Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘TV

Time versus Carefulness

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program-clock

There was an interesting conflict between broadcasting necessity and journalistic necessity this morning on CBS This Morning.  Susanne Craig and David Barstow, both reporters of the NY Times, co-wrote a story which they broke about the taxes of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Apparently, Ms. Craig discovered three pages of Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax return in her NY Times mailbox.  After she and Mr. Barstow verified the authenticity of the pages with the tax professional that actually prepared the return the pages seemed to come from, the reporters released the story.  The reporters were asked if they feared legal consequences for writing the story based on documents Mr. Trump’s campaign said were obtained “illegally”.  They responded that a  tenet of journalism is that if a reporter does nothing to solict the receipt of such documents and they are verified as true, they can report the story as factual and be held harmless.

Ms. Craig spoke succinctly and briefly about how she got the documents, while Mr. Barstow was extremely measured in how he talked about conversations with staff attorneys, odd presentations of numbers on the form itself and getting the preparer to verify his work.

But because he took so much time carefully going through those aspects of the story, Charlie Rose and Gayle King began getting cues from their director that time was running out and that they need to wrap so the show could go to a break.

It was ironic that the journalists at that table, all of which were seeking the truth in the spirit of the First Amendment, were also essentially at odds over the amount of time available to tell that truth.

The chasm between TV news and newspaper reporting has been an open secret for decades.  If you notice, TV people are often reading stories written by newspaper people.  Newspapers reporting has been and remains the backbone of American journalism while TV is the compromise that adds pictures and speeds things up while removing much of the useful nutritional information.

I understand the program clock.  I understand affiliates down the line waiting their turn to insert local news, weather and traffic.  And I understand the need to make sure advertiser’s commercials get aired since ultimately, that’s the fount from which everything flows.

It just made me a little sad that such an important story was abbreviated.  To read the full, fascinating article at your leisure, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html

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Mine.

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Child Hugging Toy

This is a quickie.

And I may be way off about this.  If I am, somebody tell me.

Yesterday, KOIN Channel 6 did an exclusive interview with Donald Trump.  Later, KPTV Channel 12 referenced the interview and used video from it but didn’t identify the station that conducted it.

I’ve noticed that reporters and outlets, (whether broadcast or print), can be very protective of their work and their brand.  In a society of professionals like journalists, I’m not sure why that is.  But rarely do some outlets credit other outlets for stories they either break or conduct. And the times that I’ve called an outlet to follow up on information in a story of theirs, they share source contact information almost never.

Maybe, the case of yesterday’s pair of stories is a special case.  Perhaps, there is an internal agreement amongst stations that works with video in a pool the same way it works with audio.  FYI, when  a bunch of stations decide to air an event,  often one of them agrees to collect video and audio for all of them so all of them don’t have to duplicate the effort and expend those resources.  That’s called a “pool”.

Maybe it’s a selfish thing – “I had to work to get it, you work to get it”.  Or maybe it’s a mistrust that they won’t get credit from their competitive peers.  But if that was the case, nobody would ever again use anything from anywhere and claim proper “attribution” or “fair use”.

Legitimately, record company X could say, “Why, media outlet, should I let you use a snippet of a Prince song?  If you haven’t paid a royalty fee, you need to find some musician to create a Prince sound-a-like, and BTW, if it sounds too similar, expect to be sued.”  Or author X could say, “My article is fully copywrited and even if you properly attribute me as the author of its conclusions, but without my expressed and written permission, expect to be sued.”

Or maybe it’s a liability thing, as in, reporters don’t want any other reporter suffering from the outcomes of stories they uncover if those outcomes are bad.   Or perhaps reporters can be protective of their scoop like some researchers, who don’t necessarily want any other longhairs dinking around with their original conclusions.

Those two are kind of longshots.

Sometimes, I wish the society of professional journalists behaved more like a society.

P.S. Coincidentally, I found this article by NPR media critic David Folkenflik as I was researching my book about the public radio fund drive.  In it, he asks some of the same questions I ask about why media can be so insular.  I admit that the subjects of companies not giving each other credit and companies not letting reporters talk are not directly related, but in the areas of trust giving and trust getting, they are first cousins.

