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August 2009 Archives

August 25, 2009

A headline that's not a headline

The front page of the Tribune Review doesn't seem to follow the format I traditionally think of in the stereotypical newspaper: the very first headline is not the one that automatically catches my eye. "CIA target of torture probe" seems to me to be the really big headline, because of the larger, bolder typeface and words that pop out like "CIA" and "torture." The CIA story also seems to be the more interesting than the "Planes, trains, etc." article in terms of the actual content of the story as well. It actually takes up more space than the headline at the top of the page. I wonder why they chose to do this. Has there been some kind of study to show that people's eyes generally gravitate to the middle of a front page of a newspaper before they look at the very top? That doesn't to make much sense to me. Especially since newspapers are folded in such a way that directs your attention to the top half anyway.
Another thing that interests me is the comparative insignificance of the picture labeled "A real treat" next to all of the other pictures and stories. I suppose this is an attempt to make the front page not as heavy-handed, but it does seem a bit out of place because it's such a departure from everything else on the page. Not to sound too harsh, but are there really that many people that actually care some little girl got candy at a parade for a little league softball team? It would be different if the parade were tied to something seemingly more significant, say a parade in honor of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, like the bigger picture of the memorial. But given the circumstances of the picture, it seems like the only reason you'd care about this is if you knew the little girl or her family. Compared to the online version of the paper, this handheld version is a bit clunky, giving you information and pictures you have to sift through to get to what interests you, while the website is much faster in that it just has the headline that you can immediately click to read the whole story without shuffling through big pages to get to the part of the story that's continued inside the paper.

Techniques of Tribune Writers

A shorter story that kind of surprised me was "1,200 veterans..." on A5. On page 294, Clark and Scanlan advise to "translate jargon," but the story never makes clear what "ALS" stands for. I'm not sure if that's classified as jargon, but I always assumed abbreviations were supposed to be spelled out at some point. But then again, "GOP," which is on the same page, is something which I never see written out as a full phrase. ALS is a little more obscure, though.
I love the indirect lead (mentioned on page 291 by Clark and Scanlan) of "Ghost enthusiasts..." on B1. It's unique enough that it captures my attention without telling me all the major details upfront. The element of warning ghost enthusiasts to keep away from a place gave that place sort of a mystique. In fact, this is the kind of story that, to me, became less interesting the further on it went. I wanted there to be something horrifying inside the hospital that the police want people to keep away from. When it turned out that one person was caught trespassing, it seemed like kind of a letdown. That's why I think the writer did a good job keeping interest with his selection of quotes, especially from the township ordinance officer. Even without any specific details of his appearance, I could immediately piece together an image of this harried, expasperated local official. Phrases like "thinking they'll see a ghost or something" and "...there are entire Web pages devoted to it. But I don't know" really give you a sense of his character. The writer could have just left out the "I don't know", but the fact that he kept those little quirky bits in made the story more fun to read, despite the sort of anticlimactic ending.
Link to the Newswriting course website

August 27, 2009

Jeff Goldblum Has Died (We think)

The "Famous Person Has Died" comic strip was pretty funny because in my opinion, it was dead-on in terms of how insubstantial certain breaking news stories are. There have been quite a few times when news stories have interrupted regularly scheduled programming to provide very small snippets of information on an event that people are just beginning to grasp the details of. It makes me wonder why they don't just wait until regularly scheduled news to break the story in a more organized way. Certainly in situations where a famous person has just died, there is hardly anything to talk about besides what little is known about how they died and why they are famous. In cases like Edward Kennedy's recent death, there has already been a large amount of information known for months about his health, and he has many accomplishments that can be talked about, so the coverage of that has been much more substantial than, say, coverage of Michael Jackson's death hours after it happened, or Jeff Goldblum's rumored death recently afterward. I think the Youtube video I've linked to is a pretty good real-life example of this comic strip and how dangerous it can be to report on a story when you have hardly any facts. The reporters barely say anything substantial; they just mention how he supposedly died and that he was an "all-around nice guy" and throw out names of a couple movies he's been in. I don't think that many people really enjoy watching reporters fumble around for something to say like this (except for the fact that it can be pretty funny). I think unless it's a story people should be aware of for safety reasons or to let people know about friends or loved ones who may have been in danger, journalists should probably wait to get a significant amount of information before they go ahead and interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast.

Chocolate-Covered Bacon?! Now that's news!

