#506de- Midterm pitch

July 10, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

To:                 Mr. Robert Kalm/Investor

From:            Paul Lewis

Re:                 TVNewsTalentCoach.com

Date:             July 10, 2010

Mr. Kalm, I’d like to tell you about TVNewsTalentCoach.com.

Quite simply, TVNewsTalentCoach.com will help TV reporters and anchors improve their craft.  Through this web-based business and blog I will work with reporters and anchors to give them the tools to make them better, more confident, more passionate and more effective storytellers.

I see three main audiences for this website and business:

  • Broadcast journalism college students who will soon graduate and look for employment
  • Young working journalist hoping to move to the next level
  • Print reporters who are learning how to tell video news stories.

For the College Student:

By the time college students have completed their undergraduate studies, they—or their parents—have invested as much as $200,000 on their education.  That is not the time to cheap out!  That is precisely the time to top it off with practical advise from a veteran News Director who has hired more than 100 people.

Some broadcast journalism professors are terrific, but let’s be honest…when was the last time most professors were actually in a newsroom, if ever?  How many reporters and anchors have they hired?  If a college senior or recent graduate is really committed to making it in the business, they’ll give themselves a significant boost by visiting TVNewsTalentCoach.com, reading my blog and signing up for my coaching.

I offer brutally honest feedback and practical tips that will help a new reporter hone his skills.  They’ll see a dramatic improvement quickly and will be ready to search for–and find–their first job.

For the Working TV Journalist:

TVNewsTalentCoach.com will be a tremendous help for anchors and reporters who have two or three years under their belts, or even 10 or 12 years.  Sometimes it takes an outside eye to identify just a few things that will elevate performance.  Seasoned veterans know that sometimes they just need a little inspiration.  The one-on-one coaching and insightful performance-enhancing blog entries will provide that spark.

Virtually every TV station has slashed its budget.  The few stations that used to have formal talent coaching just don’t do it anymore.  The bottom line is it’s up to individual reporters to invest in themselves.   I’ll maximize skills without breaking the bank.  I’ve got a proven track record of success as a TV news talent coach.

For the Print Reporter:

Many print reporters are now struggling with new demands to tell their stories with video on their newspaper websites.  It can be a daunting adventure.  It’s not what they signed up for but they know they’ve got to do it to keep their jobs in a shrinking industry.  The good news is it’s not brain surgery.  It’s not easy but there are things they can do to make their video stories more effective.  I can show them how.

The Web Site:

The web site will explain the business concept and sell me as the one who can help.  On the “About” page, I’ll talk about my background.  I’ve been a broadcast journalist for more than 30 years.  I’m proud to say I’ve won a boatload of awards, including a Peabody and several Emmys.  I’ve been a News Director since 1996, and have coached countless reporters and anchors to better on-air performance.  I know what News Directors are looking for when they hire on-air staff.  I know what it takes to stand out and I can get them there.

Can you get Talent coaching elsewhere?  Sure.  But most of the time it’s either very expensive or it’s offered by talent agents—many of them lawyers—who really focus on job placement so they can take 6 or 8 percent as commission.  I’m not a talent agent and don’t want to be.  I’m just a news guy who loves the business and can help people get better at their craft.

On the “How It Works” page I’ll lay out the simple coaching process.  Send me your DVD or links to posted work.  I’ll review it and we’ll set up a meeting by Skype.   My coaching will provide concrete suggestions and clients will put them into practice on their next pieces.  We’ll meet again by Skype to review that next piece and together we’ll track the improvement.

So how much is this going to cost?  Just $100.  I’m pricing it so low because I know students and young reporters don’t have a lot of excess cash lying around.  I’m not looking to make a living out of this; I want to give back to a great profession and helping people get better at this craft is just what I do.

I think the extensive testimonials on the site—written and on video—will help convince any visitor that it is worth a small investment in themselves to elevate their performance.  I’ll post testimonials from several reporters and anchors from around the country who will talk about the value of my coaching.  These reporters are in medium and large markets like Hartford, Albany, Kansas City, and Philadelphia.

