Chicago Mandela package illustrates word of caution on pre-produced death stories

It’s no secret that news organizations prepare packages, graphics and other content about the death of prominent celebrities and figures well before they die, but something interesting popped up during WLS-TV’s coverage of the passing of Nelson Mandela.

The Chicago ABC O&O aired a story, reported by anchor Ron Magers, that covered some of Mandela’s Chicago connections, shortly into the first block of its 4 p.m. newscast Thursday.

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The entire package already had lower thirds and other graphics inserted into it, likely a forethought to save time in the event the package had to be rushed to air — and a common practice in TV newsrooms.

The graphics that were edited into the package, however, were from the station’s old graphics package. WLS-TV covered up most of the graphics with its new lower thirds, but parts of it still were visible on screen.

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Part of the old graphic’s package is visible behind the new one.

What was particularly interesting was that the underlying graphics even read “Nelson Mandela: 1918-2013,” as shown above.

While it was widely believed that Mandela would, unfortunately, die in 2013, this could have been put the station in an interesting position had the death taken place after the New Year and the package was simply pulled off the shelf and put on the air.

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The “July 1993” graphic in the upper left is from the old WLS-TV graphics package.

Although this didn’t result in a mistake, by any means, on the part of WLS-TV, it’s still a worthwhile reminder that pre-produced packages like this should be kept fresh. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, too, they should be updated as soon as possible if a new graphics package debuts.

Including time sensitive information, such as dates, in pre-produced packages should also be done with care.

Keep in mind that the very nature of news is that it’s unpredictable so it’s never safe to assume the dates (or other information) will remain true or that the error will be caught in the haste of getting on the air with breaking news.

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