TV News Outlets Scramble to Cover Malaysia Airline, Ukraine Developments

TV news outlets were sent scrambling Thursday morning to cover two big breaking news stories in far-flung locales. The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 intensified, spurred by the discovery of debris in the Indian Ocean, while tensions in the Ukraine heightened as President Obama responded to aggressive moves by Russian military forces in Crimea.

Cable news outlets as well as the broadcast networks are clearly gearing up for a wall-to-wall coverage frenzy when the mystery of the missing plane is finally solved.

During morning-news programming, typically presented in a more relaxed setting, the networks’ instead offered maps and charts. Both Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” broke away from their traditional settings to examine the airline story more closely. On CNN’s “New Day,'” co-anchor Kate Bolduan had been dispatched to cover the story full-time, rather than holding forth from a seat in the show’s New York studio.

Meanwhile, at 11 a.m. ET the major networks broke into original programming to cover Obama’s announcement of addition sanctions against Russian government officials and influential private individuals and banks that provide “material support” to Russia’s leadership.

Obama used his strongest language to date in blasting Russia’s “illegal” incursion in the Crimea region.

“The world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in ways that (could) lead to further incursions,” Obama said.

Obama’s news conference amounted to a curve ball thrown at the networks’ morning news teams, which were gearing up for the possibility of big news on the Malaysia Airlines front. But the Ukraine situation forced a quick detour into the complicated foreign policy issues at stake as U.S. relations with Russia become more strained.

The networks have every reason to cover both stories very closely. Breaking-news events typically draw broader audiences – not just regular viewers – to their air. Already, CNN has experienced ratings surges during many parts of its schedule, as fascination in the tale of the missing plane draws additional interest.

Many of the networks are relying on staffers and contributors already in place. CNN has staff based in Moscow and Istanbul full time,  as well as reporters in Beijing and Hong Kong. The network has covered the Ukraine situation since protests erupted in January, and has covered the Malaysia Airlines situation since March14, the night the plane went missing. CNN has relied on Moscow-based reporter Phil Black and Istanbul-based staffer Ivan Watson for Ukraine coverage. Both traveled into the troubled country.

To cover the missing airline, CNN has used Andrew Stevens, who is reporting from Perth, Australia, but is normally based in Hong Kong. A CNN spokeswoman said Bolduan is expected to move to Australia tomorrow along with Kyung Lah, from a location in Kuala Lampur. The network also has other staffers in place in Kuala Lampur as well as Beijing.

NBC News, meanwhile, has had Keir Simmons in Kuala Lampur since March 9 to track news related to Flight 370, with Tom Costello covering from Washington, D.C. NBC News has had a presence in Ukraine since February 19. Richard Engel, the network’s chief foreign correspondent, flew to Kiev on Feb. 18 and stayed there for ten days, then returned to visit Crimea March 13. He is currently in eastern Ukraine, according to an NBC News spokeswoman. Fox News Channel has relied on the reporting of David Piper in Indonesia and can use Sky News in Australia as events warrant.

CBS News has relied on correspondents Clarissa Ward and Seth Doane hinKuala Lumpur,  to cover the plight of the Malaysia Airlines flight, which has led the broadcasts of both “CBS This Morning” and “The CBS Evening News” every day since March 8.  Ward has since left the region, but Doane is still there, a CBS News spokeswoman said.   National Correspondent Lee Cowan is expected to report from Perth, Australia on tonight’s”Evening News.”

For its Ukraine coverage, CBS has depended on stalwart foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, who has been reporting from Crimea since the start of the crisis in February, one of the first Western journalists there and one of the few remaining. Correspondent Charlie D’Agata is currently reporting from Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.

ABC News has relied on correspondent David Kerley to cover the latest details of the Malaysian plane, while David Wright has moved to Perth, Australia and Clayton Sandell, who had been in Kuala Lampur. moves to Perth as well. For Ukraine coverage, ABC News has relied on correspondent Alexander Marquardt, who has been in Simferopol and Crimea  for the last month; Hamish Macdonald, who has been in Kiev during the initial protests and in February; and chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz to keep an eye on the latest political developments in Washington.

The networks’ interests could be spotted earlier this morning. In the 9 a.m. hour, CNN seemed to focus on nothing but the plane and speculation about the debris, as did its sister network HLN (though the latter peppered in details from other subjects). But Fox News and MSNBC found room for other stories. Fox News Channel’s “America’s News room” featured a segment on the struggle in Ukraine, for example, while MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd” boasted an interview with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Meanwhile,  CNBC and Fox Business Network  focused on business-news as usual, while Fusion featured a half-hour documentary, “Back Home.”

The cable-news outlets were also active overnight. Shepard Smith anchored live coverage on Fox News Channel, for instance, from around 12:20 a.m. eastern to 2 a.m. eastern.

Pictured: Australia’s Maritime Safety chief John Young speaks at a news conference Thursday on the discovery of the possible plane debris

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