The game of covering the Olympics for TV is rigged to the gills. If you work for an NBC station, you’re among the anointed, thanks to the gazillions paid by the network for the rights to the games. If you toil for, say, an ABC station– well, good luck. You’re on the outside. It ain’t right, but the game was rigged that way many moons ago.
So when WXIA sends Brenda Wood to Beijing for the Summer Games, it knows she and her photog will have access to venues and access to athletes. And it knows that promoting Wood’s presence may entice its prime-time Olympics viewers to stay in the WXIA tent for the late news and/or drive traffic to the station’s web site. Likewise, it gives WXIA good reason to use its half-hour at 7:30pm— normally a local newscast— as an all-Olympics special leading into NBC’s prime time coverage.
Wood and photog David Brooks have earned their keep. On opening day, they did it by staying away from the Opening Ceremonies, oddly enough. They found a venue full of ordinary Chinese, who stood agog in front of massive TVs and watched the spectacle. The piece Wood and Brooks produced was moving, funny and well-done.
Even better was a piece previewing the Opening Ceremonies. Wood took an idea and ran with it: Examine the number eight, a lucky number in China. It seems the Olympic organizers opted out of a cooler-weather start later in August or September, and deliberately chose to start the games on 8.08.08. Wood’s piece, again, was funny and enlightening. She also showed a nice touch in a rapidly-disappearing subgenre of feature reporting.
Feature reporting often focuses on personalities, or events, or visual oddities, or how-to. Wood took an idea fragment– a story about the number eight– and developed it into a fun-to-watch TV story. It calls for cleverness on the part of the reporter and photographer. It demands writing that makes the point without beating it to death. It’s an approach that can easily embarrass a reporter lacking a deft touch. Wood and Brooks pulled it off nicely.
And give the suits at WXIA credit for spending some coin hiring a translator for Wood and Brooks.
Wood is also doing a lot of sports reporting. She’s interviewing local athletes after they’ve won medals. There’s been a bunch. Wood’s an engaging presence in what are essentially “how do you feel” situations.