Blog:

In addition to the web pages I am creating to explain my coaching service, I will maintain a blog on this website where I will comment on current issues, trends and challenges in broadcast journalism.  As I have been doing on the blog OldTVNewsGuy, I’ll offer my take on local and network coverage of news stories big and small.  I’ll criticize the bad and praise the good.   I’ll use news stories as teachable moments for the reporters and anchors who want to improve as clear, effective storytellers.  And I will write how-to columns, including writing and performing better teases, tips for stand-ups, better storytelling techniques and tips for anchoring and co-anchoring.

TVNewsTalent Coach.com will provide a service that is sorely needed at an incredibly affordable rate.

#506de – Research – Cameras in the Courtroom

July 5, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

It’s likely you will remember the recent Senate Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Elana Kagan for her adept avoidance of substantive legal questions.  Or perhaps you will recall her sense of humor, like her quip about eating Chinese food on Christmas Day.  But in her endorsement of allowing cameras into the Supreme Court, Kagan was clear and serious, and good lord, it’s about time.

“I think it would be a terrific thing to have cameras in the courtroom.  When you see what happens there, it’s an inspiring sight.”

View testimony here.

Of course, Kagan acknowledges some of her soon-to-be-colleagues are not so ready to be transparent about the workings of the high court.  Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter once testified before Congress, saying “the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

Well, Souter has retired and the court looks different now.  But not so different that having cameras in court is a slam dunk.

On July 13, 2006 Chief Justice John Roberts told the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ annual conference, :

“There’s a concern (among justices) about the impact of television on the functioning of the institution. We’re going to be very careful before we do anything that might have an adverse impact.”

Translation: if TV cameras are allowed into the Supreme Court, some of my colleagues will grandstand and play to the cameras.
So?
The same argument was made about allowing cameras into congressional hearings.  Sure enough congressmen and senators do grandstand.  But that is more than offset by the light shed on how our government works…and doesn’t.  The time has come to shed the same kind of light on the workings of our highest court. Will the justices and lawyers do their share of grandstanding?  Probably so.  But, again, so what?  The people of this country are smart enough to see grandstanding for what it is.  The benefit of transparency far outweighs the grandstanding concern.
Justice Stephen Breyer has expressed concern that cameras at the Supreme Court would be an example for all courts.  At the American Bar Association Rule of Law Symposium Panel on The Role of the Judiciary, November 10, 2005, Breyer said:

“… if it were in the Supreme Court, I think it would become a symbol for every court, and therefore it would be in every criminal trial in the country. And when I start thinking about witnesses,  I don’t want them thinking how they look to their neighbors…And I do think about the O.J. Simpson case.”

Ah, the OJ argument.  There is a lot to criticize about the OJ trial but the presence of TV cameras did not make that trial the farce it was.  The TV cameras merely broadcast the incompetence of the judge, they didn’t make him lose control of those proceedings.

Yes,TV cameras at the highest court would be a signal to lower courts that they, too, should allow cameras in courtrooms.  And that’s a good thing.  While most states now allow cameras in courtrooms to some extent, in many it’s still a rarity and the presumption is against allowing cameras.  When cameras are prohibited, the people of this country are left with cartoons–artist sketches hastily drawn, rather than the reality of photographs, video and audio. Cameron Stracher wrote incisively about this in the Wall Street Journal last week after covering the court proceedings for Faisal Shahzad, the admitted Times Square bomber.

Readers of The Wall Street Journal on June 22 could be forgiven for thinking that the newspaper (finally) was printing comic strips. There on the front page was a cartoon of Faisal Shahzad, the admitted Times Square bomber.

Not a cartoon, exactly, it was an artist’s rendering of Mr. Shahzad pleading guilty in federal court to terrorism charges. Mr. Shahzad’s visage was sketched in quick strokes of black and beige, while his handcuffs were secured by a man whose face is no more than a dozen pen strokes and whose bald head looks like Charlie Brown’s.

“In the end, the banning of cameras from the courtroom serves only one purpose,” says Al Thompkins of the Poynter Institute for Journalism study. “It preserves the mystique and mystery of the court but does nothing to illuminate the citizens. That is antithetical to democracy.”

