Guest Comments: Rick Reynolds

I know I said I would back away from blogging for a time…but these comments by former news director Rick Reynolds are too powerful to ignore. I’ve known Rick for more than twenty years (hard to believe) and have great respect for him. I saw him enter the news director’s office with enthusiasm and passion…and saw also how it wore him down and eventually drove him out of the business entirely. He cared too much and still cares too much. But at least he left before it twisted him into someone I could no longer recognize. (Taken with permission from his facebook page.)

As I watch the coverage of events unfolding in the world today on our traditional American Media outlets and compare it to the raw truth of citizen journalists with their hand held cameras and their instant blogs, tweets and facebook posts I’m reminded of what it was like to leave the news bubble and experience the real world.

I spent 18 years in TV News. I was a video tape editor, a reporter, an assignment editor, a producer, and executive producer and a news director. I learned to be able to watch raw footage of car accidents, murder scenes, and even horrific plane crashes and not have nightmares. I developed a dark sense of humor to get through and detached myself enough from my own hummanity to put a microphone in the face of a grieving parent and ask them how they felt.

I learned through experiene the power of fear to build ratings and keep people tuned in. If I told you, you might die tomorrow, you might watch the rest of my newscast. I had noble intent. I set out to inform a public, expose the problems so we could create a better world. I believed in giving voice to those who had no representation and challenging authority by questioning those in power. I believed in not only showing what was wrong with the world but what was right, what was working, reporting on solutions as well as problems.

There was something very noble about this work and in order to keep doing the job as salaries fell I inspired my staff with a sense that we were using the power of media for good. But through the years things started to really change. As I moved into management I became more and more aware of the need for our newscast to turn a profit. The cost of covering a story became more and more of a factor in what we aired. We no longer sent reporters beyond a certain distance, our satelite truck sat in disrepair for months because the money to fix it would have come from laying more people off.

The conservative owners of the last station I work for let all the news directors know that they wanted the Republicans to win. Republican control of the country was essential for growing their business and as a result we were ordered to air interviews with Republican leaders and air a conservative commentary.

My boss hated the directive and allowed me to put the interviews and the commentary in our least watched programs or only air what was newsworthy during our higher rated shows.

More and more the sales department would stop by the newsroom concerned about our potential coverage of issues that would impact advertisers. It’s common knowledge in every local market newsroom that you don’t do negative stories on auto dealerships. They are the largest of local advertisers and losing their business is suicide for a local television station.

I left TV news in 2001. I can only assume that the trend toward more sales influence in news, the erosion of the hard line between the two departments has continued. From the coverage I see these days and the influence of pharmacutical companies on newscasts I can only guess that this is now happening at a network level.

There always existed something we called “Newsroom bias” that we knew had us seeing the outside world with a warped vision. The problem with Newsroom bias is that you know it is there but you can’t see it. My friends in TV news can’t see their own bias. When one network reports a bunch of aimless college kids are running around not really sure of what it is they are protesting the other reporters start to see the same thing. First they just write off the gathering all together and ignore it for weeks, then because they didn’t feel it as newsworthy to begin with they begin to deride and discount the gathering in the coverage.

Meanwhile foreign news outlets that are government controlled begin covering the protests through their own bias. Tune into Russia Today and you’ll learn about the new American Revolution and the distablization of a US Government that has lost it’s moral authority to govern by what’s been exposed in these protests. It’s a different bias and not exaclty the truth. Fox tells you the groups are anarchists and one conservative commentator says they are neo nazis pushing for totalitairanism. Again they’re missing the truth.

If you listen to the protestors themselves and start to read the reports of citizen journalists and see the often live cell phone camera coverage of what’s happening there the various bias becomes very evident.

In the middle east much of the media has been controlled by the governments and for decades this kept people from taking to the streets to demand justice. They didn’t know things could be any different. Then along came the internet and social media and a generation of young people began to wake up to the possiblity of how their life could be.

In this country the media either intentionally or through newsroom bias is under the influence of corporate money and power. With the rise of the internet and social media a generation is seeing how their lives could be much different. These people are speaking out.

I urge my friends who stayed behind working in corporate media and living in this newsroom bias bubble to take some time off. Go out into the real world. Talk to more people who are not in the business. Read some of the posts, view some of the citizen journalist coverage. No these are not the traditional sources you’ve been trained to view as reliable but if you start to investigate with that curiosity that got you into the business you may discover some truth that you’ve been missing.

I remember two years after being in TV news I went out with friends for the first time to raft down the American River. For two years the only time I had ever been to the river was to cover a drowning and watch body after body pulled from the water. I honestly thought we were crazy for going in the water. In my mind it was among the deadliest places in Sacramento. But that was because I had only been there to see it at its worst. I had never done a story on the fun of rafting down the river and the thousands of people who safely experience the river every day.

