Friday, September 9, 2011

Covering 9/11: Let your video and nat sound do most of the talking

For those too young to remember JFK's funeral, I suggest you go online and watch the coverage.

It's dominated by nat sound and pictures. Nearly 50 years later, I can still hear the repetitive cadence of the drums as the President's coffin was wheeled through the streets. The image of John-John's salute is seared into the brains of everyone who watched.

Who did the commentary? I can't remember. Doesn't matter. Words weren't necessary.

They often aren't when you're dealing with emotion, and should be kept to a minimum. If you've ever covered a funeral for a soldier, cop or firefighter, you can't help but get choked up by the playing of taps, the haunting sounds of the bagpipes.

That said, you're writing has to be at the top of its game at times like this. You have a very brief opportunity to make your words count this weekend. They should be filled with the emotion that matches the video and nat sound. They should complement what viewers see and hear, not overshadow it.

And please, stay away from terms like "closure" and "healing" and "justice" because those don't really exist for those who lost loved ones ten years ago. These people have holes in their hearts that can never be repaired. No amount of justice or comforting can bring back the souls we lost.

Ten years ago we saw some of the most phenomenal reporting in modern history. Probably because the best reporters knew when to shut the hell up.

Finally, the story isn't about you. Standups aren't necessary. Forget reporter involvement. Show respect while covering it, and respect in your copy. This is one story that almost tells itself, so stay out of the way.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interview with a worrier

Today we're having breakfast with Eileen Left, a very talented young reporter in the process of job hunting. Eileen is a world class worrier, so we're going to try to get her to dial her stress level down a notch. Eileen has already arrived at the restaurant when I get there.

Grape: Hope I didn't keep you waiting.

Eileen: Been here an hour. I wanted to get here early. I mean, I could've had a flat tire, run out of gas, gotten stuck behind a funeral-

Grape: Been abducted by aliens...

Eileen: That too. And then, what would you think of me if I was late? I mean, you're The Grape, you're old school. Reporters don't miss deadlines.

Grape: Breakfast is not a deadline. Relax.

Eileen: I'll try.

The waitress arrives to take our order. As always, our interviews are done in New Jersey.

Waitress: (snapping her gum) Waddaya want, honey?

Eileen: Are the eggs cooked all the way through? And is the sausage kept at the appropriate safe temperature in the kitchen? I could get e-coli, trichinosis-

Waitress: I'll have the chef cook the hell out of whatever you want. He can nuke it down to the molecular level and you can spoon the ashes into your coffee.

Grape: Two ham and cheese omelets, two glasses of orange juice.

Eileen: Thank you.

The waitress writes the order on the pad and leaves.

Grape: So, tell me about your job hunt.

Eileen: Well, I've sent out fifty tapes. Of course, I'm not sure if they all arrived. I haven't gotten fifty phone calls. What if the post office lost some of them? What if the mailroom boy at the station sent my tape to the wrong person?

Grape: I'm sure they arrived just fine.

Eileen: It's the Post Office.

Grape: Point taken. So, any nibbles?

Eileen: I've had calls this week from four News Directors who love my work.

Grape: And?

Eileen: And they said they'll get back to me soon. But what if the General Manager doesn't like me? What if another reporter with a better tape shows up. Maybe I should have put my bungee jumping accountant package first on my tape.

Grape: If they called you, they liked your tape. I've seen your tape, and it's great. You're immensely talented.

Eileen: Suppose they don't like my hair? Maybe I should have cut it.

Grape: Your hair looks great.

Eileen: You're a man. You're supposed to say that.

Grape: Point taken again. But your hair does look great.

Eileen: But they haven't called. Maybe they think I'm fat. Do these jeans--

Grape: Don't go there.

Eileen: I'm not pretty enough.

Grape: The bus boy just walked into a wall staring at you.

Eileen: So why haven't they called?