The 6:00 WTAE newscast was notable for how little time was spent on the news. The first six minutes were dedicated to news, then two two-minute commercial breaks alternated with two two-minute news sections, concluding with another six-minute block of newscast. Very little time was devoted to theme music, though a lot of time was spent talking about what they were going to talk about before they talked about it. In such a brief window of time, it seems like this is unnecessary; perhaps this is needed to pad out the program because it is a slow news day. To be fair, the 6:00 broadcast does follow an hourlong block of news, so the program may have been winding down after a longer, more intensely concentrated amount of news has been delivered. Most of the news was local; one story was about an airplane that flew into the White House "no fly" zone and had to land, so that would not have been created by WTAE reporters. They did mention the information for the story about airplane traffic during the G-20 summit was gotten in cooperation with the Tribune Review, so that was not created by the reporters. The rest of the program seemed to have come from the reporters themselves, running the gamut from a breaking story about a death at CMU in which little information was known, to chocolate-covered bacon at the Westmoreland County Fair. Oddly, the story that seemed to take up the most amount of time was the story about the chocolate-covered bacon (and many other obnoxiously fried foods) at the Westmoreland County Fair. Once again, this may have been because all the more significant news stories were covered in more depth in the 5:00 broadcast.
It is interesting to compare the two descriptions of what a journalist does; the News Manual seems to be more ideological and describe journalists as concerned citizens of the world out searching for truth, while the WTAE job description is more practical and focused on being able to get viewers' attention. Nothing in the job description paints the picture of the no-nonsense reporter out to ask the tough questions and get to the heart of things. It sounded more like what you might expect from a description for a magazine writer. The News Manual description is more about the "art" of journalism, while WTAE is more about the "show biz" commercial aspect of things. I think good reporters should probably have the ideals of journalism in their head while still being practical in recognizing the limits of broadcast television, in which getting viewers to sit down and watch is a huge factor.

August 29, 2009

I know what's going on!! Really I do!!!

Oh, the broadcast news parodies keep getting better and better! This video was even more incisive than the comic strip, I think, because it was able to show how television news uses flashy graphics and reporters who can make anything sound like the biggest news event in the world through tone of voice and facial expression. I especially enjoyed the use of the "Don Abrams 1968-2007" titlecard after they lost contact with him because it, once again, reminded me of the reporting of Jeff Goldblum's death before all the facts had been gathered. It certainly doesn't suggest good things about reporters when they are willing to make news out of the death of a colleague a couple seconds after they assume he's been shot. Moments like that and the repeated use of the "breaking news" graphic which at one point got interrupted halfway through because Don Abrams hadn't finished speaking really exposed the mechanics of television news reporting. In real news broadcasts, we always see these types of things relatively well put together, so we don't often think about how someone has to decide when to run the "breaking news" graphic at moments when there may be very little information about what is actually going on. You can really see the whole television reporter ethic of "never let 'em see you sweat," because throughout the whole video, Lane Everett maintains her stern, confident demeanor despite the fact that she has no idea what's going on. It seems like she becomes even more confident-sounding as the situation becomes more confusing. Rarely do you ever see a reporter throw their hands up and say, "I have no idea what's going on, we have to wait until we know more of the facts." Perhaps we might get more honest and truthful television journalism if they did. But it wouldn't be anywhere near as funny.

Never Breaking Character

"Anchors develop skills to use their intonation, facial expressions and body language in a variety of ways to communicate many things. They can read an important story one way, a tragic story another, and transition quickly to a lighter delivery--all to portray the mood of the moment."
--Byron, What Local Stations Don't Want You to Know

Maybe it's because I'm an actor, but what's always struck me about television news reporters are the kind of things Byron mentions--they have such an incredible focus as performers and never really drop their whole professional character. They have to be versatile because of the broad range of things they cover, and when they're newer and not quite as settled into their character it's easy to spot--I think Demetrius Ivory from WTAE has had a hard time comfortably settling into his character, his behavior's kind of stiff and forced. I also noticed this in the Onion spoof; Lane Everett never drops her serious reporter character even though there is tremendous confusion. These reporters are never just like normal people you see on the street--they're like, hyper-real. They're good at convincing you they really know what they're talking about and are in charge of things. These are qualities good actors have, so you wonder how much time on-air reporters spend training themselves to develop a solid on-air persona. Certainly, it takes away from their being journalists who really understand what they're reading. What would happen if TV journalists all of a sudden dropped the act and just talked like everyday people? Maybe their diction would be less good, so it might be harder to understand them. They might not be able to glean as much meaning from the words. So I suppose that in a way the fact that these people are more actors than they are journalists can be a good thing. You need people who are good at conveying meaning in a strong, clear voice. I think where things tend to get to be too much is when there is more focus on cultivating a personality, a fully-dimensional character, than on conveying the news itself. Like in theatre, you always want to be in line with the intentions of the playwright and not try to shift all the attention to yourself. The best on-air reporters do this, adding just enough personality to draw you in, but not making them and their relationship with the other people at the desk more important than the information they're delivering.

About August 2009

This page contains all entries posted to MatthewHenderson in August 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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