We’ve chosen TV/radio/digital journalism because, in part, we appreciate
the power of stories being told through natural sound and video and we
understand that hearing and seeing the protagonists who are part of the
story is immeasurably powerful. This is proven weekly by Steve Hartman, CBS
News. He doesn’t know I’m a groupie.
But a majority of our reporting has tight daily deadlines with a valid sense of urgency to get it done. We think we know what we’re digging for, we follow new threads and we go after the people we want to interview. Unfortunately some people are not as facile with language as we are.
I found this out 24 years ago when SportsChannel hired Mickey Mantle to serve as a color analyst for the NY Yankees baseball games. Baseball fans wanted to hear what he thought as he watched a batter, a runner or a play in the field. But he wasn’t wired to verbally translate what he saw at the snap of a finger and after a year and a half his job ended. Similarly, a reporter may hope to get that terrific insightful or emotional comment from someone but it’s often just not happening. That’s when some reporters cross the line.
It’s bad enough that a reporter suggests a comment or two to someone they’re interviewing - probably in the guise of a rhetorical question or a statement that is intended to be mimicked. For example, “So your business will really take a hit for the next two days?” We only hear the SOT - “Our business is really taking a hit for the next two days," not knowing it was suggested.
What’s worse, and I hear this constantly, is when we hear the reporter feeding their desired quote to the person. The other morning I woke up to a radio report about another drowning. (I’m Manhattan-based and between the Long Island/New Jersey beaches and pools we sadly get many of these summer stories). The reporter was supposedly interviewing a local person. Instead I heard his voice interrupted by the person he was supposedly "interviewing." The interviewee’s comments are in brackets: “Somethings’s got be be done [“yes”] to save lives [“exactly”].
There is no excuse for this. On a positive note, there are many working reporters skirting suspensions or firings because I’m not a ND.
I’m edgy this week. Heat and humidity bring in on big time. It also brings about unnecessary reporter involvement "standups." In the winter we get the gleefully screaming or cheerfully wobbly reporter on a sled or ice skates, respectively.
Warm weather: the reporter, usually at the same experience level as their cold-weather counterpart, is now doing some kind of workout in body-revealing gym-wear. Ninety-nine percent of the time these reporters are women. (C'mon sisters! Think about it, will you?!) This week I was gratefully watching an interesting, well-reported feature story about a group of working professionals who woke up at dawn to take a demanding outside workout with a tough but warm and encouraging trainer. It had an angle - group encouragement; it had good elements and then: who’s that?! Who’s that woman on the ground looking dramatically exhausted and talking directly to me? Oh, I guess she’s the reporter. It wasn’t immediately apparent.
There are many reasons for reporter standups. Live standups report the current scene and sometimes we need a standup as a bridge. News Directors often want their reporters to be recognizable in case you’re reaching for some cheese and the person next to you murmurs that you may want to check out something weird on their block. Ideally it’s to show us something or to explain something that is most readily communicated on-camera. "Watch how easily this piece snaps off." "See this residue on my fingers after I touch the wall?." “You can hear the high-pitched screech as the brakes are applied to the train wheels."
Walking along for a reason as the camera follows you can work if it’s logical: “Each of these four houses...” or “This 30-foot curb that’s crumbling..." But marching down an anonymous street or corridor without referencing your location, or showing us your prowess with a baseball bat or a tennis racket is gratuitous. In a pinch there’s nothing wrong with intimately sharing important information with us face-to-face. The implication is: "what I have to tell you is so significant or so important to all of us that I’ve chosen to tell you on-camera."
More on stand ups next time...
Previously featured on the Radio Television Digital News Association as the News Coach blog series.