Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘CBS News

TV Logistics of Interviewing the President

with 2 comments

Rose Garden

The interview between President Obama and Steve Croft of CBS News highlights some of the logistical issues when doing an interview with a high profile interviewee.

The interview was presented in at least two segments.  One segment was the portion that took place inside the White House.  In that interview, there are occasions when Mr. Croft’s face is predominant in the shot, times when Mr. Obama’s face is predominant and times when both men are in the shot.  Here, there is the luxury of at least two and maybe more cameras.  These cameras are on tripods and the room has excellent lighting and sound.  This arrangement gives the viewer a full, high quality view of the interchange between both people together and individually.

It also is the best situation for the editor who must later reduce the entire conversation to something that fits into the available broadcast time slot.  The reporter knows to re-ask questions if necessary, to ask the interviewee to repeat answers if needed or to get reaction shots (a look that implies the listener is concentrating on what the speaker is saying).  This is good for the editor because reaction shots not only help move the conversation forward in the natural back and forth way people expect, but they give the editor a chance to butt portions of the conversation together that might not have been together in the original talk.  This can help truncate the conversation or cover a mistakes.  In an indoor setting with those kind of resources, do overs are less of a big deal.

But the other segment of the interview took place along the walkway bordering the Rose Garden that leads to the President’s office.  Here, there was only one camera.  It was shoulder-mounted, or possibly on a body-pod.  The lighting and sound is not as good as it is inside.  The shot may not be as steady.  So the reporter and camera-operator need to use different techniques outside.

One of them is the classic walk and stop.  The President and Mr. Croft are chatting as they walk down the sidewalk toward the camera while the camera is also moving backwards.  At some point, Mr. Croft stops.  Mr. Obama then also stops and the camera-operator gets the chance to better frame the two of them while they continue to talk.  This is a technique reporters often use to take subtle control of the conversation.  You’ll see them use this slightly dramatic device a lot at the start of their stories as part of their lead in.

But one camera greatly limits how this portion of the interview can be edited later because there isn’t the flexibility that comes with video provided by other cameras.  And if you have an interviewee like the President who is being closely managed by a communications manager or other staff who probably want to get him inside, there may not be time to get the best shots that make the editing easy and seamless later.

This was clear during the outside portion.  You see the President and Mr. Croft standing together.  The shot was framed so that Mr. Obama’s right profile was facing the camera while Mr. Croft was to his left and almost centered.  In the next shot, the two men are at 45 degrees to each other and centered in the camera – a two shot.  In TV parlance, the abrupt scene change is called a jump-cut.  Since there was no second camera, there was no reaction shot, so the abrupt change couldn’t be hidden.  And its likely that the decision was made that the President would not be asked to repeat answers so the camera operator couldn’t get a shot that would make the editing easier and less jarring later.

I’ve spent many years behind a video camera, both in the studio and in the field, and as just as many in an edit bay.  When you’re shooting and you know you can’t get the shot you need, you’re not looking forward to the editing because you know it’s not going to look the way you want.  But sometimes, it just can’t be helped.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Written by Interviewer

October 12, 2015 at 22:59

CBS correspondent Elizabeth Palmer speaks volumes

with 2 comments

Elizabeth Palmer

Elizabeth Palmer, a correspondent for CBS News gave an excellent report this morning from Paris about how the French snapped up every copy of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.  The magazine was the target of a terrorist attack last week that killed staff and police.

Over the last few days, there has been a discussion in the media as to whether the media should show the cover of the magazine.  Critics say covers that depict the prophet Mohammed are disrespectful and incite violence.  The attack, claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was precipatated it says by previous covers that also depicted the prophet Mohammed.

The discussion has mostly been around the reaction by print and online publications and should they or shouldn’t they reprint Charlie Hebdo’s controversial images.  The intesting thing about Ms. Palmer’s report was that at the end of it, she calmly held her copy of the magazine up to the camera while doing her lockout.

The thing is, the report showed many French buying, holding and reading the magazine.  And for at least the last two days, the proposed cover has been broadcast around the world in advance of the record setting 3-million print run.  And while journalists are discouraged from editorializing, they can occasionally say something without directly saying it.

Ms. Palmer didn’t have to hold the magazine up in front of the camera as  she was ending her report, but as a journalist, she was also making a statement.  I think she was saying, as were the  French and journalists around the world, “We own this”.  A friend had another interpretation; “F—- You, Al-Qaeda.”

Either way, classily done, Ms. Palmer.

Tiny Error in Fact

leave a comment »

White Out

As I write this, CBS News and Scott Pelley are breaking into regular network programming with news that a Malaysian airlines jet outbound from the Netherlands has crashed in Ukraine near Donetsk.  The jet was cruising at a normal altitude of 33,000 feet and was carrying 298 souls.  First responders report that body parts have been found scattered as far as 7 miles from the crash site, indicating the aircraft broke apart while still in the air.

In describing the incident, Mr. Pelley noted that the jet was 1/2 of the way through its journey when the incident happened.

I want to stop here and acknowledge that when breaking news events like this happen, it is well documented that a lot of the first information to be released is wrong.  This might be because sources are unreliable, or the full scope of the event isn’t fully known.  These are things that can be uncontrollable despite the due diligence fast moving news bureaus try to conduct before releasing the story for dissemination.

But some mistakes that have nothing to do with any of that are just plain puzzling.  Mr. Pelley and CBS needed to check a globe to see that Kuala Lampur is 6333 miles from the Netherlands, while Donetsk is 1642 miles from the Netherlands.  That means the jet was 1/4, not 1/2 of the way through its flight when it crashed.

Is this a big deal?  No and yes.  No because we get the gist; a plane crashed, innocent people were killed.  And it generates hard questions, like was the crash in any way related to the political unrest in Ukraine or President Obama’s announcement yesterday of sanctions on heavy weapons like the kind that are capable of shooting down airliners?  That’s what’s centrally important.

Yes because things like distance do not change.  Distance is something that can be easily checked.  And if it’s not considered important to verify, then why do we have things like rulers and spell checkers and scales and calipers.  On a societal level, do we really care then about things that tell us distance or capacity or speed if we don’t take them seriously?  And where else does this kind of cavalier treatment happen?  Maybe in our financial institutions?  Maybe behind a 3d printer creating intricate parts?  Maybe in surgery?

As a writer and reporter, I remember every time I realized after doing a story that there was something in it I got wrong.  I want to forget those mistakes but I can’t.  But what I can do is research the hell out of the things that are immutable so I can at least be sure I get them right.

There are lots of things that change in the course of a developing story.  And the flurry of the moment can disadvantage a news organization trying to be the first to give sketchy details of an important story.  But for some things, there are few excuses for getting them wrong.

 

Written by Interviewer

July 17, 2014 at 23:56