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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Newsroom Secrets Revealed - Part 2

Credibility = Walter Cronkite
During the past 20+ years as a communications professional, I've worked in more than a dozen television, radio and print newsrooms as a reporter and newscaster. While I was in the journalism field, there were a few truths that I came to realize:
  • Credibility is the single most important attribute that a news organization has.
  • Technology is an inescapable part of delivering and consuming news. 
  • Many news organizations undermine their credibility by over-using or abusing technology.
In more and more newsrooms across this country, the facts alone do not drive the story. Other story drivers are immediacy to be first and flashy packaging of the information.

In my blog post yesterday titled  Newsroom Secrets Revealed - Part 1 I shared two secrets that typical television news consumers don't typically know or consider.

Here are two more.....

3. ANCHOR CHATTER – these are the verbal transitions that occur between an anchor, co-anchor, weather person and sports reporter who are usually sitting at the studio set during the actual news broadcast. This casual “chatter” between stories is supposed to be the opportunity for the news crew to demonstrate its esprit de corps and authenticity via witty banter. However, I’ve worked in newsrooms were the various anchors couldn’t stand each other and the verbal back-and-forth had to be scripted by a show producer. By any measure, that’s disingenuous.

4. SATELLITE CENTERS - this is a common news segment that usually occurs during an hour-long, local news program.  Most hour-long newscasts have at least two news anchors because there is too much content for one person to read without making mistakes.

Here's how they appear to the viewer, Satellite Centers usually follow a commercial break that is placed midway through the newscast.  The main anchor is sitting alone at the in-studio desk and says the co-anchor joins us live from the Satellite Center.  At this point the viewer sees a split screen  where the main anchor is still sitting at the in-studio desk; but the co-anchor appears to be in a separate part of the building with computer monitors, large video tape machines and other satellite technology in the background.  At this point the co-anchor reads national headlines from a print out they are usually holding.  Once the headlines are done, the co-anchor tosses  it back to the anchor who then goes to another commercial break.

The perception is that during the commercial breaks the co-anchor is physically running down the hall to the Satellite Center to bring the viewer the latest national news - just beamed in via satellite.  The truth is the national headlines and video were likely written two hours prior, and the co-anchor never leaves the studio.  What really happens is the co-anchor steps down from the in-studio desk and stands in front of the green screen, which is the same place the meteorologist stands in front of to deliver the weather.  The image of the Satellite Center is then transposed behind the co-anchor to perpetuate a perception that is not really there.

I would postulate that credibility is the single most important asset a newsroom or media outlet has.  While it may be hard to believe that such technological tactics occur in newsrooms across this country, now that you know they occur, it may actually be harder for you to believe what you are seeing on the news.

Question: Do these types of tactics undermine the credibility of the news you watch or are they no big deal?

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