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As Video Gets Easier To Make, TV Network News Runs From It

Posted on September 26th, 2011 Written on michael's blog

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A very interesting opinion piece by Dave Marash, formerly from WCBS, formerly from CBS and most formerly from Al Jazzera.

He published it in the Columbia Journalism Review.

It's called Fade To Black and the essence of it is that as video has gotten cheaper and easier to use (and there is so much more of it) television news organizations have, in fact, been showing a lot less video. A lot less.
While more and more of the world is “speaking” video, American TV news is ignoring it, in favor of cheaper but less informative ways to report the news.
Marash goes on to quote extensively from a study by The Project for Excellence in Journalism, which seems to have been funded by The Pew Foundation.

The upshot of the study seems to be that news networks in the United States have cut back radically on the amount of video that they show (that is, video packages).
Almost all of that drop is attributable to CNN, where in 2007, 46 percent of programming was video packages. By 2011, that had dropped to 18 percent. Across the categories—domestic stories, US-international stories, and non-US international stories—in 2011 CNN was giving less than half the airtime to video packages as it did in 2007.

Why, Marash (and we) wonder, when video has become so simple to make that pretty much anyone can make it, would network news organziations, whose lifeblood is video, turn away from video and replace it with talking heads? 

After all, all you have to do to get video is to give your reporter a camera and a laptop and say -here, go shoot the story.
It's a skill that pretty much any 15 year old has today.

The core of the problem can be found in a quote from Jon Klein, former CBS producer, former President of CNN, currently unemployed:
To send a reporting team to Alabama for a few days might cost a few thousand dollars, Klein estimates, but to send that same team to Afghanistan, “you’re looking at extensive security, and it runs you into very serious money . . . between $50,000 and $100,000 just to get going.” Instead, Klein explains, “It’s far less expensive to have a reporter do a live top from the Pentagon, where we have a fixed camera, than to send a reporter to the battlefront. The best news organizations find ways to do both. You make periodic trips to make sure your reporting is authentic and informed, but you cannot afford to do that every single day.”
Well, of course who needs to send a 'team'?

You might have needed a team in 1976 when video cameras were the size of a volkswagen, but what exactly is the need for a 'team' when an HD video camera can slip in your pocket and FCP is on every laptop? 

The answer is, of course, none.

But Klein is not ignorant of the technology (OK maybe he is, but I don't think so).

What he is, however, is representative of the psychology of TV Network News -a psychology that is soon going to render them completely irrelevant as people find far better video online from other sources.

Now, WHY are they so recalcitrant in their ability to embrace new video technology?

I can't say for sure, but I have my own experience here to draw from.

People who work in TV news have always had the belief that they are somehow 'special'.

There is nothing more annoying to them than to come to the realization that pretty much anyone can do their job.

Once, when it was expensive and complex and nearly impossible to go to places like The Middle East or Africa (rarely but sometimes) with a video crew and create a video piece for air (the whole process was somewhere between news and movie -making - a kind of Hollywood on the cheap) it was 'special'. They were unique.

Today, anyone can do this.

This is very very very hard for them to accept - that their 'specialness' is gone.

In 1994, when I was building Channel 1 in London (the NY1 analogue), we equipped all the VJs with small, Hi8 cameras. These were the same cameras we had used at NY1.  As the cameras were so small and light, the journalists were able to run around London getting some great stories (the Leica effect).  

When Nick Pollard (who later went on to run Sky News) came in to run Channel 1, one of the first things he did was to replace the Hi8 with betcams.

Now, these mothers weigh a ton - and they require a big tripod, batteries, etc....   He got the economics of one person, but he couldn't stomach the small cameras.

I told him that moving to betacams would kill the whole thing.  I showed him two videos, side by side, and said, 'which is which'

He agreed you could not tell. But he didn't care. His rationalization for going to beta had nothing to do with quality:

"I will not have my people laughed at on the street" he told me.

Laughed at by whom? By Londoners? I don't think they knew or cared what kind of camera people had.

No, it was his fear of being ridiculed by his pals at other news organizations this 'his cameras were smaller'. 

Today, 20 years later, nothing has changed. 

Instead of either embracing the new technology and the new people that the technology has unleashed, they would rather pretend off this simply was not happening.

After all, they ultimately control what the vast majority of people get to see - at least on their TV sets, so by ignoring the army of videographers or their technology, they essentially control and contain it.

But not for long.

As we saw yesterday, the ability of anyone to stream video online live (or put up video on a website packaged) means their monopoly over what you see is about over.

And, in the next few years, as webcasting and TV merge and you won't be able to differentiate what you see on TV as TV or Webvideo - won't matter - they will find themselves compeltely irrelevant.

Too bad.

They have a small window now in which they can either embrace and provide a platform for the reality of the new technology - or they can stick their heads in the sand.

Sand seems to be the number one choice. 

Category : Television , TV News