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Weighing the economics of airing a live car chase

Motorists wave as police cars pursue the Ford Bronco (white, R) driven by Al Cowlings, carrying fugitive murder suspect O.J. Simpson, on a 90-minute slow-speed car chase June 17, 1994 on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, California. Getty Images/ MIKE NELSON / Staff

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Local TV news stations are apt to air live car chases — especially in California or Florida, where sprawling highway infrastructure makes for long and thrilling pursuits. 

For viewers, the possibility of seeing a dramatic ending live on screen is a huge draw — entire offices can come to a standstill when a big chase is on.

But newsrooms have to consider the high stakes of showing a potentially dangerous, or deadly, situation play out in real time. Just last month, for instance, a man involved in a car chase was shot by police on live TV in Texas.

Al Tompkins, senior faculty at the Poynter Institutehas been working in newsrooms for more than forty years.

“Once you’ve decided to go there, it seems to me you have to ask a series of questions of yourself,” he says. “Is this so important that you’re willing to air the worst possible outcome?”

Listen to the full story using the audio player above.

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