Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why aviation people need to be better at telling media's stories

I'm a big fan of the podcast, Uncontrolled Air Space, which is three very knowledgeable gentlemen gassing on for an hour about all things (general) aviation. They're smart, they make excellent points, and they're a great companion for me out at the hangar.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at Oshkosh along with Jeb Burnside, one of UCAP's founders, although I doubt he'd remember me and I wouldn't expect him to.

It was surprising on Sunday, then, to be listening to a recent podcast while I was working on the RV-7A at the hangar, when this blog was mentioned and came up for discussion. Unfortunately, they did to me what many reporters do to aviation, they talked as informed analysts even though they didn't fully know what they were talking about and, in the process, they got the story wrong and did a disservice to the listener.

The subject of their segment was this blog post about the landing gear problems of a Polish airliner on a flight to Poland from Newark.

I had access to (I think from the Aviation Safety Network) the English version of an initial report from the Polish version of the NTSB. Not only that, I read it and I provided links and information contained therein.

I made clear in the post that the belly-up landing did not have its roots in the circuit breaker -- that clearly was from a hydraulic leak -- but that one reason for the belly-up landing was the circuit breaker.

In the telling of the story, however, my three friends neglected to read what I wrote and adequately inform themselves about the information before commenting on what they were reading.

You could hear the whole presentation here.

Even though I provided the source of my information, they initially questioned from where I was getting it. They proclaimed it an "implausible" scenario, and they objected to the possibility that a circuit breaker wouldn't have revealed itself via the usual annunciation systems. They also didn't quite comprehend that I was talking about the failure of the alternate landing gear system, not the initial problem of the hydraulic leak.

As they worked their way through the post, they eventually figured things out, although by not reading it ahead of time, they also missed the very real factoid that the landing gear came down on this airliner once the CB was pushed in; that just didn't happen until it was already on the ground.

But, I guess what I generally object to is the live questioning of a journalist's work to a wide audience without fully understanding what that work was. I rather hope in the future that my three companions will take the time to fully familiarize themselves with the topic before tackling it, because people's reputations are valuable.

It's nothing we don't ask of journalists toward the aviation world, and nothing we shouldn't expect of ourselves.

All that said, it's a hell of a great show, they're three great guys, and if you're not a regular listener, you should be.

I'd have posted these comments in the show's forum on their excellent website, but I haven't been approved yet.

1 comment:

  1. I'm still trying to decide how to respond to all this. But my very first reaction is: sorry.

    We try to make it clear that UCAP is not a formal news presentation. It's just some pilots having a bull-session, while a whole lot of others are listening.

    And I guess maybe that's part of our mistake. Because we also present ourselves as working aviation journalists. And it's not unreasonable for one to expect that maybe we know what we're talking about.

    But your description of us talking about a story without having read up on it in advance is (maybe a little embarrassingly) accurate. Our rationalization is, that's the way hangar-flying sessions work. They're just casual conversation. Sometimes passing around a news clipping, that no one has seen before, and talking about it.

    In our defense, we try to disclose this casualness whenever we can. But maybe, given the unexpected success of the podcast, we should try to do it a little differently.

    Anyway, we're still thinking about all this. But please know that we genuinely regret that we may have not have done a great job summarizing your story.

    As we ponder what might come of this, one thing seems like a very good idea. That is: inviting you to join us in our virtual hangar one of these days. It would give you a chance to set us straight on the gear-up thing, and I think, as a regular reader of your blog, you could add to the discussion in many other areas.

    I sent you email, to an address I found in your sidebar, to start a conversation about all this. If it hasn't found it's way to you, please email me at podcast@uncotrolledairspace.com. I'll be watching for your reply.

    // Jack