Dave Busiek, former chairman of the Radio and Television News Directors Association, says: “The public has been deprived of the benefits of first-hand coverage not only at the district court level but at the appellate level.”

Scott Libin, the News Director at WCCO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis says: “removing courtroom cameras would leave us less informed about our institutions of justice. Strangely, some people seem to think that would be a good thing.”

In the aftermath of the 1999 OJ trial the anti-media mood swing in the country seemed to be a signal that more openness in courtrooms was doomed.  But now that the Internet has made everyone a (potential) member of the media the mood might be shifting to more openness.  And with a Justice Kagan on the Supreme Court, perhaps the court really will shed light to the nation and be an example for the entire justice system.

#506de – Get Real, Lara Logan

July 4, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

lady_gaga_cover_sqMy guess is that when the editors at Rolling Stone magazine put Lady Gaga on their cover, they never imagined the inside story about General McChrystal would steal the spotlight.  But it did and we know now that the general’s loose lips sank his own career ship.

In the aftermath of the McChrystal dust-up, the reporter who wrote the Rolling Stone article, Michael Hastings, has come in for some criticism.  That, in itself, is hardly surprising.  But the source of some of the criticism is.

On CNN’s program “Reliable Sources,” Hastings was interviewed by host Howard Kurtz, who asked:

KURTZ: Do you think that McChrystal and his top aides got so used to your hanging around that they let their guard down?
HASTINGS: No. I don’t think that was the case, because some of the most talked-about parts of the piece happened within the first 24 hours that I was with his team.
One of the most — I guess people have called it inflammatory passages is when I quote a top adviser saying, “Biden — did you say ‘bite me’?” That was the second morning I was with them in Paris covering an on-the-record meeting that they were having to prepare for a speech later on.
I mean, in fly-on-the-wall journalism, you’re there to capture exactly those kinds of moments.

After playing his interview with Hastings,  Kurtz interviewed CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan, who was blunt in saying she just didn’t believe Hastings’ account:

I mean, that just doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, because if you look at the people around General McChrystal, if you look at his history, he was the Joint Special Operations commander. He has a history of not interacting with the media at all.   And his chief of intelligence, Mike Flynn, is the same. I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that.   To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just — I don’t believe it.

There’s only one problem, Lara.  Neither General McChrystal nor any of his advisers deny the accuracy of anything Hastings reported.  Sounds like Logan is a bit peeved she never was able to get McChrystal to open up around her.

If Logan can’t sell her argument that Hastings is lying, she claims that reporting such off-hand banter as the Biden remark violates some unspoken agreement that reporters who are embedded with the military won’t embarrass anyone by reporting overheard jokes and insults.  Nonsense. What Hastings reported was insubordination to the Commander in Chief, not an off-color joke to mask the fear of being on the front lines.  McChrystal and his men are savvy enough to know that if they agree beforehand that something is off the record, it’s off.  Otherwise, it’s fair game.

The problem here is not with McChrystal so much as with the instinct in some reporters who cozy up to sources and then protect them from themselves in order to maintain access.  It happens in Washington and in every state capitol and city hall and local police department.  The beat reporters depend on access.  To keep that access, they sometimes ignore comments or actions they know might be inflammatory.  Because if the news-maker survives a public relations skirmish, that reporter will be frozen out.  Or at least that’s the thinking.

Beat reporters, like Logan, are important.  Getting close and earning trust is key.  But when it comes to shedding light, it is sometimes better for an outsider, like Hastings, to parachute in, tell the story and let the chips–or generals–fall where they may.

TV is profitable again

June 26, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · 1 Comment 

Literally tens of thousands of television professionals have lost their jobs in the past five years.  As the Internet has gained capacity and influence as a source of news and video-on-demand entertainment, traditional broadcast television has diminished in importance.  The old models just were not affordable anymore and owners slashed staff as a way to rescue their bottom line.

A little background is vital.  Owning a TV station over the past five decades has been like owning a license to print money.  Profit margins (how much out of every dollar of sales a company actually keeps in earnings) in excess of 40% were typical and 50% was far from unheard of.  By contrast, most businesses operate with single digit profit margins.  Grocery stores, for instance, think they’re doing great on a 6% profit margin.

