I was glad to see ABC, CBS and NBC break from their morning shows airing on the West Coast in the 8 a.m. hour to report on the Feb. 11 resignation of Hosni Mubarak as president of Egypt. They all deployed significant resources to document the dramatic, 18-day long uprising that led up to Mubarak stepping down. It was a pretty obvious call to make as it marked the culmination of a true, modern revolution. As NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams said on air: “This is the night you want to be in Cairo.”
Williams is right. It’s a moment not to be missed.
But there are likely more moments coming not to be missed too.
As a demonstrator next to NBC News’ Richard Engel in his live shot today from the square exclaimed, “Facebook!” I couldn’t help but imagine Engel reporting something similar soon from another square in a neighboring country. With the success of the Tunisian and Egyptian people to gather, demonstrate and oust their leaders, speculation is all ramped up about what nation might be next. Word, of course, quickly spread of Mubarak’s resignation. MSNBC reported that horns were being honked in Tunisia and gunshots fired off in Lebanon in solidarity and support of the change in Egypt. There’s a good chance this story is not over.
But as the crowds disperse in the hours and days ahead, Egypt is going to fade from the forefront of U.S. TV networks. The people, now celebratory, will go home and back to their lives. And with them will go some of the most compelling TV images.
To the news execs now tasked with “right-sizing” their resources, as ABC execs tend to call it, I’ll caution against letting those stories and personnel get too far out of sight.
There are certainly continuing important global issues to cover, and we all know the networks have been plenty criticized for scaling too far back on international coverage. But here lies a real opportunity for the nets to continue the momentum they’ve grabbed by staying on this story, and get a jump on the next one.
Reporting on a revolution as it unfolded live like this is not just a responsibility for the news organizations, it has been a display of some of the TV community’s best work — from live shots from the demonstrations on all the outlets to ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour’s exclusive interview with Mubarak. Reports on all the major U.S. TV news orgs illustrated how important it is simply to be there.
No, the nets probably don’t need to go so far as to send Williams, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer to go camp out in Cairo for the next month. (Although did I sense a bit of envy in Williams’ voice as he described the fact that Engel could hear the sounds of the crowd from the NBC News bureau when the Mubarak resignation announcement was made?)
However, it would be wise to keep some high-profile people on hand who can help the news brands continue to own these stories out of the Middle East. And I’m sure at least some of them will. So keep an eye out for reports on some of the less telegenic stories in the region, while news staffs keep an eye on the possibility of the next revolution, which we now know can be organized in the tweet, er, blink of an eye.