MSNBC fired off the first volley tonight in tomorrow’s Shuttle re-launch coverage wars with their (postponed from Sunday due to the Hurricane) special titled “Return To Flight”. And judging by the show, MSNBC (and by extentsion NBC) threw down the gauntlet at CNN, and to a much lesser extent FOX News, to match it.
Hosted by Chris Jansing and benefitting from a last second accident similar in style to what caused Columbia to disintegrate on re-entry two years ago and which threatened to postpone tomorrow’s launch until a survey revealed the damage was repairable, the show was sharp and very informative; going into painstaking detail of what NASA did to address previous problems and what the mission of Discovery will be. The shuttle will be primarily testing a wide array of new methods to diagnose and analyze the shuttle in the case of damage. Tonight’s broadcast included new 3D animations of the various maneuvers the shuttle will perform while in space. These will undoubtedly get heavy rotation in the days to come. NBC and MSNBC clearly think they have the edge on this story with a team of space journalism veterans led by Jay Barbree and Robert Hager, who came out of retirement for this story. They’ve also brought in meterologist Sean McLaughlin who will be providing half hour weather updates throughout tomorrow from the Cape with specialized equipment that graphically illustrates the “No Launch Zone” where any cloud cover within a certain radius will stop the launch from happening. NBC is going to be relatively light on the coverage tomorrow so most of the resources will be aimed squarely at MSNBC.
MSNBC’s primary competition on this story will be coming from CNN. CNN will have Miles O’Brien anchoring the coverage. O’Brien was this close to being named the first journalist in space when the Discovery disaster permanently derailed those plans. CNN will have its own array of experts to provide color to the mission. CNN’s special Return To Flight web page is impressive. It’s chock full of stats and information including a breakdown of the shuttle misson by day, a bio page for each crew member, and a countdown clock and a lot of free video links. MSNBC.com has its own dedicated shuttle page with many of the same things as CNN’s but the layout isn’t as compelling in ICN’s opinion. It will be interesting viewing to see which of the two networks will be more authoritative and whether MSNBC will be able to maintain the high level of coverage it started tonight once the shuttle gets off the ground.
For FOX the challenge is to prove that it can offer the same level of detail that their rivals can easily muster with their deep benches and strong technical background. This isn’t exactly FOX’s strong suit. It would be safe to say that FOX’s natural strong suit is issues of the Heartland, politics, and The War on Terror and not pure science stories. FOX doesn’t have a dedicated science team of journalists like CNN and MSNBC have at their disposal. But that may not be as big an issue as one might think in the end if the launch progresses smoothly and doesn’t get bogged down in technical problems where having a large group of veteran space analysts would become a plus. The one big advantage FOX has going for it is it has won the Perception War and ICN expects more viewers will tune in to FOX first because the conventional wisdom has become that FOX is where the news is as evidenced by their consistent ratings dominence over the past few years. The question that is not yet resolved is whether FOX’s apparent weakness in the science background will cause viewers to switch over to the competition. But FOX will be sure to give it its best shot and an attempt to provide a compelling broadcast.
UPDATE: In the battle of the scale models, the early winner is CNN. The scale model that was used tonight on MSNBC (and is pictured above) is about 8 inches long. During Anderson Cooper 360, Miles O’Brien was holding a large scale model ICN estimates to be 18″ long. Will MSNBC or FOX be able to counter tomorrow?!?!?
Yes, ICN’s tongue is planted in its cheek…
UPDATE 2: This is a shot of O’Briens scale model which comes from WHAC…