“Lawmakers” is a news program that airs on Georgia Public Broadcasting while the legislature is in session. We are among the legions of TV viewers who rarely watch this newscast, but we made an exception Monday.
“Lawmakers” is a dry and curiously stubborn mix of inside baseball and quaint old-school television, rooted squarely in the 1960s or 70s. It is tightly jammed with information. And it all but challenges the viewer to summon the dexterity to absorb it all.
In the 1970s at the University of Missouri, there was a legislative guru / Journalism School instructor planted in Jefferson City named Phill Brooks. Brooks, who’s still there, had one firm rule: Never refer to a bill in the legislature by its number. Brooks would be horrified by “Lawmakers.” Every single bill is prominently referred to as “House Bill 306″ or “Senate Resolution 452.” They even threw in a couple of “FY oh-nine budget” references. Sometimes the bills got nicknames, like the “superspeeders bill,” a/k/a HB 160. But the broadcast was choked with bill numbers.
The sound consisted largely of speechification from podiums and committee hearings. The video from outside the Capitol building was all but nonexistent. By the numbers:
40. The number of times a House or Senate Bill was referred to by its number during the 30-minute broadcast, referring to
23 different bills, resolutions or budgets.
22 pieces of sound from legislators speaking from the well of the House or Senate chamber or in committee.
8 different pieces of sound from news conferences or interviews, two of them by the Governor.
6 live shots or packages, most of them produced by persons listed in the credits as “interns.” (And the interns did OK, producing packages that were every bit as clear as the rest of the material in the broadcast.)
2 pieces of video shot outside the Capitol. One showed generic traffic (on the “superspeeders” bill); the other showed college students at nearby Georgia State University (for a piece on bonuses for management at the Georgia Lottery Corporation).
Zero full screen graphics used to explain any of the legislation under discussion.
This last observation strikes us as the biggest flaw in “Lawmakers.” This is a world where wallpaper video of the Capitol is often the only available video choice. It’s visual monotony. Yet editorially, the minutiae of lawmaking is dense, lacking the blood-and-guts simplicity that fuels the local newscasts of GPB’s commercial cousins.
Every time there’s a report on a bill, it ought to include a clear graphic describing its intent. This simple step would make huge strides toward giving “Lawmakers” a watchability that this well-intentioned program currently lacks.
That, and follow the Phill Brooks credo: No bill numbers! (Except, maybe, as a subtitle in a graphic.) Grade: D+