Grape: Any number of reasons. Saving money, can't make a decision, waiting for corporate approval on salary. Could be anything. But if you got four calls you're doing great. You'll be outta here in no time.

Eileen: But suppose none of them call? Suppose I never get out of Palookaville? I could end up a spinster reporter. I could-

Eileen's phone rings.

Eileen: Hello? Yes, this is Eileen. Oh, hello..... really? That sounds great! When do I start?

Eileen chats a little while then hangs up.

Grape: Job offer?

Eileen: Yeah! I accepted it. Great salary, great place to live. I need to be there in three weeks.

Grape: See, all that worry was for nothing.

Eileen: But what happens if I get there and they hate me? Or if I'm late for work on my first day....

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2011 © Randy Tatano


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An answer for the FCC

"Frankly, I think we should focus on tackling the very live challenges that face broadcast news in the 21st century: where have all the journalists gone and why? Whatever happened to the kind of fact-filled investigative journalist that held the powerful accountable? Why do so many important stories go untold?"

-FCC Chairman Michael Copps

Oh, this is one of those quotes that made me wanna pick up the phone. For the answer, we need a little history lesson.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, TV was free. In New York we had six channels. Plus a rotating antenna on the roof so we could pick up blacked out Giants games from Hartford. Cable TV? Satellite? Paying to watch television? Insane!

The "pie" as the advertising pot is often called, had six slices. Stations were cash cows. You could own a station, literally do nothing, let your pet cat run the place, and make a fortune.

Then, the story goes, a little company called HBO got a cable license, and the FCC supposedly shrugged. Somewhere, a golden goose shuddered. Somewhere, the baker of said pie got out his knife and cut off another slice.

Oh, yeah, back in the 1980s we routinely covered stories shoulder-to-shoulder with radio reporters. Have any of you working today seen a radio reporter lately? Hmmmm. Well, back then the FCC made some nice changes that allowed companies to own every damn station in town. So every one of those radio newsrooms consolidated down to one. And then when syndicated radio became popular, they disappeared. A whole bunch of good journalists unfairly described as having "a good face for radio" found themselves unemployed, not telegenic enough for television.

Cable grew, and then the "pizza pie" satellite dish arrived. (The irony of the pie would impress Edgar Alan Poe.) For a hundred bucks you could have a few hundred stations. The baker threw away his knife, turned the pie into cobbler, and handed everyone at the table a demitasse spoon.

When the pie got subdivided the golden goose keeled over and died. Along with a whole bunch of newsroom jobs. And when the beancounters declared that a reporter could do the job of two people, a whole bunch of journalists fled the business or were forced out.

Now newsrooms operate with skeleton crews, doing five times as much news as we did 20 years ago. Because it's cheaper to have a news staff produce more news than to buy a syndicated show.

Back to the FCC guy's original question: you wanna know where all the journalists have gone? They're still out there. Most of them just aren't working in television. They left because of decisions made by bureaucrats without a creative bone in their body.

Go count your beans. Enjoy your pie. What's left of it.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pop quiz

Ah, so you're back from the long weekend and didn't bother to even read a newspaper. Too bad. You are subject to a quiz at any time in this class. Stop whining and don't look at me in that tone of voice. You want unicorns and rainbows, you're in the wrong place.

1. Who did Rick Perry succeed as Governor of Texas?

2. What Governor told residents to "get the hell off the beach" before Hurricane Irene?

3. Which Republican Presidential candidate used to work for President Obama?

4. Who is replacing Charlie Sheen on "Two and a half Men?"

5. What is the US Postal Service considering eliminating?

6. What is Kate Middleton's current title?

7. What did Mitt Romney's dad do for a living?

8. What agency downgraded the US Credit rating?

9. Who was the Mayor of New York City on 9/11/01?

10. What does Labor Day honor?

Bonus question:

What wind speed must a storm exceed to be classified as a hurricane?

Pencils down. The answers can be found by looking them up!