Television news anchors wear a lot of hats: they inform us, they entertain us, and sometimes they even comfort us. John McCaa has served all of those roles as an anchor at WFAA-TV. Today on "Think" and during a public forum tonight, he talked to Krys Boyd about being a calming and level-headed presence when the news might cause some to panic.
"I remember once something had happened in North Fort Worth, and we had breaking news," he said during "Think." "Students were being let out of school. I remember saying to myself as we were on the air, ‘What about the sixth grader who’s sitting at home [alone]? How can we tell this story without making that sixth grader [feel] terrified? I mean, there has to be some way to explain this to people.’ You say, ‘This is dangerous; this is an unusual situation but things are under control.’
That's when McCaa's 30 years of experience at the station kick in.
"I think you can use your voice," he said. "You can use your narration. You can use the picture to try to give people a clear understanding that something that doesn’t normally happen has occurred, but we still have things relatively under control. The right people are moving in the right direction to bring it under control. That is to me the key thing that the anchorperson should do. Some might argue that you’re not telling the full truth—I get that all the time. What you’re really trying to do is keep people relatively calm in dangerous situations, because you can get carried away if you want to, and I don’t want to be part of that."
KERA, in partnership with the Fort Worth Opera and The Sixth Floor Museum, hosted the panel discussion called “Covering Tragedy: Journalism In A Changing World” tonight at 6:30 at The Sixth Floor Museum.
The event explored changes in news media in the past 50 years. Joining McCaa were NPR correspondent Wade Goodwyn and Seema Yasmin of "The Dallas Morning News." Krys Boyd moderated.
You can watch the discussion here. (The action starts at the 2:03 mark.)