Covering news can warp your perceptions of the world. I must tell you all, that the world is a much better place than you likely suspect it to be. You’d be surprised how much safer the world feels when you stop having to know about every homocide, shooting or child molestation within 100 miles. Every day people are unbeleivable kind and loving to each other in this world. It’s not news so you’l have to get out of the business for a few minutes to experiene it.

Not all protests are angry mobs. It’s possible for some protestors to be angry at corruption and Wall Street and at the same time love Steve Jobs, use Facebook, and be proud to be an American. Watch the live citizen journalists and you’ll see more celebration, joy and happiness than raw anger. The protestors in New York and elsewhere are showing by example what sort of world they would like to create. Take the time to explore it for yourself. Don’t trust the work of now under paid over worked on deadline journalists whose paychecks come from corporate giants. They’re only seeing a portion of the story through their own bias.

October 16, 2011

Handling hype…

Once again Poynter has come through with a great overview of how to tell when a major story has been hyped.

Author Julie Moos’ definition:

Hype is the discrepancy between the real value of something and the perceived value of that same thing.

She also provides the some criteria to help you decide whether a story is hyped:

Amount of coverage: How much time and space is this news occupying?
Dominance of coverage: Is this news taking over a platform (website, newscast, front page) and/or dominating several platforms?
Prominence of coverage: How prominent is this news? Is it leading a newscast, on the front page?
Type of coverage: Is the news trivial or vital? Are respected newsmakers acting as if it’s vital? Is the event unexpected, rare?
Tone of coverage: How urgent is the message, how intense the delivery? Are the graphics and images conveying crisis?
Context of coverage: What else could or should be receiving our attention instead?

Hype sells news -both time and web space and newspapers. Headline and teases grab your eye. The more lurid, the better. However, if that lead-in doesn’t live up to the reality, then the reader/listener/viewer backs off a bit more each time, learning maybe not to trust so much the next time.

More ethical dilemmas…

Thanks to Amanda Emily (who loves to toss stuff into the gears of both large and small minds), we have yet another tool for ethical debate. Well, not so much debate – it’s wrong in oh so many ways. But interesting nonetheless.

According to a report in newscientist.com,

AN IMAGE processing system that obscures the position from which photographs are taken could help protestors in repressive regimes escape arrest – and give journalists “plausible deniability” over the provenance of leaked photos.

Simply put, if the bad guys can figure out where you were standing when you took the photo, they might be able to identify which person with a camera took photos of protestors. Then it’s good-bye cameraman.

Noble intent…but dangerous. An artificial image is created in an arbitrary location using information from several photos taken from other locations. A pretty white lie, intended to protect the innocent whose intent is to expose corruption and abuse. But who’s to say it wasn’t taken further and more manipulation was done?

Have fun with this one kiddos!

What is a “Controlled Shoot”…

You’re never too old to learn…and I picked up a new term this week, thanks to a request for a critique on b-roll. I’m not gonna post the comments made – you can look them up yourself.

Courtesy Okinawa Soba through Creative Commons

But the new term is “controlled shoot.” Or as the cameraman says, aka “staging.”

Wow.

And as if that weren’t bad enough…it was followed a few days later by a posting titled “Fun staging.”

The CS/controlled shoot video was something I would imagine a lot of camerafolk get trapped into in some way or another. Short on time…there is NOTHING happening visual, and somehow a visual story has to be turned.

So in this case, the photog asked the subject (a marathon runner) to take a run around for the camera. I’m not sure how much CS “controlled” that shoot – if he just shot the guy running or directed each shot. But – as CS admits – it is staging. Which is frowned upon in news because it is not what is actually happening. It is redone/rehashed/done only for the camera.

Now in the case of “Fun staging” the entire video was staged. And I don’t mean asking for something to be repeated for the camera. This was staged as in have people acting out an entire scenario for the camera…shot by shot. As if it were a movie. Not just a step beyond a controlled shoot – but an entire leap into a fantasy world that was created JUST FOR THIS STORY.

Ummmm….can I have a platter of the “good ole days” please?

Addendum: For you students out there – staging is considered unethical because it does not show what really occurred. Every news photog’s dream is to shoot actualities. What really is happening. Here are some examples of staging that are oh so wrong.
Case #1 (this happened way back in the early 70’s) Photog misses an immigration event where a man is arrested by INS. He asks for it to be repeated. So the man is released by INS…runs back to his family, who cries in joy at what they see as his permanent release. INS walks over (camera IS rolling), grabs and handcuffs him and takes him away, to the unhappy cries of the confused family. Great video. A total lie due to staging.
Case #2 (hmmm…think this one is late 70’s) Reporter does controversial interview. Later – AFTER the subject is gone, he tells the cameraman he wants to reshoot a few questions. Loaded questions which were not quite what he asked the subject. In this case the cameraman told the news director and the reporter was fired. Good call by both the photog and ND.
Case #3 Reporter wants to insert a track/question into a story. The question is NOT what he asked the subject. Photog refuses. Reporter argues that subject would agree to this change and calls her. She agrees it is okay, but photog still refuses to do the edit. News director is called in, gets story and SUPPORTS the reporter. Photog offers to quit. Bad call by ND.

