Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bias by omission

We hear the term "media bias" tossed around all the time, and it's pretty easy to spot these days, both on a local and national level.

But there's another kind of bias that the viewer doesn't see; it's called bias by omission. In other words, sitting on a story or conveniently omitting facts that pertain to it.

Several years ago (I was not the ND) one of our reporters uncovered some serious dirt on a politician. It would have likely ended the politician's campaign. But after a heated discussion in the morning meeting, the story went uncovered. Several staffers grumbled for days about sitting on the story, and many were convinced that had the politician belonged to the other political party, it would have been the lead story on our newscast.

That's just one way coverage gets slanted. You don't have to slam a candidate or a view; sometimes you can do serious damage by not reporting both sides of the story.

There are other subtle ways stories are slanted. It's so easy to take things out of context, select sound bites in a way that favors one candidate over another, run an unflattering OTS still frame of a candidate, or choose b-roll that tilts the story. It has the same effect as going on camera and slamming someone. More subtle, but the same results.

And if you do these things, you're as biased as those left wing or right wing screamers that seem to dominate our television these days.

So choose your bites carefully, make sure the video you pick presents both candidates in the same light, and don't leave out the good stuff.

People respect reporters who don't have an opinion. Tell what you know, not what you think, and you'll never have a problem.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Choices and mutual exclusivity

Okay, let's pretend. I'm going to give you a choice between two jobs. The salaries are the same.

Job #1 is at a station owned by a solid company with no money problems. It has an excellent photography staff, a News Director who is respected in the industry (and doesn't yell), and a fabulous on-air product. People who have left this station have gone on to great things, those who stay love the place. The city is a nice place to live.

Job #2 is at a station owned by a company whose name is often accompanied in the same sentence by the word "bankruptcy." The ND is a screaming lunatic, the photogs are working with horrible equipment. Morale is horrible, and it shows in the on-air product. The city is a war zone, and you'd feel uncomfortable driving through it in the daytime in a Hummer.

So which job did you take? No-brainer, huh?

Now let me add another factor. Job #1 is in market #40 while Job #2 is in market #20.

And if you're now re-thinking your decision, you're gonna get shot by the clue gun.

The one thing I've noticed about the younger generation is its obsession with market size. You all seem to think that bigger is better, that there is some magical elixir that comes with a lower number.

When it comes to quality of life and quality of product, market size means absolutely nothing. Sometimes you can learn a lot in market 100 and nothing in market 35. Sometimes bigger isn't better.

The other thing that seems to affect young people is what other young people have accomplished. If you see some reporter who is your age make it to a market higher than yours, you probably assume that a) that person is better than you; and b) that station is better than your current one. There are too many factors to consider in any hiring; the person may have worked cheap, the person may have fit the ND's needs, the person may wear incredibly short skirts. It doesn't matter.

What happens to someone else has no effect on your career. You simply need to concentrate on what will help your career and what will make you happy.

If your goal in life is tied to a market number, I feel sorry for you.

If your goal in life is to do rewarding work and be happy, don't attach that goal to a number. And don't worry about what anyone else has accomplished.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Memo to beancounting GMs: Your next ND needs to be a photog

Imagine a clerk who works at the motor vehicle department but who has never driven a car, teaching driver's ed to young people.

Imagine someone who's never been out on a story running a news department.

Well, you have that all the time these days, as for some reason, people have gotten it into their heads that producers make the best News Directors.

When I got into the business, News Directors were all former reporters. It simply made sense.

And now that the business is changing, it makes sense that the News Directors of the future come from the photography ranks.

Why? Well, when I hear from reporters in entry level stations who are hired as one-man-bands and have no idea how to operate a camera, it just becomes crystal clear.

If consultants and bean counters are determined to keep the one-man-band thing alive, then it would make sense to have a news department run by someone who can teach reporters the basics of photography.

Over the years there have been a few photogs who have made the transition into management, but now it's time for stations to start looking at this logically and seriously considering photogs for ND positions. They have two qualities most needed these days: they've been in the field and they know how to shoot.

And for you photogs out there who have been wondering what's the become of you, perhaps it's time to start applying for jobs in management.

You guys might actually save what's left of the business.