US vs.Them

Nick Eaton, our new sports video journalist at The Spokesman-Review, ran into one of those cringeworthy US vs. TV moments earlier this week when he shot a video story on mascot tryouts at Eastern Washington University. From Nick’s blog post:

“OK, it’s funny. A reporter gets into the suit and “auditions.” Har har har. Makes for a funny 30-second clip on the 5 o’clock news. But wait, Keith (the reporter) starts telling the judges how to react on camera. “Tell me, for the camera, how horrible my dancing was.” Essentially, fabricating the entire story, down to what the judges say about him.”

So what I want to know from any TV news shooters out there is how do you really feel about this. When does news become just a comedy routine?  What do your really think about having to shoot this kind of schlock and do you feel it hurts your credibility when you actually produce a real story? Or is this what TV news has become. Here are both stories:

KXLY TV version

Spokesman-Review version

Says Eaton:

“The report is presented in a way that makes it obvious Keith is not trying to do any objective reporting. And it’s obviously not about the people who actually auditioned for Swoop that day.

It’s about Keith.

And that’s a huge difference between TV and newspaper video. I don’t think any newspaper reporter would go to an event and make the story about them. It’s just not what we do. In TV, it’s all about the reporter, the on-screen personality.

It’s TV news stories like this that will always create a divide between what TV new does and what emerging video journalists at newspapers are producing. The sad thing is, the TV reporter missed a decent story. Thankfully Eaton told a true story of what happened that day.


18 thoughts on “US vs.Them

  1. I agree – blurs the lines, BUT….I’d compare this to the paper doing a photo illustration for a feature story. You’re right though – reporter missed a great story that was fine “as it was”
    Clearly this was a feature. Reporter has bad habits. AND was it a sports reporter? In TV that is an entirely different breed of “reporter.”

  2. One the criticisms I hear all the time-mostly from newspaper photojournalists-is that TV News shooters set up a lot their shots. This KXLY video just reinforces the notion that ethics are totally missing from local broadcast news. If a newspaper reporter starts telling a subject what to say, they’ll probably be fired if they’re caught. Apparently this is not true in TV news.

    I guess my biggest frustration is that TV news is forgetting how to tell real stories that matter to people. It is now all about the “talent” and because of that, the viewer loses.

  3. I wouldn’t get too cocky too quickly about newspaper video vs. TV video. I can easily envision a future in which the newspaper folks do the very same things — making the story about themselves.

    Right now newspaper video folks remain focused on the story in a traditional sense. And in many ways, those that are doing newspaper video are more dedicated to the journalistic aspect of storytelling than anyone else. But give the wrong person — or the wrong business owner — control over video presentation and newspapers will likely follow the same path.

    I think there’s a fundamental question here that each media business must answer…

    Are you building information and stories to serve the community, OR are you gathering clicks/eyeballs/ears in order to sell advertising and make money for your shareholders? You can do both for a while, but in the end one mission must win out.

    TV sold its soul many decades ago — it’s about making money. TV was born into the second half of the 20th century and was created as a national system, so it reached this conclusion very quickly, given the short list of people controlling the business.

    Newspapers for many years had monopolistic and obscene profits and could afford the largesse of running big news operations in print. Plus, they were highly distributed and localized and could avoid the moneymaking pressures created by shareholders.

    But via consolidation and raised expectations for stock valuations, shareholders have now gotten hold of newspapers, too, and the salad days are gone.

    So while newspaper video is currently only made by pure-hearted, hard-working journalists with an entrepreneurial bent, I suspect that won’t always be the case. These chin-wagging TV whores could be working in your shop someday, too.

    I hate the idea of it, but I think we have to be on guard against it.

  4. Pingback: TV versus newspaper video « Stories on the run

  5. I have worked with these kind of reporters before. Very few do this kind of schtick well enough to pull it off, but these days everyone wants to the Daily Show routine. Sad. Hopefully the transformation of both or fields are going through will drive the slap-happy spotlight hogs from the fold.