The unfortunate truth is that there is a certain amount of staging tolerated in news. Every time you sit someone down, set up lights, hang a mike on them – you are staging. The lights and mike and camera are NOT part of the everyday life of most folks. When a still photog wants to get in super-close to a subject, they tell them to ignore the camera. Guess what? Staging. (Could YOU ignore a camera just inches from YOUR face?) And so it goes. The aim is to avoid obvious staging. This includes everything from the subtle requests to “to it again for the camera” or “wait while I move the camera” to the over the edge completely fabricated and exclusively for our news only shots.

Ethics are not laws written in stone. They are (hopefully) morals seared into the heart of every newsperson, guiding them through a treacherous world of daily deadlines and pressures. And on the days you lose a little, you try to make up by straightening your backbone a bit more for the next day.

I should know. Been there/done that.

Story Ideas 10.31.10

What would you make of an ad like the following (found on craigslist in wanted section)?

Looking for someone to help me with “History Of The Movies” community college coursework. Project consists of reading, writing, weekly quizzes, and tests. Course is 100% online. I’m 50% finished with it, just got hit with a ton of stuff in life making it near impossible now for me to finish.
ABOUT YOU
– Passionate about the movies, or at least interested in their history
– You can access movies via BitTorrent or Netflix on the spot
– Daily access to a computer and the internet
– 100% committed to finishing project from now till Dec 8th
TIMELINE
– Starts immediately and ends Dec 8th
– Coursework is due weekly and will be tracked with online project management tool.
– Course is 50% completed, need someone to help me out with the remaining workload.
– Coursework is 100% online.
PAYMENT
– Pay is $100 plus a $50 project bonus for receiving a B- grade (2.75) or higher
TO APPLY
– Send short cover letter highlighting our requirements. Candidate will be selected based upon writing quality, interest in the project/movies, Netflix/BitTorrent access, and likeliness to see it through from start to finish (now through Dec).

What I get from it (and others similar) is that someone wants to buy your brain to take an online class for them. I’ve seen (and tagged) others where the “wantee” wants you to take a sit-down class for them (you have to generally match their physical description) or provide answers to tests. The best offer I’ve seen so far was to take an English class with pay ranging from a few hundred for passing to $700 for getting an A.

Story idea: is this happening in your neck of the woods? Are students so strapped for time (and intellect and ethics) that they want to pay someone to take classes/tests for them? What meaning does this have beyond just paying someone for a job (well done)?

Let’s see…would you see a doctor who cheated her way thru school? Or lawyer, or any professional for that matter?

What does this do to folks who do it the old fashioned way – on their own, studying, working hard? Does it devalue their grades?

And what, ultimately, does it do to the “wantee” in the ad? Yes, it shows lack of ethics…but if they need help with bonehead English…how the heck are they going to pass more difficult courses. Skip Algebra I and how are you gonna do in Geometry?

Lots to delve into the ponder on this one.

And along the same line, here’s another idea from Peter Brown. Folks who go for fake are liars and cheaters. Vastly oversimplified, but those who are attracted to ripoffs of reality have trouble with the truth and the reality of life. In one study, see the results:

The women wearing the fake Chloe shades cheated more–considerably more. Fully 70 percent inflated their performance when they thought nobody was checking on them–and in effect stole cash…

Brown’s blog posting is based on a psychological study that seemed to indicate that buying fakes and personal behavior are closely linked.

Story idea: can you replicate some of these experiments done by the researchers in your own area? Are people even aware of the link between what they buy and behavior? Can these behaviors be recognized and possibly even reversed?

Good luck with it…see ya next week.

Diminished reality…

This via OHITLT and crunchgear.com: real time manipulation of video.

Huh? What doest THAT mean?

Well…let’s say you’re setting up for a live skype and you notice there chipped paint on the wall behind you. No time to grab a brush and fix it, so you hop into your Diminished Reality software and erase it.
Here’s the link to the crunchvideo article.

Now for the real meat of this. Sometimes technology gives us wings to go where we shouldn’t go. I can see this or filmmaking…for fun. But for news?

Hey! Let’s clean up that background a bit…get rid of the graffiti on the wall…maybe cover up those stupid kids who are screwing up the scenery. Remove the offensive sign in the live shot of the demonstration.

