Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘White House

Antonin Scalia and Public Radio

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Antonin Scalia 2

It’s worth noting that back in the early 70s, when President Nixon was looking for ways to curtail federal funds to public broadcasting, he received advice from his then council for public broadcasting, future Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  According to Andrew Giarolo, a doctoral candidate at Seton Hall in 2013 and author of, “Resolving the Debate on Public Funding for National Public Radio”, Mr. Scalia “crafted a policy by which local stations would drive programming choices.”

This was important at the time because there was a division within Congress between those who thought NPR should be a national network vs. those who thought federal funding should focus on stations developing a local-only programming policy.  Both camps knew that the size of the voice affected the spread of the message.  And since public radio had by then gained the reputation of being an “Eastern liberal institution”, conservatives in the White House, Congress and the courts wanted to make sure federal money wasn’t supporting it too strongly.

Programming is key because programming is expensive and needs to be paid for.  Local stations didn’t have the budgets to create the kind of investigative reports that infuriated the Nixon adminstration, but networks and dedicated production facilities did.  So attacking CPB funds was a key strategy by the right.

Although Scalia helped prepare legislation for submission to Congress that contained ideas for local stations to drive programming rather than NPR, it went nowhere.  But, years later, NPR would itself create a system of diversified funding sources that included local stations, that would protect funding for programming and save it from budget attacks in the future.

 

Written by Interviewer

February 17, 2016 at 01:16

TV Logistics of Interviewing the President

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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

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.

The “N” Word on Google Maps

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Google Maps

As a journalist, people are always trying to get your attention.  A perennial candidate wants an interview everytime they run for everything from Congressman to dogcatcher.  A citizen wants to tell you about how a conspiracy by the DMV is keeping him and only him from getting his license.

There are lots of stories that don’t make the news director’s radar and not for the lack of trying by the people pitching them.  But other stories are so over the top true that you assume everybody must know about them.  Sort of like when you see a flipped over car on fire on the freeway; surely somebody has called 911.  So you don’t need to, right?

Somebody sent me an email with a link to a story that reported that Google Maps is currently having a naming problem with the residence of the President.  Specifically, if you type the “N” word (ending with “a” instead of “er”), the White House and the area surrounding it in Washington, D.C. appear.  This was as of 8 p.m. PST on May 19th.

What kind of story would this be to tell?  News?  Public information?  For some, it certainly seems to be entertainment.  How much attention should something like this get?  How did it happen?  What is being done to fix it?  And who are the proud, God-sent, shining examples of humanity who did it?

It would be nice if somebody told me this is just some unfortunate mistake.  That this isn’t really from the company that pledges to “Do No Evil” even if they do sell out protestors in authoritarian regimes.  That it’s some kind of terrible joke.  TMZ says its no joke.

Burning car, flipped, in the middle of the freeway.

Has anybody called or are there just too many of them for people to bother?

Written by Interviewer

May 20, 2015 at 10:17