Guerilla Journalism Goes Off The Rails…What Did You Expect Would Happen?

I haven’t blogged in over a year. But this story got me back because it’s a case study on how non network news people don’t understand how news networks function as well as serve as a reminder that in today’s polarizing times that people who are the faces of network newscasts need to be on guard and exercise extreme self-restraint.

So yesterday after finishing her remote shift on the road in Michigan on MSNBC, anchor Chris Jansing was confronted by Jack Allison, a Bernie Sanders supporter and podcaster, about why the network didn’t cover someone bringing a Nazi flag to a Sanders rally. It didn’t go well as Fox News’ Joseph A Wulfwon reported

As the Michigan primary was underway, “JackAM” host Jack Allison approached Jansing at the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA) and asked her why the network chose not to dedicate any significant coverage to the disrupter who flew a Nazi flag at Sanders’ rally in Arizona last week.

“Hi, can I ask you a question?” Allison asks. “Why did your network not find it newsworthy to report on an anti-Semitic attack [at] the Jewish candidate’s rally on Friday?”

“[I] don’t make those decisions. So I can’t answer that,” Jansing responds.

“So who makes those decisions? Because I texted producer Daniel Arnall personally and told him about this information, so it’s not credible that no one in the building knows. So I want to know why the network made that decision,” Allison continues.

The full video was posted on Twitter by Allison so you can go watch it yourself.

My first reaction on seeing this was, and still is, what did you expect Jack?

You go in and shove a camera in Jansing’s face, thereby demonstrating to her that you have an agenda, and start barking questions she can’t answer and then get indignant that she can’t answer them and things just degenerate from there.

This is not how it’s done.

First of all, anyone who knows anything about this business knows that coverage decisions are largely made not by the news anchor. It’s different for prime time of course where the talent does exert an outsized level of control over what gets covered and is more involved in the process. But for dayside news, it’s different.

Second of all, the news anchor is not the PR person. Even if Jansing did know, she is not allowed to say. That’s considered talking outside of the tent by the network and people who do that tend to get in trouble with their bosses.

Third, networks as a whole are loathe to get into discussions of coverage decisions. While there are compelling arguments to be made in certain circumstances for networks to be more open about the process it’s a slippery slope proposition. Once you go down that path, where does it end? You start explaining yourselves for one thing, people are going to demand you now explain yourself for another. And another. And another. This is why I wish news networks had an ombudsman position…it takes the network out of the process of deciding what to be forthcoming about. Not that I think it will ever happen, but it should.

Anybody who knows the above knows it’s a waste of time to bother asking Jansing to explain her network’s decision process. She’s not going to know the answer and even if she did she knows better than to stick her neck out over something she had no involvement in.

Obviously Jack Allison didn’t know that. Or maybe he did and pressed ahead anyways looking to start something? I don’t know. I can’t read his mind. I can only read his actions. Coming at Jansing with a camera and shoving it in her face is not the tactic one would use if one wanted to get an answer. If I had a question which I wanted to ask I’d just walk up, without the camera as it’s a red flag that automatically puts the other person on the defensive and adds tension and distracts from getting the answer, and ask the question. If they can’t answer I’d ask who should I ask? And I’d move on. You don’t need a camera for that if all you want is an answer.

Coming at her with a camera is, however, a tactic one would use to put someone on the spot in a bit of gotcha coverage. I’m not saying that was necessarily Allison’s intention. He no doubt was frustrated over what happened when he talked with the network producer (who, like Jansing, also knows better than to speak for their network) and may have gone about getting the answer the wrong way. Whatever the motivation, shoving the camera in her face pretty much guaranteed that no answers would be forthcoming.

Now, obviously, if you have read this blog going back to 2005, you know I think highly of Jansing. So you, no doubt, are thinking to yourselves, “Ah Spuds on the old Jansing bandwagon again”…

Not so fast…

Jansing is a veteran. A true pro. Which makes her response in all this all the more perplexing and disappointing. She handled it okay at first but later on she lost her composure and a true pro who has been around as long as she has should know better than to engage Allison like that. She could have and should have done better.

I don’t know if she really assaulted him or not. Does reaching for his phone constitute assault? The video cuts out so we don’t know what exactly happened next and we only have Allison’ account. I’ll take him at his word that whatever “security” was there did or at least attempted to put him in a headlock as it was clear from the video that they had moved in between Allison and Jansing and some sort of tussle was going on when the video cut out.

I’m guessing Jansing had never experienced this kind of behavior before where someone comes up and barks questions you can’t answer and shoves a camera in your face. Still there are ways to handle this and she chose poorly.

But then so did Allison…

2 Responses to “Guerilla Journalism Goes Off The Rails…What Did You Expect Would Happen?”

  1. You’re back! I’ve missed your commentary.

  2. Me as well, Quarant.

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