We think we’re so smart. Here we are, finger-poppin,’ pixel-packin’ 21st century multiplatform news media delivery entities, all fresh and hot like a doughnut-shaped croissant.
And yet — try as we might to innovate, to update our technology and our storytelling conventions, one truth emerges: TV news is wedded to images, interviews, sound and narration.
Last year, WXIA’s Jaye Watson produced a story about Lonnie Holley, an eccentric folk artist who has an eye-catching art habitat southwest of Turner Field. Watson’s story told Holley’s story, showed his turf and did so with a dazzling array of sound and video that brought life to the art and the befuddling artist. The piece won photog / editor Nick Moròn a first-place NPPA mention in its third quarter clip contest.
Now rewind 15 years, or so. Yours truly visited the same artist at his previous habitat in Birmingham, AL. The stories are remarkably similar, except Moròn and Watson used shorter and more frequent nat sound pops. Watson’s writing is a bit crisper and cleverer. Mine had the editorial benefit of a conflict between Holley and the neighboring airport. Mine was ably shot by Rodney Hall and edited by Andi Larner. We let Holley’s rambling descriptions of his art play out in slightly longer bursts. We didn’t win diddly squat. I don’t remember entering it in any contests.
How much of a difference does 17 years make? Not much, it turns out. In 1998, Hall and Larner and I produced a piece looking at the 50th anniversary of a killing in Coweta County that became the subject of a book and movie.
I wrote a kind-of throwaway line at the end of the piece, speculating about whether the road named after the killer was “the only road in America named for a man executed for murder.” That line became the premise of a story Steve Flood and I produced this month, which also looked back at the killing and the why folks on John Wallace’s home turf still cling to the legend of the executed killer.
I hadn’t re-watched the 1998 piece prior to shooting the 2015 piece with Flood. Instead, we independently had the stroke of genius to shoot a jittery / grainy re-enactment sequence of the 1948 highway chase that led to the killing.
Exactly like the 1998 piece, it turned out. Innovative? OK, not really. But watchable? Arguably, yes. It used sound and pictures and interviews and narration, our familiar tools.
The biggest difference: The reporter’s mom jeans, conspicuous in the late 90s Holley piece, had thankfully disappeared by 2015.