Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘anchor

A Stumble at the Gate

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Horses at Gate

Jay Carney, former White House press secretary, showed why the transition from government to private business spokesperson isn’t always a smooth one.

Carney was interviewed by CBS This Morning in response to a New York Times article by reporter Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld about “dystopian” working conditions at Amazon. The report talked of employees in tears after meetings or at their desks. And although Kantor spoke about some of the positive aspects of the company, including its innovation, she defended the reports that Amazon’s culture encouraged employees to tear apart each other’s ideas in a effort to create an atmosphere of “unreasonably high” standards.

Carney told the anchor desk that he has held the job of corporate spokesperson at Amazon for five months. But he said neither he, nor Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos or many of the other people with whom he works recognized the company portrayed in Kantor and Streitfeld’s report. That mirrored the language in an Amazon press release but was not a firm enough rebuttal of the allegations for anchors Gayle King and Clarissa Ward.

Carney stumbled often as he defended Amazon’s role and history as an innovator. When Ward and King pressed him on whether the allegations were true, Carney essentially said that employees who didn’t like the culture at Amazon were free to leave, noting that the attrition rate for the company was similar to the attrition rate for other large American companies.

When King specifically addressed a charge in the NYT story that Amazon does not offer maternity leave to its women, Carney admitted that there was no maternity leave but justified that by the fact that 80% of US companies also do not provide it.

When Carney was a White House spokesperson, his responses were crisp because government spokespeople tend to be limited by government officials in what they can say. Saying too little or just enough in press conferences is the rule of the day because it reduces the amount of backtracking or embarrassment if they’re wrong later. As a corporate spokesperson, the crisis communication goal is to try to get ahead of the story and smash as much defense into an answer as possible, no matter the question. Several times, the anchors tried to stop Carney from the all too common corporate defense ramble.

But the message itself was a problem. Parents may recognize Carney’s responses to Amazon’s issues with attrition and maternity leave in conversations they have with their kids. “Everybody else is doing it”, is not a justification for a company that constantly claims to hold itself to a higher standard.

Jay Carney was the 29th White House press secretary. He served in that position from September 2005 until November 2008, and he was a regular contributor in the “roundtable” segment of ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos. But as this CBS This Morning interview shows, some skills are not as transferable as they seem.

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Pronounciation Guides

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Pronounciation Guide

When I was a reporter for the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), pronounciation guides were a necessity. AFRTS facilities were scattered around the world.  Local military broadcasters presented the news to military and their families serving at those bases and posts.  And the last thing commanders wanted was for one of their people to embarass the command by mispronouncing the name of a host nation dignatary.

A pronounciation guide is a list of hard to pronounce words that occur in the major stories of the day.  It’s purpose is to help news readers say the word as correctly as possible.  Sometimes, that means as a company or country or group decides they want it said.  Remember the problem the media was having with ISIS versus ISIL versus DASH?

Sometimes, pronouncing a word correctly means as a community had decided it will be said no matter what “proper” pronounciation says it should be.  For instance, In Cincinnati, there is a main thoroughfare called Reading Road.  Most people might pronounce it as “Read” with “ing” at the end.  But Cincinnatians say it like “Red-ing”.  A pronounciation guide would be very helpful there.  A new hire at a hometown station that says “REED-ING” instead of “RED-ING” is instantly pegged as not a local.

By contrast, sometimes a name is just a nightmare to pronounce.  But anchors and hosts have to speak with authority and if they continually stumble over words, they start to lose their credibility.   Besides, it’s distracting for the listener because they start paying less attention to the story and more attention to the next time the anchor stumbles.  And that stumbling can take a few forms.  As a reader, you see the word coming in the copy with the horrible realization that you have no idea how to say it.  So you crash into it, trying not to break your pace as you butcher way through it and hoping no one will notice.   Or, you start to pronounce it, realize you are pronouncing it wrong and try again, and again, and again.  Somewhere in there, a part of your brain realizes another part of your brain just isn’t getting it.  So you slam another word in place and jerk yourself to another part of the sentence.

U.N. Secretaries General are especially hard.  There was Dag Hammarskjöld.  There was U Thant.  There was Boutros Boutros Ghali.  Without a pronounciation guide, how many anchors fell into those phonetic pits.

Sometimes you think a pronounciation guide is necessary when it really isn’t.  For example, in the U.S., the word “aluminum” (AHH-LOO-MIN-NUM) is pronounced much differently than how the British pronounce it, which is AYL-YOU-MIN-E-UM.  This is sort of similar to the Cincinnati example except it’s really the difference between homophones (words sounding the same but with different meanings) versus homographs (words spelled the same but sounding differently).

I miss pronounciation guides, and it seems some broadcast outlets are missing them too.  For instance, I recently heard a local commentator call the Oregon community of YOU-MA-TILLA, UH-MA-TILLA.  But this isn’t just something small outlets do.  Earlier this week, a reporter on CBS called the Oregon based sportsware manufacturer N-EYE-K, rather than N-EYE-KEE.

But pronounciation guides can be a pain too.  When you’re writing and producing stories, you’re constantly up against the clock.  When airtime is looming, scanning through a pronounciation guide is a luxury and the last thing you have time for.  So many of us in the business assume we know how to say something.

ASS-U-ME

Spinal Injury or Broken Neck?

