Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Anne State leaving KOIN

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Anne State

It was announced last night on the KOIN 11 o’clock news that anchor Anne State was leaving the station, effective immediately.  Jeff Gianola said Ms. State was stepping down from her co-anchor position to care for her ailing parents full-time, and that “We understand and support Anne’s decision,” and wish her “the very best .”  On Ms. State’s Twitter page profile, she says her father suffers from blindness and her mother, from Alzheimer’s disease.

Before coming to Portland, Ms. State was at WITI in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  She joined KOIN anchor Jeff Gianola in August 2014.  Together, they hosted the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. In her statement, she says, “I appreciate the support that I have received from many wonderful people at KOIN,” State says in the press release.  “I am so grateful for their support and understanding of this decision.”

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April 16, 2015 at 01:22

Oh No

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Theater people know the brief look that was exchanged between new, Face the Nation host John Dickerson and reporter/anchor Nora O’Donnell on CBS This Morning.  Dickerson was talking about Hillary Clinton’s just announced campaign and Ms. O’Donnell was asking him a question.  Suddenly, there it was.  Dickerson and O’Donnell were locked in this momentary glance that can be called the “Oh No” look.

When you’re onstage and you and another actor are sharing a similar thought, it can be a knowing look.  It can also be a shared joke that can cause both people to start laughing.  Or, maybe the laughing starts for absolutely no reason at all.  But if you can’t break eye contact, then you have to pour cold water on the look, which can be really hard to do.  SNL and news blooper tapes are full of examples of what happens when the look takes over; actors and anchors start laughing which in turn, feeds more laughing that becomes uncontrollable.  Episodes of the Carol Burnett Show showing this breakup breakdown between comedians Tim Conway and Harvey Korman are legendary.

In American film, theater and TV, this is called “breaking character“.  On the British stage, it’s called corpsing and actors receive pretty substantial training on how to keep it from happening.  Some actors focus on clenching their fists or biting their tongues.  Others are told by their directors that “they themselves” are not what is funny happening in a scene.  Still other actors say that after they work the scene enough times, they just focus on the work and the lose the urge to laugh.

I knew the Oh No look was in play because the director switched from Ms. O’Donnell’s face to Mr. Dickerson’s, and both were frozen in that sort of bulging eye horror of knowing they were each about to lose control if somebody didn’t do something fast.  The director, Randi Lennon, has probably seen this a lot and quickly went to and held the camera on Charlie Rose long enough for both Mr. Dickerson and Ms. O’Donnell to regain their composure.

I’ve mentioned something like this before, namely the bad marrying of a funny story to a terrible, follow-up story that can twist the anchor up sometimes.  What happened this morning is a reminder to TV people of something theater people know well – the Oh No look is a trap and one of the many hazards on a news set in the handoff between reporter and anchor.

Written by Interviewer

April 13, 2015 at 22:58

The Look of News

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Network Logos

I’m dating myself, but I remember when there were just three channels on TV.  Well, not really just three.  There were the PBS channels and everything else that lived above Channel 13 on UHF.  But in most places, viewers watched network programs through their network affiliates that existed somewhere between Channels 2 and 12.  For the most part, they still do.

I am thinking about how much the local channels try to look like their network parents and what that really means.  If you are a connoisseur of the look of TV, you might get what I’m saying.  With the years I’ve spent behind studio cameras, in master controls and at home, the feel a station wants to convey with its look is very recognizable and distinctive to me.  And I am convinced that they each have had decades long recipes for how their picture looks to the world and what they’re saying about themselves with those pictures.

CBS, it seems to me, has colors that have higher than average black levels.  Black level is one of the components of a TV signal that becomes your TV picture.  High but not too high black levels make the pictures rich in their clarity and sharpness but not overly bright or overly colorful.  The feeling I get from a CBS image is credibility, authority and power.  So with that in mind, it’s probably no coincidence that the old nickname for CBS headquarters is “Black Rock”.  Anyway, their picture is what you might see with your own eyes if somebody else was controlling them on the assumption that you wanted to see the most real reality* possible.  That may sound a little woo-woo, but I think that’s how CBS has always tried to present the world to its viewers; in a digitally sharp, not a lot of frills, down to business, just the facts ma’am manner.  Local CBS affiliates mirror the network look and feel as much as they can.  If CBS’s look was a setting, it would be an office.

