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Monday, October 10, 2011

Newsroom Secrets Revealed - Part 1

Newscaster Edward R. Murrow:
"Just the Facts"

During my 20+ years as a communications professional, I've worked in more than a dozen television, radio and print newsrooms. Most television viewers and news consumers tend to believe that if they see it on T.V. it must be true.

However, the truth of the matter is that seeing does not always mean believing - especially when it comes to broadcast news.

During the early days of television news when there were broadcasting pioneers on the air such as Edward R. Murrow, Chet Huntley and Walter Cronkite the actual news content was very straight forward.

The story was what it was, and it was called "hard news."  It was sometimes dry - downright boring by today's standards - but it was essentially fact-driven.

The reality today is that the facts alone do not drive the story.

With technological advancements that include the use of green screens, full motion graphics, virtual newscasters  and animation; today's television newscast is a hybrid between information and entertainment also known as "info-tainment."

Any news director or news producer who supports this particular genre of journalism usually defends it vehemently on the grounds that news needs to compete for the viewers' attention against a host of other options (i.e. movies, game shows, music...etc.)  Based on that kind of competitive pressure, it is rationalized, that the news needs to be made more appealing or attractive.

However, the issue arises around the application of the technology that's used to dress up T.V. news - leading back to the premise of this article that seeing is not always believing.

There are several "tricks" and tactics that routinely occur during the typical local/national newscast that the average viewer is not aware of, which include:

1. LOOK-LIVE REPORTS - this is a common practice at local news stations where a reporter pre-records their story at the scene of a given event.  The pre-recorded video is then beamed back or driven to the station. The newscaster then introduces the reporter as "joining us live from the scene...."

The problem is the report was pre-recorded, it's not live. Actual live transmissions from the field are only possible using costly satellite trucks with the report being carried over the airwaves in real time.  Look-Live Reports are used when the live trucks are not available, but the news team wants to appear omnipresent. Ironically, the viewer may not know the difference between a pre-recorded Look-Live Report and an actual Live Report.

2. NODDING REPORTERS – this occurs all the time in local news. It’s where a pre-recorded story runs that’s been filed by a general assignment reporter, featuring an on-camera interview with a newsmaker. During the broadcast story of the newsmaker’s remarks, a 3-5 second video snippet of the reporter silently nodding their head, is spliced over top of the video of the newsmaker’s spoken words and then the video seamlessly cuts back to the newsmaker.

The issue with this tactic is that local reporters are sent on stories with a single videographer who has one camera. As such, the videographer can only tape one thing at a time. They’ll usually tape the interview first and then they’ll tape “cut aways” of the reporter nodding their head, the reporter writing on a notepad or looking intently at the newsmaker – sometimes after the newsmaker has left the scene. Sometimes the "cut aways" are shot hours later. The trickery occurs back at the studio where the individual elements are edited together to give the appearance of a cohesive multi-camera interview, which actually never occurred.

Television news crews, management and consultants justify these subtle mis-directions claiming that viewers won't watch otherwise. Tomorrow, I'll share two more technology secrets that television newsrooms use that may or may not undermine their credibility.

Question: What's more important to you the viewer - the facts or the packaging of the news you consume?

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