Friday, October 5, 2012

Whether you're moderating or interviewing, you have to remain in control

After the first Presidential debate, I was wondering if Clint Eastwood's empty chair had returned in the guise of a moderator.

Rarely have I seen a so-called network journalist (don't get me started about PBS) get steamrolled as badly as the moderator did in this debate. He had no control over either candidate while having as much energy as a potted plant. I was wondering if he died in 1995 and no one's told him yet. Why those who decide on debate moderators continually subject us to people from PBS is beyond me. Maybe they assume the public thinks PBS is objective. Yeah, right.

Mitt Romney brought up Big Bird. He would have actually made a better moderator.

The point is, the journalist must always remain in control. Debates or interviews, you control the questions, you can stop candidates from filibustering, you can interrupt if the person doesn't answer your question, you can ask the question again if it isn't answered the first time.

A couple of good examples of people who control interviews are Fox's Bill O'Reilly and ABC's Jake Tapper. Regardless of your feelings about either of these men, watch the way they remain in control. Both are adept at controlling multiple guests, and often when Tapper fills in on the Sunday morning show, it's five or six people.

Others often seem to be too polite to interrupt, or, in the case of the debate, don't have enough clout to do so.

Young journalists are often intimidated when interviewing high-level people. Don't be. You may be a rookie right out of college interviewing a career politician, but you have to set the tone and let the person know who's boss. Be fair yet firm, and don't get steamrolled.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A woman's appearance: the oldest double standard in the business

By now you've seen or read the story of Jennifer Livingston, the Wisconsin anchor who called out a viewer who sent her a disparaging email regarding her weight. The young lady turned the viewer's comment into a lecture on bullying, and made some very valid points.

Good for you, Jennifer. I've always loved women in my newsroom who take no prisoners and kick ass.

But let's face it, the lead was buried here. What really needs to be addressed is the double standard that applies to women in the business. It's the dirty little secret kept behind closed doors as managers watch resume tapes.

Women have to be attractive. Men don't. In this high-def world, women have an expiration date. Men just get more distinguished. If you watched "Castle" this week you saw a young anchor refer to an older female as "approaching her sell-by date."

You can name dozens of unattractive men on the networks. Overweight guys have been doing weather and sports for years. Overweight, bald, thinning hair? No problem. Al Roker and Willard Scott kept their jobs when they had to shop at the big and tall store. Harry Smith has been bald as long as I can remember.

Now, name an unattractive woman on a network. And have you noticed some "women of a certain age" are being shot in soft focus?

We all know that television is a visual medium, and as such, appearance is important. There are still countless pageant queens out there who can't do much more than read a prompter. Alas, television, like life, is not fair.

Full disclosure: I often tell clients they need to improve their appearance. Not because it bothers me, but because it will make them more marketable. However, I've done this with men as well as women.

Bottom line, not much is going to change. But Jennifer may have started a discussion that needs to be held. Perhaps her on-air rant might make a few managers think differently today. Maybe some ND is watching resume tapes today and for the first time doesn't dismiss the credible woman who isn't "stripper hot" and looks a little plain. Maybe he notices that the gal who's not a size four can really write and turns a killer package.

Television news ratings have been heading down for years. Maybe it's not just the bias problem, or the lack of real journalism.

Maybe we just need to hire some real people who didn't step out of a modeling portfolio.