NBC, by comparison has a film-ish look.  Not grainy exactly, not soft focus exactly.  But when I watch NBC, I think of history in the making.  Also, for many people, film is to images like vinyl is to sound.  There is just something about the earlier mediums that feel original and thus, more true.  Film makes the things we’re seeing more authentic and believable in part because film is what we all grew up with.  That’s why almost all of the movies we see don’t look like a TV news story and instead, look like, well … life.  Even movies that are shot digitally are made to look like film.  You can bet the engineers, producers and executives at NBC, as well of all of its affiliates know that’s how people see them and that is a perception they want to protect.  If NBC’s look was a setting, it would be a library.

ABC has always struck me as the most immediate network.  I think that mostly because of the colors.  Colors always seem most intense and lighting always seems brightest to me in ABC programming.  I see this especially on ABC news programs although I also noticed it on the old After School Specials and see it in many current prime time shows.  Of the three networks, the action on ABC programs seems to move fastest, with quicker edits and effects, more in-your-face use of sound and overall pacing.  The feel I get from watching something on ABC is it’s a wind in your hair kind of experience.  To me, ABC creates a mood of immediacy and energy with the way it presents itself.  And again, local ABC stations seem to follow suit.  If ABC’s look was a setting, it would be a party.

What I’m talking about here is how television engineers light for the camera to create a world that exists on a continuum from stark reality to dreamtime and everything in between.  Each of these networks has settled on a recipe for a picture of the world that mirrors how they see it, and they attract people who see it the same way.  They and their affiliates, present that world but we each have a preference for how we want to see it which is why many of us choose one network over another.  Of course, if a better show is on a different network, that’s where the viewer goes.  But networks are brands and they have brand loyalty based in large part on how people have come to expect they will look and feel to them.  There are distinct differences which is no accident.

*BTW, Aaron Schachter of PRI’s “The World” also used the superlative “real reality” in an April 7th radio story but I hadn’t heard it yet.

Black Portlanders at Mt. Tabor

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Intisar Abioto, a Portland Oregon based photographer, asked local African-Americans to participate in a photo shoot. About a dozen children and adults showed up on a chilly spring morning to be photographed for the cover of an upcoming Urban League of Portland report on the state of Black Portland.

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April 5, 2015 at 12:20

Rats

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Rats

I’ve spent the afternoon listening to the rebroadcast of All Things Considered.  The local public radio station plays two hours of ATC and then, replays it.  Two hours ago, I heard all of the stories I was now hearing again.  And I was remembering the finer points of each story.  Once you’ve heard something once, you have a pretty good idea of what it’ll sound like if you hear it again.  And, it checks your memory when what you hear differs from what you remember.

I bring this up because I told Q host Piya Chattopadhyay via Twitter that I heard her say, “I’m Piya Chattopadhyay sitting in for Jian Ghomeshi” at the start of a story about the Mars One project.  When I heard that, I thought “This must be an archive interview from before Ghomeshi’s dismissal in October 2014″.  But I went online and saw the interview was actually today, not six months ago.

While listening to ATC, I was thinking, ‘Yeah, I remember this story and that story.  I remember that cadence, those words, that pause.”  In other words, the stuff my ears were linking to my memory was a lot more complicated than the eight words I was certain I heard Ms. Chattopadhyay say on Q earlier in the day.

All stations use something called an aircheck, which is a device that records every second of every minute of broadcasts for legal and archival purposes for a time.  I suggested she check that file since what I heard was before the story that appears on the Q website.  Later in the day, she very kindly responded and told me she said something that was distantly similar but not what I remembered.

So, I have two choices and neither are all that great.  Argue with someone who insists they said one thing.  Or deny myself my recollection of the other thing.  And at this moment, I am reminded of the essentially ethereal nature of radio.  Once the sound is gone, it’s gone and there is no way the public can prove what was said.  In this case, I am the public.