So when advertising revenue dried up and audiences shriveled, TV owners were justifiably concerned to see their profit margins slip to 35%, then 30%, then 20%.  It was not a good trend and that led to the drastic thinning of the TV professional herd.  It was a harsh reality for those caught in the crossfire but understandable from a business perspective.

Now comes word that the decline may be over.  Margins are up 11% in 2010, according to an analysis by the New York investment firm M.C. Alcamo & Co., to an average 35%.   The analysis examined public companies  with significant broadcast holdings like Gannett, Meredith, Media General and Scripps.  Sinclair, known as a tightfisted operator of 58 television stations, posted a 45% margin in the first quarter.  Nexstar, which also owns more than 50 stations and has a reputation as a penny-pincher, posted a 41% margin.

So all those who got “downsized” will now be re-hired, right?  Not likely.

Former Gov. Spitzer Signs On with CNN

June 25, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

Stand-up comedian and emigre from the Soviet Union Yakov Smirnof is right when he talks about the United States with his signature line–What a country!

Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former Democratic governor of New York is about to make a triumphant return to the spotlight as the co-host of a new political round-table talk show on CNN.  Spitzer was New York’s Attorney General before becoming governor but most recently was known as client #9 in the hooker for hire scandal that toppled him from the governor’s mansion in Albany.

eliot_spitzer

Spitzer’s self-destructive behavior, once revealed, generated such vehement feelings of revulsion among so many that it’s barely conceivable he’s being given this chance at redemption.  The betrayal of his brilliant and beautiful wife was beyond offensive, people said at the time.  As Attorney General he preached against–and prosecuted with vigor–those involved in prostitution.  His hypocrisy was just staggering.

He is, of course, ever so grateful for the opportunity, according to the CNN press release.

So, does this say more about our country or the state of CNN?

We love to build ‘em up and then relish in their downfall, and that was true with Spitzer.  Reporters wrote scores of glowing profiles of the hard-driving, effective AG who took on the tobacco companies, consumer scammers and the crooks on Wall Street (before the latest round of Wall Street crooks).  And what a field day the media had when he imploded because he couldn’t or wouldn’t reign in a sexual appetite that reflected his superior, I’m above the law, entitled arrogance.

And now some say he’s back because we’re a forgiving nation. He’s said he’s sorry, done a stretch of keeping a low profile.  This is a story of triumph over adversity.  This is America–what a country.

Hogwash.

This is a calculated risk by a cable network that is in deep trouble.  Maybe the shock value of hiring a disgraced governor can pump energy into a ratings challenged cable network.  This is America–what a country.

Spitzer will be taking over the 8pm slot with conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker.  They will be replacing Campbell Brown, who was the fourth or fifth to fail for CNN up against Bill O’Reilly on Fox.  CNN says the Spitzer/Parker hour will be “a spirited, nightly roundtable discussion program.”

Sounds like the old “Crossfire,”  and that brought this response from Reese Shonfeld:

“As the creator of the original Crossfire, I think I’m qualified to comment on the new television program created for Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker. To be blunt, I can’t think of a worse idea.”

Spitzer is certainly smart and articulate, although he never seems quite comfortable on TV.  The shock value of bringing on the disgraced sex addict will certainly bring in some viewers–for a show or two.   What a country!

#506de – HOW TO do compelling stand-up teases

June 24, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

Stand-up teases are crucial to the success of a newscast, whether they are used in the cold open at the beginning of a newscast or as in-show teases.  A good one will keep audience, a poor one will drive people away and a mediocre one will allow viewers to simply tune out.  So…

TEASES ARE ADVERTISING.  Your mission with your stand up tease is to entice viewers to stick around to watch your news story.  Don’t just tell it, sell it.   If all you do is say: Mayor Perez was convicted–why then should I stick around to watch the story; you just told me what I need to know.   On the other hand, don’t be vague and manipulate the viewers with teases like: “The verdict is in.  Is he guilty or not?  I’ll tell you coming up.”  That tease, justifiably angers viewers who feel like you are playing silly games with them.

So, what should you do?

