The Viewers are the News Director in Knoxville

Have you ever wanted to be a News Director? 

You can and all you have to do is log onto Facebook and head over to WBIR's (Knoxville) page.

The station let's the viewers on Facebook decide what they put of their newscast.

TVNewsCheck writes that when an arguing Knoxville, Tenn., couple accidentally shot their baby last June, WBIR staffers were divided over using a photo of the 6-month-old girl in their coverage.

“We couldn’t come to a consensus on whether it was appropriate to use it on-air, online or at all,” says Christy Moreno, news director at the Gannett-owned NBC affiliate. Seeing the infant’s picture, taken from Facebook, really rattled newsroom parents, who were concerned that viewers would be equally upset. Others believed “the victim needed a face,” Moreno says.

So, using Facebook, Moreno asked viewers for their opinions. Dozens weighed in, with the “overwhelming majority” said it was OK to air a picture of the girl, which is what WBIR did.

“Instead of us all pretending we know what the viewers are thinking, we should ask them,” Moreno says. "To think that we all make the best decisions in the universe without asking [anyone else] is a bit naïve on our part.”

Using social media to help resolve ethical issues – whether to air victims’ photos and names, 911 calls and the like – is a somewhat regular practice at WBIR, Moreno says.  It's particularly useful is making tough journalistic decisions that don’t have any clear right or wrong answer.

On another occasion, WBIR asked whether to air a crash scene showing a car engulfed in flames.  

Moreno says she knew from past experiences that WBIR viewers are “very sensitive" to accident scenes. “People were very vocal. They told us absolutely do not air it. It would be tasteless.”

Feedback from viewers influences editorial decisions even when it isn't asked for, Moreno says.

Recently, for instance, the station stopped reporting the name of a mother who left her infant in a car, which was subsequently stolen, after an outcry on Facebook, Moreno says. “We were bombarded by viewers, saying leave her alone."

When WBIR staffers make judgment calls – airing 911 calls, for example -- that test the limits of viewers’ comfort zone, the team uses Facebook to spell out the process that went into making such decisions.  “We just like to let them know why,” Moreno says.

FTVLive could go on and on about the slippery slope that WBIR is headed down. We can only hope that other stations don't follow WBIR in using the practice of letting the viewers decide what airs and what doesn't.