Friday, July 1, 2011

Content trumps technology every time

Yesterday Glenn Beck retired his blackboard.

Tim Russert's whiteboard is in the Smithsonian. I'm not making that up.

Last week I was talking with a network photog about the good old simple days of television, and the discussion went around to weather. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth many stations had giant maps of the United States with velcro weather symbols. You could peel and stick an "H", an "L", a sun with a smiley face, or an angry cloud with a lightning bolt anywhere on the map.

And after talking about those features, the weatherperson gave the forecast.

Bottom line, it's the same forecast weather people deliver today. And it was a lot less confusing.

The other day I saw a weather guy showing off one of those touch screen chromakey whatevers during his forecast. He touched the map, the clouds went vertical, the colors went crazy...

It looked like a four-year-old went wild with fingerpaint. And unless you had a degree in meteorology, you had no idea what the heck he was showing. Or what the forecast was.

Until the end of the segment when the graphic showed the days of the week, the highs and lows, and a bunch of suns. No different than the days of velcro maps.

There's a reason viewers loved Russert's whiteboard and Beck's chalkboard. It's because those guys made things simple to understand, like a teacher in a classroom. Yes, bells and whistles are nice, but if you don't have content, you don't have nothin'.

Stations love to show off electronic features. But all the technology in the world won't save you if you can't deliver the message in easy to understand terms. Strip out all the electronic features, and you'd better have the information that viewers want.

Bottom line, it's all about information and the people who deliver it.



Thursday, June 30, 2011

The one time you want a "yes or no" answer

We're all taught never to ask questions that would result in a one word answer. I mean, soundbites that short aren't terribly riveting.

Except when we're talking about politicians.

These "public servants" (and talk about a bogus term) can tap dance and filibuster around the most simple question. And with the 2012 elections getting closer, you're going to hear more of this from both sides. If you want to know exactly where a politician stands on a crucial issue, don't expect anything definitive.

Reporter: "So, do you believe in space aliens?"

Politician: "This issue is not whether or not I believe in little green men, but how we can fix the economy. And we've got to do something about the deficit..."

And when the politician is done talking, you still don't know if he believes in space aliens.

Doesn't matter if you're talking to a Democrat or Republican, they're all the same. Memo to the rookies in the business who actually believe politicians care about the public: a politician's number one issue is getting re-elected. And they will do anything, say anything to achieve that goal. That's why they carry around carefully crafted answers in their heads that aren't really answers. They can take any question and spin off on a tangent that let's them say what they really want to say.

Which is when you want the yes or no answer.

Didn't get what you're looking for the first time? Ask the question again:

Reporter: "Back to my original question, since I think we got off the track. We already know where you stand on the economy. But do you believe in space aliens?"

You'll probably get round two of the tap dance. So don't give up.

Reporter: "I'll make it simple this time. I just need a one word answer. Do you or don't you believe in space aliens? Yes or no?"

Still getting stonewalled? Ask it again. And again. And again until you get something. Do not move on to another question until you do. You've got plenty of tape.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mailbag: Walking standups and the sheer boredom of soccer


I'm a rookie and no matter what I do my attempts at walking standups never look right. I don't know if I'm walking too slow or what, but when I compare them to the network people there's a big difference. Can you offer some tips?

Well, walking standups are somewhat of an art, but there are some basics.

(And before I get started, all you people with the big "J" tattooed on your head who say, "A walking standup is nothing but a transparent attempt by the reporter to promote himself," just go away and keep working in public TV.)

-First, you need to be up to speed when you begin your standup. Don't start walking when you talk, start walking as you count down. So by the time you start talking you're already moving. Then when you edit the standup into your package, you're moving and it gives the standup more energy.

-Walk at a normal speed, or even a little faster. You have to show energy. Don't just amble...slowly...along.

-Rehearse what you're going to do with the photog. If you have to mark the spot where you're going to start and stop, do so.


I'm a new sports anchor and was wondering how much of the World Cup Soccer I should include in my sportscast.

Personally, I'd say none. I'm a big sports fan and couldn't care less. Neither could most of my sports fanatic friends. Nothing more riveting than a nothing-nothing tie, and as the old saying goes, "A tie is like kissing your sister." And bear in mind that although lots of kids play soccer, it's because parents want some way to get their kids to run around in circles and wear themselves out.

You can give it a mention, but I wouldn't devote a whole lot of time to it.

Hey Grape,

Why are sales people always hanging out in the newsroom?

Because they want you to do stories on their clients.


I'm a one man band. Where can I get some advice on lighting, as my packages always look either too dark or too bright.

You should spend some time with a photog. (And for you interns out there, you should REALLY spend time with photogs.) If there are no photogs around, check out It's their electronic lounge and filled with helpful guys.


Monday, June 27, 2011

The fourth annual "take a photog to lunch" week

UNDATED--For a fourth year in a row, television news photographers woke up this morning looking forward to the week during which they are recognized for their hard work by reporters.

Yes, it's "take a photog to lunch" week, the seven day period that reminds reporters and anchors that without shooters, they're radio.

"It's a great reminder that we don't enjoy inhaling burgers while driving," said photographer I.B. Rolle, drooling over the advance reservation his favorite reporter had made at Red Lobster. "Though I'm not sure what the proper etiquette is regarding where to put my hands without a steering wheel in front of me."

Reporters often gush about the upgrade in video quality during the holiday week, noting that a well-fed photog is a happy photog. "The work of the photography staff was off the charts last year," said reporter Ivana Anchor. "This year I'm personally going all out and springing for dessert as well. I figure the sugar rush should result in a great live shot at five."

While the benefits of the program are numerous, there are those in the industry who fail to see the gesture as beneficial. Producers have made no bones about their displeasure, citing their frustration at not being able to make photogs jump at the drop of a hat. "That one hour we can't order them around is a killer," said Producer Anita Beer. "I complained to the Chief Photog last year, and he suggested I take the issue to the Human Resources Manager, Helen Dye. I brought it up again yesterday, and again he told me to, 'Go to Helen Dye.'"

The Society to Promote Humane Treatment of Photogs has issued a suggested menu for those wishing to participate in the program. "No fast food, no drive-thrus, no all you can eat buffets," said Society President Ray Cathode. "The photog must be taken to an actual restaurant at which the menus do not also serve as placemats. And I don't want to hear any reports about plastic utensils or rolls of paper towels on the tables in lieu of cloth napkins, either."