CREATE INTRIGUE, PROMISE SPECIFICS.  Improve your tease by giving one fact, then creating interest by promising specific coverage.  To use the Eddie Perez conviction as an example:  “The jury convicts Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez” is just not enough.  Adding, “I’ll have the full details” doesn’t help at all.  (In fact, ban the phrase–I’ll have details–from your stand up teases. Of course you’ll have details.  No surprise–or interest–in that.)   Try this:  “Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez is convicted.  Why his lawyer is criticizing the jury.”  Or “… The one piece of evidence that clinched the case for the prosecution.”  These teases tell a bit of the story but more importantly they create intrigue by promising to deliver on specific coverage.  It makes the viewer say, whoa, what’s that all about, why is he criticizing the jury, what was the crucial evidence?  I want to see that.

HOW OR WHY. We all know we have to answer the 5 Ws and H in a news story.  Teasing the WHO, WHAT, WHERE OR WHEN of the story often (but not always) seems manipulative and the stuff of valid parody.  “A well known politician is arrested.  Is it the mayor?  We’ll tell you who coming up.”  YUK!  “A massive outbreak of Ebola in a Connecticut town.  I’ll tell you where coming up.”  Also YUK!!!   It’s much better to promote the WHY or the HOW of the story.  That virtually guarantees you will be making a specific promise about your coverage.

“The mayor of Bridgeport is arrested on corruption charges.  How investigators say they uncovered the scheme.” Or “…Why city residents are still backing him.”  These teases do indeed tell some of the story, but either second line also creates real intrigue and makes me want to hear the whole story you promised.

“A Hamden High School teacher is put on administrative leave for having nude pictures of students.  Why police say they haven’t and can’t arrest him.”  Again, you do need to tell a bit of the story, but you must complete the tease by promising specific coverage of the HOW or the WHY.

YOU.  Of course, using the word “you” is almost always good in broadcast news writing.  Remember, TV is an intimate medium.  Most people watch TV one at a time. You’re not preaching to a congregation of thousands. You’re having an intimate conversation, one-on-one, with a viewer.   If you can tease a story with a reason for that one person to stay tuned, do it.  “An outbreak of Ebola virus in Hartford.  How it got here and what you can do to protect your family.  Coming up.”

WRITE TIGHT.  Stand up teases should be 8-12 seconds long, usually just two sentences. There is no need to say your name.  You are not the story and saying your name slows down the cold open or in-show tease needlessly.  Edit out the phrase “I’ll tell you..” as in “I’ll tell you how it got here…”  Cut right to it.  “How it got here…”

MAKE IT A PRIORITY.  Yes, you must do a stand-up tease every day.  Don’t ask if you need to do one.  You do.  The producers already are counting on it.  Also, your stand-up tease is likely the first thing viewers will see after prime time when they make a choice to stay and watch the news or turn the channel.  Take some time to think about your stand-up teases.  If you can do something visual or tactile or reference your surroundings, absolutely do it. Ask yourself:

  • do I make a promise of specific coverage?
  • Have I teased the HOW or WHY?
  • Does this tease really make me want to stick around and watch?  If not, think of another tack and do it again.

Happy teasing!

#506de – Paying for News

June 20, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · 1 Comment 

On Friday night (June 18, 2010) “20/20,” the ABC News magazine aired an exclusive interview with Melody Granadillo.  She’s the former girlfriend of Joran van der Sloot who is charged with killing a Peruvian woman and also suspected in the death of Natalee Holloway.

2020Talent_VargasCuomo_091210

There was Chris Cuomo talking with the young Granadillo on the beautiful beaches of Aruba, where she had frolicked as a 16 year old with van der Sloot.  She was head over heels for him, she said.  Like many teenage girls, she kept a record of her first love.  As Cuomo reported:  “We begin inside this little blue diary, which contains photos and material Melody licensed to us.”

Wait a second.  Back that up. “…photos and material Melody licensed to us.”

Turns out ABC didn’t score this exclusive interview solely with a persuasive argument that the world needs to know Melody’s side of the story.  They paid for it.  It’s unclear exactly how much, but there’s no doubt Melody got paid for her interview.

