“Your mind is totally controlled. It has been stuffed into my mold. And you will do as you are told, until the rights to you are sold.” - Frank Zappa, “I’m the Slime”
There are three reasons to watch local TV news. One: The content. Two: Your friend or family member is on TV. Three: The spectacle. Let’s address the spectacle at one Atlanta TV station.
The spectacle is especially rich during the sweeps months of February, May and November. During these months, WAGA treats its viewers to special reports. It takes the I-Team out of hiding during sweeps. But just as importantly — the reporters and photographers are beseeched to perform.
Woe to the WAGA reporter or photographer who delivers a live shot merely framing a nicely-lit reporter with a static backdrop. A casual look at WAGA this month indicates the issuance and re-issuance of orders heard regularly during my tenure at this TV station: Don’t just stand there. Do something. Show us something. Move someplace. “Produce” the live shot.
Here Morse Diggs and his photog execute the simple zoom-in. The mise-en-scene behind him was a bit of a stretch — his story was about take-home vehicles driven by city employees; he delivered the live shot in front of gas pumps.
But the tag afterward is exemplary: Diggs waves paper, but intentionally blocks it with his hand because he can’t show it on TV. This is solid evidence that Diggs got the message, repeated by supervisors during his work day: Make that live shot sing, even if it’s a bit off-key.
Below, Patty Pan’s photog zooms into the school building behind her. Since the story is about the school all-but closing, it makes a measure of sense to see the building. Pan delivered on the mandate ably, albeit minimally.
Within our random sampling of video from WAGA’s web site, Portia Bruner wins the LAF “produce the live shot!” prize. She’s standing in front of a government building (as were Pan and Diggs). She’s static at the start, which worries us. But then she produces a piece of paper, which lends excitement. And then — she walks toward the door, mimicking the steps of the subject of her story.
Because we were so spellbound by the performance, we didn’t absorb the content of her remarks. But that’s OK — if the audience is spellbound, it’s not switching channels or leaving the room to fix supper. Bruner’s supervisors viewed it with approval. Her job is safe for another day.
Of course, there’s all that other stuff: Reporting the story accurately, writing it clearly, developing new information from sources, shooting and editing video that meaningfully tells the story. These aren’t afterthoughts. But that’s not what WAGA’s reporters are hearing about when they walk out the door during sweeps.
“Produce the live shot.”
Who wins? Perhaps the puzzled viewer, who wonders why these TV folks are being all hyper on th’ TV. Certainly WAGA’s reporters and photogs, who have learned to handle sweeps edicts the way H.R. Haldeman endured the psychotic rants of Nixon.
But the biggest winner is that damned lawyer who sponsors WAGA’s embedded video. By the way, did you notice how that guy moved?