Use the children

The YouTubes are rife with images of hapless TV reporters appearing on camera while people act a fool behind them.  If these encounters take place during live shots, there’s not a doggone thing you can do about it.  Your best hope:  React in a way that retains dignity while somebody clotheslines the reporter or moons the camera.

But children are different.  As a dad, I’ve spent a much of my life bending the will of children to suit me.

You’re in a child-rich environment.  You’re conducting an interview or shooting a standup.  There are children nearby, probably old enough to realize what you’re doing and sufficiently headstrong to try to get in your shot.  You don’t want them to sully what you’re doing.  You have choices.

Bad idea: Adopt a combative, parental-type tone.  Admonish them to go away, or there’ll be trouble.

They know you aren’t their parent.  You’re probably on their turf, where they’re comfortable and you probably are looking increasingly uncomfortable.  You’ve only emboldened them.

Good idea: “Hey, you guys want to be on TV?”  They answer excitedly and affirmatively.

“OK.  Here’s the deal.  I’m going to walk around and talk out loud to the camera.  You stand here.  You’ll be in the background.  Look cool.  Look at the camera if you want.  Just don’t wave your hands or do stupid stuff.  We can only use it if you look smart.”

In the instance seen below, the children leaned or sat on the hood of a car and did exactly as instructed.  One of them was an eleven year old boy named Antonio (dark shirt), whom I’d met earlier in the week.  Their presence lent a touch of needed flavor to a background that otherwise consisted solely of real estate.

Cautionary note: Make sure the photog is in on the scheme.  I once had a gaggle of kids pose in the background of a standup.  Afterward, the photog snickered and said, triumphantly “Ha!  I kept ’em out of the frame!”

Ugh.  No.

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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.

3 thoughts on “Use the children

  1. Mr. Bear

    I’m seeing a J-School class opportunity here:

    342 – “Professional Composure”. This survey course discusses the various techniques required to address extraordinary issues in the journalism environment. Included are interviewing grieving families, handling inebriated subjects, maintaining background control and working in hazardous environments. This course requires laboratory:

    342A – “Field Work in Hazardous Situations”. Students must sign a liability waiver and provide their own protective clothing (rain coats), eye and foot protection. Students will work with spitting llamas, hurricanes or tornadoes, drunken Tech fans, politicians and Dr. Phil. “Working with Poisonous Reptiles” is available as an extra credit option.

  2. arky

    When that guy’s hand is millimeters from the reporter’s breast, it’s awfully close to sexual assault. If I were her, I would have taken the free pass and just slugged him… in self-defense, of course. 🙂

  3. Atlanta Media Guy

    I spit coffee all over my computer when I saw Doug look into the window and say, “Anybody home?”


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