American news networks and newspapers all claim they do not pay for interviews.  That would be unseemly and a violation of journalism ethics.  British news organizations, somehow have no ethical dilemma with paid interviews and do it all the time.  But in the US, the thinking is: how could the public trust whatever is being said by someone getting paid to say it?   So virtually every major news organization, in its policy handbook, expressly prohibits paying for news interviews.

So how do they get around it?  Just as Chris Cuomo described; they pay a “licensing fee” for photos and video.  To some extent it can be justified.  News organizations pay freelancers and stringers, who are not employed by them, for their photos and video, why shouldn’t a newsmaker get paid if s/he provides photos and video?  OK, so ABC might have paid a couple hundred, even a couple thousand dollars to her, right?  I doubt it.

Three months ago, court documents in the case of Caylee Anthony, the murdered toddler in central Florida, revealed that ABC paid for Anthony’s family to stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando for three nights and an ABC insider told one industry blog that ABC paid $200,000 for the rights to use Anthony family home video and photos.

And this came out just as another 300 were laid off by ABC.  Ouch.

It’s not just ABC.  NBC reportedly “licensed photos” to the tune of $5,000 for an exclusive Today show interview with Caylee’s mom.

This dirty little secret of licensing materials has been grist for industry blogs lately and the March court revelations about the swanky hotel stay for the Anthonys must have been embarrassing for ABC.  I suspect that’s why 20/20 producers had Chris Cuomo slip in that line about Melody licensing her diary to them.  It’s not exactly full disclosure but it is a start.

#506de – Broadcast News Soon Extinct

June 20, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

OVER THE AIR TV BROADCASTING WILL BE EXTINCT IN 10 YEARS

Talk about a dramatic headline!   It may not be the first time someone has said this, but this time the prophet of doom is Andrew Tyndall, a well-known, well-respected news industry analyst.   To paraphrase the old EF Hutton ads, when he speaks people listen.

Andrew Tyndall is the author of The Tyndall Report which tracks network newscasts each and every day.  He claims to have watched and logged every single newscast on every network since 1987.  He compiles reports about how many minutes of news time each network spends on campaign coverage, health care, the Iraq war, the BP oil spill, etc.   This is a guy who knows what he’s talking about.

Tyndall made his comments in an interview with MediaGaggle.com.

“Broadcast television is an industry in decline. There will probably be no such thing as over-the-air television 10 years from now. That doesn’t mean that the network news divisions will disappear. There will still be a demand for video journalism, just not on a broadcast platform. The task facing the network news divisions over the next decade is how to manage the transition from broadcasting to providing video to be used across multiple platforms.”

It’s no secret that network newscasts have been hemorrhaging viewers.  The downward trend has been accelerating for more than a decade. The causes are both external and self-inflicted.  The Internet and mobile technology provide news updates to anyone who wants them anywhere any time, making appointment television for a nightly newscast obsolete.  And the increasing mixture of inconsequential and sensational items into the networks’ daily offerings in an attempt to chase elusive viewers has eroded the tolerance of news loyalists.

Still, it’s hard to imagine a world without the nightly newscasts.  On most days, perhaps, when the world chugs along with the usual political developments and minor calamities around the globe, it’s easy to see the nightly newscasts as irrelevant.  But when something monumental occurs we all clamor to our TV screens to share the experience together.  Think 9/11 or the election of Barack Obama or the miracle plane landing on the Hudson or even the death of Princess Di.  That’s what TV news really does; it allows then entire community–city, state, country, world–to experience something together.

On the local level, the great consolidation has begun.  In several cities one of the TV stations has given up on producing local newscasts.  And we’re not just talking about tiny outposts where the lead story is a cat stuck in a tree.  Last year WTVH, the CBS affiliate in Syracuse, NY, shut down its news operation, laying off the 40 remaining news staffers.  It’s not like this was some Johnny-come-lately station.  WTVH is the original TV station in the market and at one time was the news leader.  It just became unaffordable to continue to produce nightly newscasts, the owners said at the time.

Part of this gloomy outlook for broadcast news is just business.  The old models of large news staffs just don’t work for the bean-counters.  That leads to massive layoffs which threaten the quality of the product.  The networks all have laid off thousands, leaving them unable to cover, for instance, the failed Times Square bomber, the BP oil spill and the Nashville flooding all at the same time.  So the Nashville floods got short shrift and minimal coverage.  The decrease in in quality leads more viewers to abandon ship, which leads to more layoffs and the downward spiral continues.  Maybe Tyndall is right.

