Reporter's Notebook

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Posts Tagged ‘News Director

Real News

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Thigh Cream

This is a quickie.

The National Zoo in Washington DC helped its panda, Mei Xiang, give birth to two panda cubs overnight.  CBS This Morning has spent a lot of time covering that story, repeating it each hour and dedicating several minutes each time from it’s reporter Jan Crawford, who is covering the story.  Guest anchor Anthony Mason, after one commercial break, began by saying something like, “In our ongoing panda coverage …”.

Anyone who has spent anytime in TV might wonder if what he’s really saying is, “Is this real news?”

This is a perennial conversation in newsrooms.  I remember back in the early 90s, when I worked at WKRC, Channel 12 in Cincinnati, there was a story about thigh cream.  The manufacturer claimed that using this cream would reduce wrinkles and fat on a woman’s thigh.  At the time, reporters were furious that a business product was being elevated to a news story.  And afterwards, it became shorthand for a ridiculous story that masquaraded as real news.  Some people might have accused CBS of doing the same thing a few years ago when “This Morning” featured the new Dyson bathroom hand dryer.

How does this happen?  Sometimes, the news cycle is thin and assignment editors and news directors are looking for anything to fill time.  Sometimes, the more strategic intention is to try to appeal to an important demographic.  And sometimes, (although no one will admit it) the sales department drops a bug in a news director’s ear because a business has just purchased a lot of commercial air time.

Ms. Crawford’s story, however, was likely in none of those categories.  When CBS went to her, she responded to Mr. Mason in her intro by saying the panda story was indeed important because these were the first babies born in captivity in many years.  And she said that because such panda cubs rarely survive, the zoo was essentially in a life or death struggle to keep them alive in their first few hours.

Was it breaking news?  No.  Was it thigh cream?  No.  But this story and many others like it are fuel for the ongoing argument on both sides of the screen.

What is news, exactly?

Something’s Missing

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Tannerite

I’ve written in this blog about how CBS, under long time anchor Dan Rather, pioneered the idea of using maps as part of stories. The reason, at the time, was because studies showed American kids were terrible at geography. It was an attempt to make news not only inform, but provide basic education. It was decades before the Internet.

Fast forward to about 2009 when the New York Times starts making it easy for web users to define certain words and phrases in its online version of stories. Users who let their browsers hover over unfamiliar terms see a thumbnail description. Later, the site would underline those same words and phrases with hyperlinks to make it even easier to quickly get an in-depth explanation of those unknown somethings.

Maybe news departments have come to believe that because the Internet is so ubiquitous, people will know to look up something they see or hear that they don’t understand. And so, maybe that was the reason why KOIN’s Ken Boddie, in reporting an accident at an Oregon gun range involving the substance “tannerite”, didn’t explain what tannerite is.

Tannerite is the brand name of an explosive sold mainly for making targets on gun ranges blow up. A listener might wonder why something that has the potential to accidentally explode would be used on gun ranges. Wikipedia says tannerite is a combination of two powders that is stable until hit by a hammer blow, a low-velocity shotgun blast or dropped.

Clearly, a complete description like that is more than a news director might feel such a story needs. But that missing detail, for someone who doesn’t spend their time on gun ranges or in gun stores, was just glaring enough.

In the end, I did look it up.  But for a completely different reason.

Written by Interviewer

August 17, 2015 at 23:58