    That being said, it’s unfair to judge local TV news by the actions of a few dildos. I turn feature and hard news stories everyday by myself and never resort to this crap. (Not that I haven’t produced this kind of pap before!). As awful as it is, I can find examples of newspaper video featuring monotone narration, plodding pacing and an overwhelming sense of self-righteousness that is equally offensive. I choose not to judge all newspaper efforts by these examples however and trust that you don’t reciprocate, Colin. Not that I really blame you, as this case is pretty egregious. Someday perhaps we’ll drink a beer together and I’ll tell you stories that will melt your pixels.

    Oh, John Proffitt is right. Blown-dry bad actors may be headed to a newsroom near you. In fact I’ve already given them your number…

  6. Thanks Stewart,
    I don’t want to label all TV shooters and reporters in the same category as this fellow. Lord knows, we in the print media have had are fair share of ass-clowns who have damaged our credibility. The thing is, we are both dealing with industries that are in transition. Subscribers are bolting from print newspapers and viewers are ditching TV news in large numbers. The one thing we both have in common is that we are going to need to utilize the web in more and better ways. That is were our viewers are heading. How we define video storytelling for this medium will follow us for a long time. Blown-dry bad actors and ass clowns need not apply. As for the monotone narration and pacing problems…I working on it. A radio broadcaster told me today that I should smile when I do voiceovers:)

  7. Both approaches worked ok. I preffered the Spokesman piece but the TV guy was ok. It was a lighthearted piece.
    We have had a reporter dressing up as a pantomime dame (do you have those in the US? e.g. A man dressing as the ugly sisiter in Cinderella).
    It was a feature piece before we did MMedia. If it were tomorrow I would probably shoot it as a spoof bit of fun.

  8. Might happen in my shop, but I’d never shoot it. Oh, I might shoot the reporter in the suit for a stand-up, but the staging and the reporter-is-the-story stuff is where I draw the line.

    This team missed a great opportunity for all sorts of fun characters by hamming it up themselves. I can see the reporter hard at work the night before writing the story and hamming up cheesy lines for the judges. Not on my watch. I’d have given them the camera and told me to call me when they were done. I’ve done it before. Sometimes a photog’s got to put his foot down.

  9. As long as the piece makes it clear that it’s set up then yeah. I’m OK with it. Since it was lighthearted, I don’t think the audience really thinks he tried out for the team.

    But that said, I do see TV reporters setting up shots and flat out making stuff up.

    I once carjacking where the guy took a car with a kid in the back. He raced around town (35 mph at most) at up to 100 mph. Finally the car was stopped, guy arrested, and I was on the scene as they were taking him away.

    Cue Fox News, who drives up and starts shooting, didn’t talk to anyone and beamed his story in. As I was interviewing the police chief, I was identified as a social worker on camera. WTF?

    They were terrible terrible terrible reporters. They always got stuff wrong, made it up when they didn’t know and had the most unreasonable expectations of public servants. My hometown paper’s reporters had to constantly apologize to people for their behavior, and sources understand that their hometown reporters aren’t like that. (Like when a TV station used a cherry picker to see over the barrier of a guy who got sucked into a wood chipper. Since when can you put that on TV?)

  10. I liked the Spokesman piece much more, but I wonder whether the use of music in the intro crosses the copyright line?

  11. Eons ago, when I was a young pup in journalism school, I watched the entire b-roll produced by an aspiring TV video journalist. Each “scene” had three or four takes, all directed by the journalist. As a photojournalist, I was astounded, and thus, asked my professor who spent years in the TV news business, if this was acceptable. While he understood my viewpoint, he wasn’t overly concerned by the extremely heavy-handed approach that most students were leaving his class with.

    Today, I work for a company that has been “converged” with a TV station for over ten years. While there is still a chasm that exists between what we traditionally think of as photographers vs TV journalists, it is less pronounced than ever before. We teach them a few things about composition, light and the documentary approach, and they teach us a few things about nat sound, wireless mics, and such.

    But I still crack up when I watch TV news.

  12. Colin, I’d be careful throwing those rocks at Keith and KXLY.

    You’ve got your own glass house on Riverside Avenue in the form of Doug Clark.

