Friday, November 5, 2010

Too many questions, too little time

Occasionally I'm on a story and there's a rookie there among the media horde. And if it's a situation in which everyone gets a one-on-one interview, I know that if the rookie goes first I can go out to lunch and come back.

Why? Because many young reporters are so afraid of missing something they'll ask every question in the book. And then they'll ask variations of the same questions.

I also noted this in various newsrooms when new reporters would come back to the station and have to wade through a twenty minute interview to get one sound bite.

And these days, you don't have that much time to put your packages together. So to save time, you need to simplify your interview.

You can do this in two ways. The first is to really pay attention to the answers you're getting. Many of you are writing your questions down on a pad, and then, after you've asked a question, you're too busy reading the next one to hear what the person being interviewed is saying. Many times there's a great bite early in the interview, and if you heard it, you'd know it. But if you weren't paying attention, you'll keep asking every single question on your list.

So pay attention to your answers... you might get two great bites in the first two minutes, and then you're good to go.

The second way to shorten your interviews is to truly consolidate your questions. Ask the most important questions first, those most likely to get the good sound bites. And if you've got questions that are very similar, then combine them or eliminate one of them.

Too many reporters spend too much time wading through tape when it's time to edit. If you'd shortened the interview process and truly listened to your answers, you'd hear the bites as they were being spoken and would know exactly where to find them when you sat down to edit.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In case you didn't notice, the voters sent the media a message as well

Beyond the numbers of the election are the reasons people cast their ballots. If you take the time to look deeper and truly analyze the election, you'll find your story ideas for the next year or so.

And if you think you can go back to chasing the scanner today, you obviously missed the whole point of the election.

It is said that people vote their pocketbook, and that was certainly true this year.

But viewers often choose their television station based on the same factors that makes them cast a ballot one way or another.

Bill Clinton rode to victory on the slogan, "It's the economy, stupid." Television stations might do well to post that on every newsroom wall.

If you want people to watch your station, do stories that truly affect their lives. Right now that means finding a job, making ends meet, dealing with new health care regulations, and other issues that pushed the hot buttons of voters. Do stories that explain, that help, that make lives easier. Show viewers you care about them and you'll get their votes in the ratings book.

Here's your chance to do stories that truly impact people. Because the voters have spoken, and they're not only talking to the politicians.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tonight, check your opinion at the door

On this election night, you'll be able to flip around the dial and find countless examples of why the public trust has been violated.

Oh, I'm not even talking about the results from the polls. I'm talking about media bias.

Slanted news coverage has never been worse in this country. It has always been around, with a rich history in the newspaper business. Funny how newspapers can "endorse" candidates but television news organizations aren't supposed to.

Since that isn't exactly fair, some TV news people take it upon themselves to slant coverage. Bias filters into coverage in many forms, from blatantly slanted coverage to bias by omission, in which important stories are simply not covered. It can be conveyed by body language, by simply appearing happy when one candidate wins while looking like someone ran over your dog when your guy loses. It can take the subtle form of lighting a candidate to look bad, using an unflattering still frame for an over-the-shoulder graphic, or using adjectives like "popular" or "embattled" to describe candidates you like or dislike.

And then there's the first inductee into the media bias hall of fame...taking something out of context.

It's one thing to host an opinion show and have a bias toward one party or another; it's a very different thing to be a journalist and show it.

Tonight, many of you will be working your first election night. It's easy to be swept up with excitement when the balloons fall at a winning campaign headquarters, or to be sad when a good candidate loses. It's hard to ask fair questions of someone you know to be a total sleazebag, easy to lob softballs at a candidate you like.

Tonight, we must set an example, and turn the tide of public opinion. Not about politicians, but about us.

We must be fair, objective, remain even keel in a winning or losing situation. The voters are speaking tonight, and it is their voices, not ours, that viewers want to hear.

The numbers speak for themselves. You can offer all the analysis you want, but please, leave your opinions out of any coverage.

If enough reporters and anchors did that, maybe the approval numbers for the media will be up the next time an election rolls around.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Election eve: Thanks for the bailout, because the rent really IS too damn high

Last year I jokingly posted a request to Nancy Pelosi asking Congress for a bailout of the broadcast industry.

Indirectly, they gave it to us.

Remember a year ago when everything you read about television was doom and gloom, how the news business was going to be dead in the very near future?

Well, thanks to the politicians in this country, that's no longer true. It is estimated that politicians and those who wish to influence voters spent 4.2 billion dollars in TV ads this year.

You read that right. Four-point-two billion. Talk about a bailout.

So years from now, historians will look back and talk about 2010, and how one group saved the industry. How a bunch of people wanting control produced television ads trumpeting their integrity while calling their opponents a bunch of slimeballs. Who knew that setting the bar lower than ever could save us?

Isn't America great?

But it's almost time to start worrying again, because next near there are no Congressional elections.

So we need another bailout. Because stations probably didn't pass any of that multi-billion dollar windfall on to its employees. Maybe this time the bailout could be for starving reporters who live in apartments.

Because... wait for it... the rent is STILL too damn high.