#506DE- TV News Excellence…Not Necessarily an Oxymoron

June 19, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · 1 Comment 

MurrowLogo Final (2)It is very much in vogue these days to criticize TV news as silly, vacuous, entertainment-driven and downright awful.  It’s fun and easy to do.  Fun because it’s easy to do.

Turn on a TV newscast and you are overwhelmed with endless stories on Natalie Holloway, Michael Jackson or the stick-up at a local Piggly Wiggly.  Meanwhile, war rages in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands die from starvation in Darfur and a decimated State House press corps is ill-equipped to cover or explain the budget crisis.   A battered public could be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing happening on the nightly news worth watching.

But that would be wrong.

There’s no denying so much of what passes for news on daily newscasts is drivel.  It’s all too often superficial, predictable and even laughable.  What once was produced as satire on Saturday Night Live is seriously offered as the first broadcast draft of history.

Still, a lot of good–even excellent–television news coverage is being aired.   Some of that good work was honored this week by the Radio Television Digital News Association’s Edward R. Murrow Awards.   NBC News earned five Murrow awards, CBS News earned four.

The 15 minute winning entry from NBC in the Breaking News category tells the amazing story of the Hudson River landing of a USAirways jet just minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia airport.  It is riveting and shows the power of TV news.  NBC captured the drama and pathos of the day.

TV news “teases,” those advance snippets designed to entice you to stay tuned, are often maligned–validly–for being sensational and manipulative.  On this night NBC promised to report what went wrong AND what went right.  And they delivered, with clear writing, graphics and video that explained how the jet engines sucked in a flock of geese.  They captured the emotion of Captain Sully using every bit of his experience and skill in bringing the aircraft down safely in the middle of the Hudson.

Other award-winning entries covered the continuing genocide in Darfur, Iran’s election crisis and the exploitation of the Amazon jungle by Texaco.  It IS possible to be a well-informed citizen of the world by watching TV news.

On the local level, award winners included coverage of plane and train crashes but also an extensive examination of the health care debate.  This coverage from Boston went far beyond dueling political soundbites as it explored existing problems and likely affects of the health care reform bill.

And an Atlanta station tracked the $7.9 billion of stimulus money awarded to the state of Georgia.  Again, this coverage went far beyond the headlines and served their viewers well.

These examples are overwhelmed by the nonsense that is the growing majority of TV news.  I have judged numerous TV news contests and I can safely say some of the award-winning entries would have been laughed out of the judging years ago.  But, the good work does stand as a reminder that all of TV news should not be dismissed.

It also stands as a reminder of what could be.



Inconsistencies = interesting

June 13, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

Some random thoughts on this week’s readings…

At first blush, it would seem we’ve been getting some mixed messages in our readings about good writing (Zinsser and Kalm’s 506 blog).

On the one hand we are advised to write about what we know.  On the other, create a persona.  On the one hand we need to gain the reader’s trust.  On the other, ignore the reader’s opinion altogether.

Now that we have four hands (or more!) how are we to rectify all this?  Is it possible for seemingly contradictory advice to coexist and be meaningful?

Sure it is.  This is what makes good writing (and good thinking) interesting and nuanced.  Few of us are entirely one thing or think entirely consistently.   Those who are too consistently singing the same tune are boring and become caricatures–Bill O’Reilly and Keith Oberman are surely “personas” who have become tedious.

A persona can be a useful method for finding a voice but an authentic voice will also allow for human inconsistency.

It is, indeed, important to make an argument with each sentence.  Good writing is a good argument made.  Too many, “I think” and “perhaps” and “very” make for weak arguments and weak writing.  Self assurance is necessary to make a strong point.  But, (is this another seeming inconsistency?) too much self-assurance is arrogance and an arrogant argument that refuses to even allow for the possibility of another opinion is tiresome and ineffective because it becomes easy to tune it out.

I think, perhaps, this is a very interesting way to look at it.

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