Tough questions? Tough luck

By March 21, 2014 No Comments


Did you see the TV interview with Bode Miller, the American Winter Olympian, after he tied for Bronze at Sochi and made history by becoming the oldest alpine skiing medallist?

It was an emotional moment, as Miller thought of his younger brother, a promising Olympic snowboarder, who died last year from a seizure.

Cristin Cooper, the NBC reporter who interviewed Miller, referred to his sibling’s death four times during the short exchange.  Miller was clearly struggling with his emotions and her last question, “When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?” finally brought him to tears.

Then, the camera stayed on Miller for more than a minute as he completely broke down, and was comforted by his wife.

Bode Miller

The press and viewers went crazy.  The journalist was called disgusting, a parasite, and the network was accused of deliberately provoking the athlete’s tears and then keeping the camera rolling in order to boost ratings.

Bode Miller himself wasn’t angry, however.  He told rival network CNN:

“She asked questions that I feel like, with her knowledge of my brother and the situation, I felt like were pretty normal questions…I’ve known Christin for a long time, and I think she’s really comfortable with me, and I felt terrible that she was getting just massacred in the press and in social media.”

But even if Miller had never met Cooper, her questions were still justified, and here’s why.

There are eight news values which all journalists know.  They are (in order of importance): Impact, Timeliness, Currency, Proximity, Novelty, Prominence, Human Interest and Conflict.  Journalists use these news values as a checklist to decide whether something is newsworthy and how newsworthy it is.  Bode Miller’s bronze medal – and his reaction to it – hits five of them.

IMPACT: By becoming the oldest alpine skiing medallist, Bode Miller changed the face of the sport.  That has impact for all those who do it, coach it, organise it, watch it.  That’s a big impact.

TIMELINESS: Essentially, news is what’s happening right now. He’d just won bronze – that made him and his reaction newsworthy.

NOVELTY: By becoming the oldest alpine skiing medallist that gave him novelty value.

PROMINENCE: NBC is an American network and Bode Miller is a well-known, American Olympian.  He had prominence for the network’s audience.

HUMAN INTEREST: And here’s the biggie. People are fascinated by people – what they’re capable of, what they’ve been through, and how they react. It’s just the way the world works.  So of course we’re interested in what it’s like to win an Olympic medal so soon after your brother has died.

So the message is this: be news savvy.  Understand why you’re newsworthy and you can anticipate a journalist’s question and understand why you get asked it more than once.

But did Cristin Cooper go too far?  Was four questions three too many? Only Bode Miller can answer that – and he’s already said he didn’t mind.

– Christine Heard