Friday, July 01, 2005

Live News... For What?

What an incredible concept. Live, breaking news. We can only imagine the inspired giddiness its pioneers, and sheer terror that incapable print publications of the age must have had when the idea came to fruition. TV can actually illustrate a story as it unfolds, speak with witnesses who really were there first, and grant viewers access to places and events that not available to the average person.

Somewhere along the line the concept got taken for granted. "Live news" now simply means "on location" and breaking news has become a shadow of its idealistic roots. A live broadcast is simply a formula, whereby an anchor cuts to someone outside of the studio, then to b-roll, outro, two-box, and back to the anchor. It simply provides a different setting, not news as it develops, though it postures to be just that. More often than not, reporters are sent to a story, they write a script in the car, and then they read their script on location. The story is done before the live truck arrives, but being on location is a device used to deceive viewers that the story is just coming in.

Think about it. Was the news team really there when the news broke? Is the reporter really living in the moment enough to claim to be an expert on the event? Sometimes, they're not even at a location that lends credibility to the report, though rarely will anyone call them on it. If they don't say where the report is from, call and ask, see if the location adds substance or perception of substance to the report. Since we started busting news, we've even witnessed reports from outside the door of the newsroom, wired directly inside, without need for a live truck. What for? It's supposed to deceive the viewer. It's supposed to make viewers think the news crew witnessed the story unfold, or that they arrived to get information unavailable from the newsroom.

"Here we are where a woman was killed." Why? Are you looking for the killer?

"I'm outside. You can tell because the wind is making my perfect hair move." What are you doing there? There's nothing relevant to see from any angle.

"We're live at City Hall" it's 11pm. Uh huh, and everyone who works there is in bed.

"I'm at the police station reporting what the police said earlier today." Are you waiting for them to say something else? Will you transmit it if they do? You couldn't have regurgitated their report from afar?

"It doesn't matter as long as we're goin' live and lookin' fine," (direct quote from a news director in our neighborhood).

It's called a dog-lick live shot (derived from the ponderance: why does a dog lick its balls? because it can), every industry professional knows the term. They hate doing them, but the consultant said people like seeing live shots, so the news director mandates them. Truth is, viewers trust that it means the reporter is getting information from the location of the report. So posturing as on-the-scene reports exploit that. Maybe it creates an illusion that a reporter couldn't make it back to the studio with everything happening where they're at, when actually they were dispatched to deliver the same news they had before they left. Ask the right questions, and you'll find that what people want is a news source they can trust. Live news is a device that suggests exactly that, but it's no substitute for the quality reporting viewers believe they are watching.

So are reporters prepared to deliver real events that actually unfold on location? I have my suspicions, but NEWSBREAKERS gladly offer the crew exactly such an opportunity.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Investigative TV Journalism Dead? Photog Weighs In

From the NEWSBREAKERS Mailbag:

I used to work as a photographer for one of the local TV stations in Rochester. You guys are amazingly funny. Please understand one thing though. Most "news gatherers" in the field, feel that news has become a parody of what it once was. Sure they will tell you that they are just providing what the public wants to see, but you know, I know, and they know, that's bull shit. In reality, their hands are being tied from the top down. Once upper management decided to move (local) news from the realm of public service to all for profit, the public lost any semblance of un-biased perspective. Mgm't will no longer fund any REAL investigative journalism, because it is expensive. Reporters have to turn a story everyday, which leaves little time to "dig for answers". Much of what you see in the news is straight regurgitation of press releases, or re-written comments from those officials we all keep hearing about ("Officials say...blah, blah,blah") So I gues what I am trying to say is this. Keep up the great work, and have fun, but alway try to remain respectful of the crew in the field.
They are earning about the same as a first year teacher, doing what amounts to be a fairly challenging job.

-Rochester Photog

Thanks for the e-mail. Something we recently discovered: If you happen to be that guy on top, your authority is enough to get the newsroom to report on anything you want them to without raising a single question.