Media watch: an officer's moving memorial

It was a rare event for local media, providing hours of commercial-free coverage of the full ritual. Here's how the stations performed.
It was a rare event for local media, providing hours of commercial-free coverage of the full ritual. Here's how the stations performed.

For the second time in slightly more than a week, local TV and radio stations devoted a fair portion of their early afternoon schedules to live, commercial-free coverage of a local event. Unlike Boeing'ꀙs announcement on October 28 that the company had selected South Carolina for the second 787 line, the memorial for Seattle Police Officer Tim Brenton was scheduled in advance (which gave broadcasters time to prepare).

The highly ritualistic event was also rich with moving visuals — from the procession of law enforcement vehicles beforehand to the memorial itself at KeyArena. Lines of vehicles with flashing lights, thousands of officers in dress uniforms, mourners and even just the curious paying silent tribute along the route were unlike anything the city has seen for many years.

KIRO TV stayed with the 1 pm KeyArena event the longest, with coverage lasting until nearly 3:30 pm. KIRO TV also provided the most restrained coverage, with no running commentary or interpretation of the event while it was in progress, and came closest to what it must have been like to actually attend. Coverage of the event diverged most during songs movingly sung by a small group of female officers, which only KING TV and KIRO TV stayed with. Distractingly, KCPQ TV switched to live shots of the special flag fluttering atop the Space Needle and outdoor tributes, while KOMO TV played earlier taped images from the procession.

Toward the end of the service, KING TV'ꀙs Dennis Bounds read an excerpt of a poem and managed to get in a plug for the KING TV website (where viewers could find the complete text of the poem, he said). All four TV stations stayed with the memorial until well past 3 pm. KIRO TV'ꀙs marathon coverage ended with somber images of KeyArena gradually emptying of officers while an unseen Steve Raible recapped the event.

Over on radio, KIRO-FM'ꀙs Dori Monson narrated the silent moments of the memorial with an appropriate amount of understated description of what was taking place — a speaker walking slowly from the seating area to the podium, another inaudibly consoling the officer'ꀙs widow. KOMO AM-FM broadcast only the audio feed from KeyArena with no additional commentary, which occasionally made for long periods of radio silence.

Both KIRO-FM and KOMO AM-FM were commercial-free for nearly two hours, but both broke away from the memorial before it ended. During the 21-gun salute, KIRO-FM was playing spots for Video Only and Jorve Roofing. KOMO AM-FM stayed with the event until just after, switching back to its all-news format shortly before 3 pm.

The memorial for Officer Brenton was a reminder of how little in the way of ritual is typically shown on television, particularly local live television. Local news often features only a few seconds of weddings, funerals, graduations, and swearing-in ceremonies, but it'ꀙs rare that anything so complete is broadcast. Presidential events such as the Inauguration and State of the Union are about the only examples of regularly broadcast rituals that come close (and those don'ꀙt happen very often).

Differences in coverage aside, TV and radio stations are businesses, and they lose revenue when they provide continuous coverage of breaking news and community events. That said, broadcasters also benefit immeasurably when they put profits aside to bring viewers and listeners important events that help remind us all that we live in the same city or same region, and that we care about our common lives here. While a dollar figure can be assigned to the number of commercial spots that were bumped to cover Officer Brenton'ꀙs memorial, that thousands of us were able to take part and pay our remote respects from work, home or our cars is priceless.


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