    (For those readers who have no idea who Doug Clark is and don’t read the Spokesman-Review, he’s the SR’s version of Osso’s package above, and Clark gets plenty of ink every week)

  13. Colin,

    You’re comparing apples to oranges here. They’re two different perspectives on the same story and I’d take a step back before you take that great leap you’re taking by basing a lighthearted look at mascot tryouts as the center for your position that all local TV news is fatally flawed schlock.

    For reference … I’m a former newspaper reporter that now works as an Internet news producer for a TV station … and you won’t be hard-pressed to figure out which one. I gave up my ‘evil empire’ view of TV news a long time ago when I realized its a vastly different medium and has a different audience than newspapers and both are complimentary to each other in their presentations.

    Case in point are these video clips. The KXLY version on YouTube has gotten 234 views. The S-R version has gotten about 197 views. A small difference between the two comparatively speaking. I would think that means that both videos have value to their respective audiences.

  14. Amanda and Rodotcom,

    My problem with the KXLY piece was in the way the information with presented. Asking a subject to essentially act for the camera goes against all ethical bounds that I work under at a newspaper. As our two mediums meet on the web, I believe ethics will play a bigger role in a news organization’s credibility. No one probably would have questioned the video if it had not been posted on the web.

    All I’m trying to do here is create a dialogue about how people feel about the direction of TV journalism. Good or bad, these are important discussions that will help define our different mediums in the future. As a member of the National Press Photographers Association, an organization that represents both TV shooters and newspaper still/videographers, the divide in our membership is widening over ethics. The best video storytellers are still the talented shooters in TV news. They understand the ethics and are truthful with their storytelling. Then there’s this growing other side of the coin that says anything goes. How am I supposed to believe what a TV reporter tells me? I am always going to wonder now if they coached a subject what to say.

    Newspapers have their own burden to bear. A few bad apples have tarnished the credibility of hard working print and photojournalists that play by the rules. Once credibility is lost, it is tough, if ever, to regain. As TV news slips into infotainment, I can’t believe the viewers will stick around.

  15. Very interesting reading all of these comments. I think the Spokesman review piece was a much better piece. It told the story in a far superior way..much like a nat sound piece that we would do in television news. However…if a reporter wants to have some fun on a light hearted piece every now and then…big deal! I mean…who is it really hurting? I would agree however on the ethics arguement. You cannot coach your interview subjects….not that on a piece like this it makes a huge difference….but for future credibility it might. That being said…you win some…you lose some. I’m pretty sure that Keith Osso’s actions are not going to bring the world to a crumbling end.

  16. The day will come when those producing newspaper video will be hiring reporters more on their looks than on their writing and reporting capabilities. And good looks will result in more clicks and more page views. That de-evolution too will happen to newspapers.

    From my experience – most of the information on television is gathered no differently than it is in the newspaper world – the only difference is that we record it on a video camera as opposed to taking notes or using a tape recorder. As to b-roll, well way too much of that in TV is staged. Much of what passes for photojournalism in television would be considered merely as an illustration if it were printed in the newspaper. Come on – the walking/talking shot with a reported and subject that is a staple in television is completely staged – but we need something to cover the black and no one has yet to come up with a better idea.

    Unfortunately television has become far too personality driven, it’s a shame because the stories can be really compelling. But hey it was a sports story about selecting a team mascot, and from the looks of both stories it didn’t appear that there was much of a turnout.

    And I too, from a photography standpoint, liked the newspaper video better.

  17. I think one point is obscured in this discussion, although Colin mentioned it: There’s a real story here, with real people involved. (Sure, not a hard-hitting news story … but it is a true story, albeit minor.) The TV reporter chose to bypass the real story and make up a comedy skit. Sure, it’s light — I don’t mind that aspect. The YouTube views aside, though, I think if you showed the TV version to the real people involved, they wouldn’t consider it very worthwhile.

    Journalism is not putting actors and such in front of the camera; it is turning the camera on real people and real events. What do we get out of watching the TV guy ham it up? I guess we get a laugh, but why?

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