How important is this, really?  Well, I don’t like to be wrong.  I’ll start there.  But I can’t do what I do, being a journalist, without admitting that I can be even if it makes me look bad.  And who wants to admit looking bad.  So there’s that.

And honestly, to go any further with this just seems petty.

I was wrong.

I’ll stop there.

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March 24, 2015 at 11:54

Mike Murad Gone

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Mike Murad Gone

Ten months ago, I posted a blog post about the fickleness of broadcast management when it comes to who they have sitting in the anchor chair.  At the time, the sacrifice du joir was former KOIN morning anchor Chad Carter.  Mr. Carter’s chair was still warm when they brought in Mike Murad.  Mr. Murad was formely from KBOI and Boise’s Treasure Valley.  And his landing seemed to kick off a fresh look and feel for KOIN’s morning news, including a new and snappy ad campaign that included Meteorologist Sally Showman, Anchor Jenny Hansson, Traffic’s Carly Kennelly and Murad, all getting along swimmingly in front of a new set and behind new graphics.

Fast forward to last week, and a Twitter post (see above) where Mr. Murad is suddenly unemployed.  And he has to be gracious about it because he’s probably looking for work in another market and he doesn’t want to look like a bad sport to a future employer.  He simply says “Management said they wanted to go in another direction.”

Again?  This is the kind of thing that can make a viewer wonder exactly who is driving the train, or car, or clown car.  You know he was vetted.  You know he was focused grouped to death.  You know they spent a lot of money believing he was money, baby.  And now, he and Mr. Carter share a pitiful truth about the broadcasting business.  It quite possibly doesn’t know what it’s doing.

And just like before, I wonder how the staff is weathering the change. This is hard shit.  For months, we were fed that happy, cheerful spot of the four of them seemingly loving each other’s company as a way of convincing us we would too.  But I wonder if this is just another reason for people at the station to worry about their own jobs and, like Madame Secretary, know they better just hold it in and keep going.

While the station possibly looks for a new face, long time local rock of a reporter, Ken Boddie, is joining Jenny Hansson at the anchor desk.  Seeing these two pros side by side makes me marvel that anybody ever gets to stay long enough to become a pro.  And seeing Mr. Boddie in Murad’s old seat tells me KOIN management didn’t have anyone warming up in the bullpen which makes me think this departure was sudden rather than the previous one which seemed more planned.

Just as an aside, Mr. Murad’s tweet is dated March 16th, which was a Monday.  I first noticed something was wrong after I started counting the number of vacation days he probably had that I though he had certainly used up by now.  So, he’s been off the air at least two weeks.  If industry norms prevail, he was probably let go on a Friday.  And that tweet is from his own account because according to Twitter, his KOIN twitter account, @MikeKOIN, doesn’t exist anymore.  It was almost certainly and immediately deactivated.

Nice.  Real nice.

Written by Interviewer

March 23, 2015 at 13:12

Host Flip Flops

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Flip Flop Fish

Sometimes, an interviewer has a bias and they conduct their interview that way.  They have a slant, a tilt, an opinion that they think the guest they are interviewing shares.  But then, in the course of the conversation, the guest says something that disputes that bias and the direction the interviewer is going.  It shouldn’t happen since interviewers usually research their guests, know their views in advance and build the conversation around legitimate pro and con aspects.

But when it does happen, the interviewer has three choices; to drop down into neutral (which is probably where they shoud’ve been all along), or switch up, drop references to their bias and agree with the guest’s view or confront the guest, either by directly disagreeing or continuing to hold the view by periodically questioning the guest’s views.

This is never a good situation.  There is no point in an interviewer asking a guest onto a program to then discount the expert opinion the were invited to provide … except when the point of the interview is to generate contention and entertainment, not necessarily an informative discussion.  I’ve talked before about how an interviewer might not personally like an interviewee or even morally agree with some position they hold.  But I think neutrality of the interviewer is necessary to let the audience decide how they feel about the issue, not for the interviewer to inject themselves into the balance.  That is not the interviewer’s job.

If an interviewer does this, switching up, too many times, they can start to look and sound wishy washy, i.e., lose credibility.  That’s certain death for someone who wants what they do taken seriously.

Written by Interviewer

March 21, 2015 at 01:01

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