Sunday, KUAZ FM 89.1 had live news breaks with our reporters whenever new information was available. Mark Dugan was local anchoring news on Saturday; Peter Michaels and Christopher Conover were reporting. Sunday morning, we usually don't do local events, but Robert Rappaport covered the morning, with Mark Dugan covering in the afternoon with breaking news. Also, the local Fronteras: (The) Changing America (Desk) reporter, Michel Marizco, covered the event over the weekend."
NPR was the news outlet most cited as incorrectly reporting that Gabrielle Giffords had died from her wounds. However, Werden said that information did not emanate from Arizona Public Media.
"One of the members of our news department (Peter Michaels) was at the Safeway location several minutes after the event started," Werden said. "His wife had been at the event when the shooting began. When he was asked about Gabrielle's condition by the national news team ... he said he could not confirm if she was dead. Unfortunately, national chose to go with an alternative source and reported in error. To my knowledge, no local reporter from our news team gave any unconfirmed reports on her condition."
NPR issued an apology for the error. What follows are excerpts from the explanation, by NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard, available in its entirety at npr.org.
"At 1:50 p.m. (Eastern time), KJZZ news director Mark Moran in Phoenix ... said 'sources' within the Pima County Sheriff's Department had confirmed Giffords' death ... .
"With 10 minutes to spare, newscast producer Diane Waugh began scrambling to get the story on air—if NPR could get a second source. As is common in newsrooms, NPR has a two-source rule, requiring two reliable and independent confirmations before news is reported. Three is even better. Relying on just one source—especially an anonymous one—can often lead to false or misleading reports in fast-breaking news."
NPR correspondent Audie Cornish then received word about the death from a congresswoman's office, Shepard said.
"Barbara Klein was told to open the newscast with word that the congresswoman had been shot and killed," wrote Shepard. "We immediately went live to Mark Moran—who reported she was reportedly shot in the head and (that) there were multiple 'other deaths.'
"NPR had two sources, though neither was identified in any way, and should have been. And the newscast should have put the news in context, explaining that a tragedy had just occurred, the story was changing quickly, and this was what NPR knew at that moment."