Don’t even wanna go there…

(btw: when you look at the shot of the sink where the soap bar is removed, it still appears in the mirror. like i said – for fun only)

Journalism is a conversation…

…and now the audience is being asked to participate more than ever. Al Tompkins with the Poynter Institute did a posting today about how The Center for Public Integrity is asking the public to monitor the upcoming elections.

How? Well, apparently all kinds of dirty tricks go on all over the country and it’s just way too much to cover without a massive team, which they are asking:

to detect in real time examples of political dirty tricks, corporate ads, persuasive “push” polls, pre-recorded phone messages — “robo calls,” and efforts to discourage voters from showing up at the polls.

Check it out…there are “Click Here” buttons to report

-a campaign ad on television or radio that was clearly paid by corporate or union backed group. This information is being compiled by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation and will aid the Center’s reporting.
-to send us details on a robo call or campaign mailer you received.
-if you think you’ve witnessed a suspicious survey, an effort to scare voters away from the polls, or a campaign dirty trick:
You can also submit audio, video, or images of any ads you’ve seen or received by sending us an email: webmaster@publicintegrity.org. We’ll take YouTube uploads, scans of flyers/mailings, or any other links you find.

This will be a fun one to watch. And just in case, I’m keeping my answering machine ready to record those annoying robocalls.

Oooo! Oooo! The big “P” word!

I don’t know what YOU’RE thinking – I was referring to prostitution. As in when news forgets who it is and decides to strut in full frontal costume through the promotions or marketing department. Uh…they tried that back in the day too, but then the news directors didn’t bite – they bit back and refused to take part.

Great little slant on how CBS stations are “prostituting” their news to promote the new series Hawaii Five-0. Check it out here. It’s a hoot(er???).

BTW the “Five-0″ refers to Hawaii’s status as the 50th state admitted to the union.

You did WHAT?!?

Facebook reveals many things about your acquaintances – it’s a fun way to socialize and remember old friends and play catch-up. But I saw a posting today that I honestly cannot believe.

A former co-worker at KOVR (CBS affiliate in Sacramento) posted:

“So is it bad that I covered an accident involving a big rig over turned loaded with onions, and then brought back giant sacks of onions to the news room? The purple ones AND the white ones.”

In the words of my (former) students – WTF?

What was he thinking – or was he even thinking? That is an accident…basically a crime scene and he is scavenging. Of course if the corporate boss or even CHP asked him to help clean up the mess by doing that – I can almost understand. Almost. But in all my years in news I never even THOUGHT about what he did.

And he might reply, “but, hey, you took stuff” and my response would be, “yeah…a gift offered. A bottle of wine, a meal sitting with a family we’d been working with all day. Produce from a farmers’ group (shared with the newsroom).” And or course, each of these “gifts” could be questioned…but they were offered, not just taken.

Sound off folks. Was he right or wrong? Let me know.

(What bothers me – ten of the eleven or so responses to his posting thought it was okay.)

Update: This was a minor accident too. Here’s the link.

And yeah, I’m pissed at this unethical behavior and yeah, I’ve taken him off my friend list.

Be(ware) aware of the law…

One of the things I’ve always taken for granted is the right of a photographer to shoot in public places. Now that appears to be in danger, according to a Gizmodo report on citizen videos posted to Facebook and youtube and police reaction.

According to this article,

In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.

The premise is based on existing laws that prohibit recording (audio) without the consent of all parties – if that is the law in your state. Apparently this applies even if you are on public property.

The cases involved are citizens recording what they consider to be abuses by law enforcement. In one case it even involved a man recording his own arrest. The charges he was arrested for were dropped – but the charges related to “illegal recording” were not.

The summation:

…recordings that are flattering to the police – an officer kissing a baby or rescuing a dog – will almost certainly not result in prosecution even if they are done without all-party consent. The only people who seem prone to prosecution are those who embarrass or confront the police, or who somehow challenge the law. If true, then the prosecutions are a form of social control to discourage criticism of the police or simple dissent.

This has a chilling effect on both the citizenry and mainstream media. In my mind the media IS the citizenry – always on the alert to protect the rights of those it serves. For now these laws have not been applied against working media. However, this shouldn’t matter because NO ONE should be able to define who the media are.

What are those 45 words? Oh yeah:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That aside, for some good advice in regards to this issue, check out a report from Al Tompkins in which he interviews some lawyers about your best defense if caught in a situation which might place you in jeopardy.

Oh – and always be aware of the laws in your state. What is implied consent today (there you are with camera obviously up, logo on the gear, oh so very much the employed newsperson) may change in an instant. And you could be the case that decides it for the rest of us.