Colorless China

WAGA’s “Mission to China” was a distressingly colorless thirty-minute recap of Russ Spencer’s recent trip to China with Gov. Sonny Perdue. It appeared that WAGA simply re-broadcast pieces Spencer and chief photographer Fred Plummer produced on-the-fly in China and fed back. The pieces were acceptable deadline stories, but weren’t worthy of showcasing in a half-hour special.

There were upsides: Spencer gamely tried to address the issues of Tibet and China’s choking totalitarianism. Gov. Perdue evaded Spencer’s questions, laughably saying “that’s for politicians,” as if Perdue was suddenly above politics. Even worse, when asked about Tibet, Perdue answered by saying “our nation sometimes has disruptions,” as if there was a parallel between Tibet and anything happening in the US. Hopefully, John McCain will keep this guy off his long list for VP. This stuff would haunt him.

But the downside was the editing. Not once was there a bit of natural sound. We saw pictures of some Chinese shooshing away Plummer’s camera, but they were covered with sound from an interview. We saw pictures of rural Chinese stoking a fire with bamboo, but heard no crunch, no pop. There was nary a peep of Chinese language– no excited chatter at a train station or market. None, even from the cop who questioned the crew about its presence at Tianenmen Square.

Short natural sound breaks are an underutilized tool to give TV stories flavor. Spencer’s stories cried out for it, especially given the colorful locale.

Spencer was able to question exactly one English-speaking Shanghai resident on board a train (and that man blamed Tibetan protestors for unrest there). But Spencer and Plummer clearly could have used a translator. If WAGA was planning a documentary, it should have hired one. And it should have given Spencer and Plummer a few more days in China, away from the Governor’s junket. That would have given Plummer a chance to really show his stuff as a photographer. WAGA sold plenty of advertising for the half-hour. The station should have spent the coin.

The station also could have sent reporter Patty Pan instead of (or in addition to) Spencer.  Just so happens, Pan is fluent in Mandarin.  The station should know this– it’s in her bio on WAGA’s website.

But it didn’t. Absent that, it’s dumbfounding that the station didn’t give Plummer’s raw tapes to one of its top editors, and give Spencer an opportunity to produce the material with more polish and more color. A worldly guy and a solid newsman, Spencer has the capability. Instead, the whole thing looked like an afterthought– a local TV station trying to give its news anchor some international cachet, while giving its audience the cheapskate version of international coverage.

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Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

9 thoughts on “Colorless China

  1. SupeShooter

    Plummer may not have been the best choice for the Photographer sent to China with Spencer. Maybe it’s because he is the Chief Photog and he elected himself to go. I am sure there was a better Photog on the WAGA staff, that still has the NPPA style of shooting and obtaining good nat sound.

    Just my 2 cents!

  2. Fence Sitter

    From watching her on Fox 5, Patty Pan appears to be pregnant. If she is, this may be why WAGA did not send her (or perhaps, that she did not wish to go).

    It’s a shame though. A Mandarin-speaking reporter on the trip would have been quite valuable.

  3. liveapartmentfire Post author

    Fred’s a good photog and like Spencer, a worldly guy. Fred is one of the few photogs at WAGA somewhat up to speed on non-linear editing, which is probably the biggest reason he got sent. The “new” editing system (old to the rest of the country) probably explains why the editing was serviceable, but not particularly slick. Fred’s still learning it. The rest of the staff still edits tape-to-tape.

    Still, WAGA had plenty of time and resources to jazz it up for the 30 minute special. The station was probably unwilling to pull Fred from apartment fire coverage to devote a day to honing his video for the special.

  4. SSG Daly

    No need for the spice in the stories anymore. The nat sound salt and peppa is irrelevant to dissolves and graphics. Maybe there was some music in the library under “Hong Kong” that could replace the natural sound noise with Digital rythm.
    Forget about pacing and texture, forget about mood and character. Forget about chronological sequencing and match cuts. Don’t worry about jump cuts. Slap it on the air and pretend to call it “Style.”
    I’m sure Fred would have loved to taken the piece and edited it to the way he shot it. But, you’re right, he was probably out covering an apartment fire.

  5. Rodney Ho

    I hear Patty is indeed very close to having her baby so that’s a good reason for her not to have gone. I’m sure she would have jumped at the chance to go to China if she could.

  6. Longgone

    Hey –
    I’m told they had to use the footage the fed back, stuff was shot tapeless… edited and then fed… had to recycle the memory cards with no way to back-up the stuff they shot. And since the only thing they had was previously edit… in a hurry… on the fly and with Russ’s narration… no Natsot. Ouch.
    Just one of the perils of the transition to a tapeless newsroom.

  7. liveapartmentfire Post author


    Bet you’re right. And that’s more evidence that this was done as an afterthought. Betcha Russ Spencer first heard the “hey, let’s do a half hour” after he returned.

    Management: We want a half hour on your trip to China.
    Spencer/Plummer: Uh– our field video is gone. Could you have told us sooner?
    Management: No. Are you questioning our judgment?

  8. Supe Shooter

    If you are going to shoot tapeless, then be prepared for it. Have enough memory cards!!! Plan for it!!! Oh, I forgot, management is clueless.

  9. Longgone

    I live and work in the freelance world… and while the upcoming tapeless era is very very appealing (I don’t have to buy $10-80k tape decks, right??). My clients don’t want to hear about horror stories like this… they want me to hand over tapes at the end of the day as they get on a plane to go back to where ever.

    As far as Russ and Fred’s reactions… ouch. This won’t be on to put on your save reel; but it could have been…


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