Written by Interviewer

May 8, 2016 at 03:18

Going Dark

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Al Jazeera Logo 2

I have been inside a broadcast facility twice when it lost power.  Once was in Korea when lightning hit the antenna of AFKN, aka the military run, American Forces Korea Network.  The other was at WKRC in Cincinnati.  High up on Highland Drive, that huge red and white, 500-foot antenna also was a lightning magnet.

In both cases, it was very, very creepy.  Somebody like me, who has practically grown up in studios, production rooms, edit bays, and news pits, surrounded by lights, buzzes, beeps, bells, flashes and static; to have all of that go dark and silent – for a minute, it can feel like the end of the world.

And God help you if you are in the path of a engineer, rocketing through the building with a waving flashlight and screaming that they have to get to the backup generator.  Meanwhile, everybody sort of mills around with literally nothing to do because they have, literally, no way to do it.

A dark and silent TV or radio station is a thing against nature.

So it is with some sadness that I read that Al-Jazeera America is going dark after three years of trying to create an American market for it’s brand of newscasting.  In Arabic, the name means, “The Peninsula”, a direct reference to the fact that the parent of Al Jazeera America is based in Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula.

According to Wikipedia, the network, which had its first broadcast on November 1, 1996, is sometimes perceived to have mainly Islamist perspectives, promoting the Muslim Brotherhood, and having a pro-Sunni and an anti-Shia bias in its reporting of regional issues. It also accused of having an anti-Western bias. However, Al Jazeera insists it covers all sides of a debate

In an article by Laura Wagner, she quotes NPR Media Critic David Folkenflik as saying about the network:

“After an earlier channel called Al-Jazeera English failed to make a dent in the U.S., Al-Jazeera America was built on the acquisition of a liberal cable network called Current.”

Al Jazeera purchased Current in 2013, which was itself a struggling news network, from a consortium headed by former Vice President Al Gore.  Folkenflik adds:

“The deal intended to ensure major distribution, but some cable providers resisted, saying that was a bait and switch. Al-Jazeera executives also promised the channel would not distribute its shows online, which meant that much of its content never became available digitally. Internal strife proved common and Al-Jazeera America never caught on — drawing audiences in the tens of thousands. Ultimately, the channel’s Qatari patrons pulled the plug.”

Wagner says “the network’s goal was to produce serious journalism and thorough reports, and it won several awards during its short run, including a Peabody and an Emmy. Its most well-known documentary was an expose that alleged several professional athletes used performance-enhancing drugs. Much of the evidence, however, hinged on the word of one person, Charlie Sly, a former intern at an Indianapolis clinic, who later recanted his story. The documentary was slammed by former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, one of the athletes implicated in the story, and prompted defamation lawsuits from Major League Baseball players Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard.”

Al Jazeera will go dark Tuesday night after it airs, and repeats, a three-hour farewell.  As a reporter and journalist, editor, writer, talent and lover of all things broadcasting, and politics notwithstanding, turning off that transmitter is a sadness I will feel in my bones.

Written by Interviewer

April 12, 2016 at 10:15

Not Just Pretty Pictures

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Graphics Designer

I’m not sure how much credit graphics people at TV stations get, but they should get a lot more.  And I think particular attention regarding computer graphics needs to go to meteorologists.

Those over the shoulder images you see when the anchor is doing the news were created by a team of one to a few people in a little room somewhere.  If it doesn’t already exist in the station’s graphics library, or if it’s not part of a graphics package the station pays for, it has to be created in-house.

After a news meeting, the graphics people get a list of graphics needed for subsequent newscasts.  These things take time to make.  And consider a graphic that was accurate for a story last year, might need to be tweaked because an updated story needs an updated graphic.  So the person doing the work needs to have computer savvy and arts expertise to put them together quickly and have them look good too.  It’s important because if a graphic doesn’t fit the story, nobody is happy.  Likewise, if the thing gets corrupted or deleted, that can give a news director or producer conniptions.

Meteorologists, also create graphics, but they are building their animated vs. static graphics that must be in real time to follow constantly changing weather.  They don’t have a team.  Instead, they have to do it themselves.  It’s sort of like, the graphics people are cooks in a restaurant, while the meteorologists are cooking for themselves.

Interpreting high and low pressure areas, temperature isobars, radar images and satellite data, weather people have to turn National Weather Service information into something a viewer can plan painting their house or washing their car around.  I imagine it gets to a point for them where it’s easy, but not necessarily simple.  Proof of that is in the presentation of each channel’s weather.

