Networks’s coverage of Trump verdict often oddly discombobulated

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After the surprise news that the jury in the Donald Trump hush money trial had reached a verdict in the early evening of May 30, 2024, the networks offered up special coverage, including breaking into normal programming, but many appeared oddly uncoordinated. 

Initially, the networks were told that the jury had asked to end their day early, but it later became clear they had actually reached a verdict, which was then read in open court.

Because no cameras were permitted inside the courtroom, the networks relied on teams of journalists inside the courtroom itself or the nearby overflow room to pass along the verdict on each count as it was read. The Manhattan court also provided a web-based feed of the verdicts.

Most networks used a variation of illustrating each count and whether Trump was found guilty or not guilty on-screen for viewers, though most of them were often either embarrassingly slow to update or were significantly ahead of what talent was reading.

Another trend was the use of a timeline of events in the form of a sort of live blog in an on-screen sidebar.

CNN’s Jake Tapper managed to do a decent job of keeping up with the on-screen graphics displaying each count and the finding. Tapper appeared to be looking at a screen positioned off-camera as opposed to a device on the desk, so he may have been seeing the same graphics viewers were seeing. 

At the end of the reading, the network switched to a wide shot of one of its video walls showcasing a giant “Convicted” graphic.

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MSNBC anchors Ari Melber and Rachel Maddow appeared in a two-shot on screen, with Melber doing most of the reading of the verdicts as they appeared on a laptop set up between the two. It’s not clear what he was looking at, however.

The on-screen graphics were mostly out of sync during MSNBC’s reading, with the graphics often at least several counts ahead.

Fox’s conservative commentary channel used a three-box layout with the lower right one showing a count number and what the jury found, but it remained almost hopelessly behind. The network ended up dropping out of the graphic just when it switched to Count 19 even as its pundits were already shooting down the verdict and the lower third banner along the bottom of the screen was already noting Trump was guilty on all 34 counts.

ABC NewsDavid Muir read some of the verdicts one-by-one and others in ranges, apparently being told that information via his IFB. At one point Muir was even captured on camera pressing his earpiece to hear better.

The network opted to list out Count 1 through Count 34 on the same fullscreen graphic, with a red “guilty” bar appearing next to each one (presumably a “not guilty” label, perhaps in a different color, was also available). A running count was also shown along the bottom of the graphic.

At one point, Muir noted that the graphic was still catching up to the information that had already been conveyed aurally. 

CBS NewsNorah O’Donnell managed to stay fairly on-track with the graphic as she read each decision. CBS broke the graphic up into three screens of eight counts each followed by a single one of 10.

On NBC, Laura Jarrett delivered the verdict live outside of the courthouse, appearing to be reading from an off-screen device or screen.

In a raw moment any news junky would love, Savannah Guthrie had just tossed to Dasha Burns when the verdicts began rolling in. “Laura, go,” Guthrie said on air. The network then switched to Jarrett, who appeared to not realize she was on the air yet, saying out loud “Guys, we need to go. We need to go,” likely lines meant for a producer monitoring her feed.

Once Jarrett started, the on-screen count would frequently be ahead of her verbal reads.

Jarrett later appeared on “NBC Nightly News” with she and Lester Holt appearing to try to vamp a bit until she tossed to a package, which had some odd audio and video editing glitches, likely because it had been finished just moments before.

NewsNation did not even opt to read out each count, simply having Elizabeth Vargas announced that Trump had been found guilty on all 34 counts. This did eliminate the need to worry over any on-screen graphics, but also managed to feel a bit anticlimactic. 

It’s not clear if NewsNation had visuals prepared to showcase each count or not because none ever appeared on air live.

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Why were the networks’ so oddly uncoordinated with their graphics? 

There are likely several reasons that could have played a role in the issues, either just one of them or a combination of multiple factors.

The communication between staffers inside the courthouse and with the newsroom, control room and talent may have been delayed due to the time it takes for messages to be inputted, transmitted, read and then interpreted. Each step can add a few fractions of a second that, in total, end up delaying the reading just enough to create inconsistencies. 

Ultimately, it appeared that relying on the feed from the court system was probably the most streamlined way to get the information, though it’s not entirely clear how close to realtime this was.

As for some networks’ graphics getting ahead of the talent reading them, this could have been because the person running the graphics was receiving information on each count in a different way than the anchors were that somehow managed to arrive even slightly faster. 

Graphics falling behind could have been due to a variety of reasons, ranging from technical glitches to the time it took for the person running the graphics to select the right option to show and then send that to output (some systems or setups could have made this easier or more clunky).

It’s also possible that the networks were not expecting the counts to be released so quickly, so the system and workflows were designed with the assumption that there would be at least some time between each verdict being read.

The fact that the verdict came somewhat as a surprise could have also played a part in the issues, though it’s almost certain that all of the networks, with the possible exception of NewsNation, have had the graphics ready since at least the point when deliberations began.

While the clunky presentation disconnects were obviously awkward, the issues also gave the announcements a sense of that rawness that often comes with breaking news. 

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