It’s encouraging to see the occasional feature story pop up on local news. It doesn’t happen often. Two caught our eye recently. Both were great concepts, yet both were just too damned serious.
OK, we kinda get it. “Serious” is what you, as a journalist, do. You have a weighty responsibility to be accurate and perhaps even educational. It’s risky enough to deliver a feature in a local news market that demands “live, local, and late breaking.” In some markets, news directors refer to features as “the F word.” Dare to pitch a feature in the morning meeting, and it’s an almost sure-fire way to find yourself on the grimmest, ugliest breaking news by 5 and 6pm.
But suppose you’ve sold a story to your local news managers on urbanites who increasingly keep chickens in their in-town back yards. Kim Fettig apparently did so at WGCL. She delivered an informative and nicely shot-and-edited piece on exactly that. Yet when Fettig wrote the piece, she wrote it as one might write a standard-issue consumer story: Full of facts and helpful narrative, yet utterly lacking in the sheer sense of weirdness one has a right to expect when watching a story about chickens in the city.
(We also kept waiting for Fettig to interview a neighbor who might have a thing or two to say about the crowing of roosters at the crack of dawn every day. No such luck.)
At WXIA, Randy Waters came somewhat closer to our expectations when he delivered a piece on the folks who wash the windows of skyscrapers. Waters was less about weirdness than he was about horror, and that’s OK. But like Fettig, he wrote his piece as one might write a how-to instructional video. We would have liked to have seen a line or two about the moment of truth when one’s life is entrusted into a boy-scout knot tied to a roof. Waters’ piece was also very nicely shot and edited– WXIA even dispatched a helicopter for some aeriels. (We especially liked the wide shot from inside the hotel room as the window washer dropped out of sight. It’s good to see WXIA hasn’t completely lost its NPPA chops.)
Obviously, Waters and Fettig had fun shooting the pieces. But it was almost as if they were afraid to have fun writing them Our hope: Maybe they both wrote whacky pieces, but their uptight managers reined them in. If so, too bad.
Despite our headline, whimsy isn’t dead. It appears frequently in Marc Pickard’s Earthwatch pieces on WXIA. You can see hints of it in Mark Hyman and Sarah Parker’s stuff on WAGA and WGCL’s morning shows. WSB’s Jeff Dore often manages to sneak it into his general assignment reporting.
Fettig and Waters’ pieces were better-than-average local TV news pieces. We’d give Fettig a grade of B-, and Waters a grade of B. The A was within their grasp, but they let it slip away.