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Broken Neck

It matters what words reporters use.

Charlie Rose of CBS This Morning has been the only news person I’ve heard use the words “Broken Neck” to refer to the injuries received by Freddie Gray.  In case you don’t know, Gray was arrested by Baltimore police a few weeks ago for a misdemeanor.  But by the time witnesses saw him being moved to a police vehicle, he was being dragged.  His body was rigid and he was screaming in obvious pain.

Police said they failed to summon medical help and they failed to buckle him in with seat belts as they transported him using a technique they call, a “rough ride.”  Hearing that, I’m not sure if they were saying the unrestrained ride caused his injuries and they then failed to call for medical help, or he sustained injuries during the arrest and their failure to buckle him down before the ride aggravated those injuries for which they failed to call medical help.

Regardless, he died in a hospital shortly there after from what the media tended to describe as everything from a neck injury to a spinal injury to a partially severed spine.

It also matters why reporters use the words they use, which makes this is a good place to talk about sanitizing language and what I consider a most egregious use.  “Sever” is a French word derived from an older Latin word which means to “remove by or as if by cutting.”  Unless police tried to cut Mr. Gray’s head off with some sort of blade, his spine was not severed.  But sever sounds a lot softer than saying his neck was broken.  Police breaking necks sort of puts them in the category of Family Guy or Robot Chicken episodes, which doesn’t do a lot for public relations.

If making people feel better is the point for media, why don’t we call school shootings “secondary educational institution incursions” or call plane crashes “compromised airfoil equipment incidents?”

Do some media not want to inflame passions in the streets?  Do they not want to the call out those “bad apples” who admittedly don’t follow procedure, until a final report is issued?  Do they not want to cause more pain and suffering to friends and family of victims?

Or are some truths just too truthful?

It would be nice if our designated media wordsmiths actually used the right ones.  Thank you Mr. Rose.

Written by Interviewer

April 30, 2015 at 00:38

Gannett No Good for Portland

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TV Tower

This was the title of a press release issued by three union locals representing professional broadcasting; the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Screen Actor’s Guild – American  Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). I called IATSE spokesperson Dave Twedell to learn more.

Essentially, these unions are worried by changes media corporation Gannett wants them to agree to, primary of which is allow “amateurs” or people not represented by the union to do union jobs.  This means, according to Mr. Twedell, bloggers, podcasters and possibly independent videographers would begin doing the work of professional writers, producers and field camera operators under what’s called a “Non-exclusive jurisdictional contract”.   And this is feared to lead to other changes, including:

(1) The firing of local television engineers at Channel 8 and turn local engineering responsibilities over to Gannett’s automated Master Control facility in Jacksonville, Florida,

(2) The possible elimination of Ch. 8 news altogether because Gannett may sell away the station’s bandwidth (including part or all of Ch. 8’s frequency) at the next FCC auction.

Mr. Twedell said the purpose of a planned rally at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Saturday is to distribute information on the proposed changes by Gannett and give the public a chance to make their concerns known to Gannett.

I asked Mr. Twedell if he expected any of the “talent” (any of the Channel 8 anchors or reporters) would show up.  He said he can’t speak for the SAG-AFTRA part of the coalition, since this event focuses more on the photographers and video editors side of TV operations.  But he said several SAG-AFTRA members are “active participants in our campaign” and we’ll see what we’ll see.

The release was issued on April 20th.  Let me know if you’ve heard anything about it on any news broadcast.

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Here is the full text of the release:

“Ever since Gannett took over KGW in late 2013, things have progressively gone downhill, including cost-cutting by bringing in amateurs and outsourcing work to machines located thousands of miles away.  That isn’t right”.

“KGW is a vibrant part of the community.  Because KGW is licensed to broadcast in the public interest, the public has a right to know what the new corporate owner, Gannett, wants to do with KGW”.

“The city goverment relies on Channel 8 to provide reliable real time information during emergencies.  The station’s advertisers rely on it to provide a large audience and the large audience is made up of stakeholders who can and we believe should speak up about the Gannett business model”.

“On Saturday, April 25, join us for a rally and celebration of KGW in Portland’s iconic Pioneer Courthouse Square.  Help us protect quality broadcasting and family-wage jobs, and stand up to corporate media.  KGW must maintain its standards and identity.  This is OUR air”.

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The rally takes place Saturday, April 25th at Pioneer Courthouse Square from Noon until 2 p.m.

True Levity

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Countdown Clock

You often see TV news hosts chatting each other up in an effort to sound homey or accessible.  Sometimes, these fall flat and are marked by awkward silence or even more awkward conversation.  But sometimes, it’s sincere as it was this morning on the CBS This Morning newscast.

Host Jeff Glor announced a story introducing the upcoming NFL Football season and a graphic showing a countdown clock came up on the screen.  It showed that the start of the season was 148 days away.  As the music played and the digital clock counted, you could hear the incredulity in the anchor’s voices.

Their chatter was more like a cacophony as they talked over each other, unable to believe that the network was promoting the start of something that was almost six months away with the urgency that it was breaking news.

Yes, CBS is their employer, and yes, the NFL is a huge sponsor.  But this was so ridiculous that even they couldn’t take it seriously.

Now that was true levity.

Written by Interviewer

April 22, 2015 at 22:00

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.”

Written by Interviewer

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