None of the displays look the same.  And the clickers they hold are different, meaning the hardware and probably software are different.  Unlike static graphic folks who all probably use Adobe, for forecasters, it might not be as simple as choosing weather themes like writers get to choose font styles.  WX people might need to learn all new packages when they move from station to station.

There is a lot more that goes on at a TV station besides video.  Those static and animated images weren’t created by fairies.  People who create graphics that also help tell the story, moving or not, are unsung heroes and heroines of the TV news business.

 

 

 

Written by Interviewer

April 9, 2016 at 07:38

How to Be Smooth

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Wireless Microphone

This is a quickie.

TV and radio are technical professions.  Everybody depends on everybody else for a smooth outcome.  Mistakes happen; lights burn out, things fall over, the wrong button gets pushed, a graphic disappears, a computer crashes.  But when they happen, people work to make them as unnoticable as possible.  That doesn’t always happen.  Reporters, anchors and hosts get caught off guard by flubs, both those of other people and their own.  They might apologize, do double takes, start something over, laugh or do any one of a thousand things people do when they’re surprised.

But being smooth is part of being professional, and sometimes, someone is so simply casual about fixing a fix that you have to admire them for it.  Such was the case with KOIN’s Sally Showman this morning.  At the 8:30 local news, traffic and weather break, the camera cut to her giving her weather forecast.  Her lips were moving but nothing was coming out.  There was a problem with her audio.  And smoothly, almost unnoticably, she reached around behind her own back, switched on her wireless microphone, and, as they say in the Army, “continued to march.”

How did she know we couldn’t hear her?  Possibly someone on the studio floor motioned to her that her mic wasn’t working.  Maybe (if she was wearing an earpiece), the director told her to turn it on.  But considering the blooper tapes I’ve seen in my life, even pros can sometimes make something as simple as pushing a button look like a Steve Martin routine.

Live broadcasting is an acquired skill.  It is a dance; gear, people, timing and electronics all choreographed while you drink your coffee.  You’ve seen so many dances that you, discerning audience that you are, know when somebody is stumbling.  So, when there’s a problem, it’s not enough to just fix it.  The fix must also be as ordinary as it is elegant.

Smooth.

Written by Interviewer

February 11, 2016 at 00:01

Mike Murad Update

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Mike Murad

This is a real quickie.

There is life in TV after TV.  On May 23, 2015, Mike Murad was still looking for work.  By August, he was the evening anchor for WLUK Fox 11 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.   It’s likely everyone at KOIN Fox 12 knows about the new job, but the many people in the Portland market who liked Mr. Murad might not.

He’s OK.

Written by Interviewer

January 7, 2016 at 05:12

Hertz

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Dog with Tilted Head

I know people who can’t take a tone above about 4000 cycles per second, or hertz.  That’s about the frequency of the standard 1950’s plastic whistle.  Spending so much time in TV and radio, you get used to hearing test tones, squeals, hums and buzzes as you wander through a station and past various studios, editing bays and engineering benches.  But you assume they are temporary; the equipment is warming up, somebody is checking gear, whatever.

But tonight I heard something in an NPR story by Tom Bowman that I’m sure couldn’t have made him happy.  While he reported on a story, I heard a tone at about 12,000 hertz.  At that frequency, the sound is like a teeny, needle sized drill going into the side of your head.  And I know how it happened.

Sometimes, when you’re working in a studio, something isn’t quite right.  There is a mismatch somewhere, a loose cable, a bad circuit, a bleedthrough, an open pot – something.  And you think you’re hearing it but you’re just not sure.  So you record your narration and you edit the soundbyte and the piece is finished.  But then, you hear it later and you hear that thing you hoped wasn’t there, but clearly now; 12,000 hertz that isn’t in the soundbyte.  And you know what that means … it was you.  Not the field gear, not the phone, you.

And to the audience, they might think they’re hearing something else coming from somewhere else; it’s the refrigerator, or the TV or the computer.  Maybe it’s the Android.  But for Bowman and every newsie or producer/editor who spends their day hunched in front of Audacity or Adobe Audition, they know it’s not that.  They know the audience isn’t imagining things.  They’re hearing something that shouldn’t be there, they just aren’t sure what it is.

But we know, and man, that sucks.

Written by Interviewer

December 2, 2015 at 11:24