Friday, May 26, 2006

On VNRs and the FCC

This is not a good development. No matter how disturbed I might be by the way VNRs are used in newscasts, I find the notion of government trying to police that use far more disturbing.

The report by Center for Media and Democracy that got the ball rolling on this was a real eye-opener. I had no idea the use of VNRs was so careless and widespread -- and I still don’t understand how it’s come about.

Time was most VNRs arrived via the mail, and you knew they were put out by someone with an agenda. They were either thrown away or used for tape stock. Later, VNRs started getting distributed by satellite, and their producers would fax advisories about when the video would be fed. But that meant going to the effort of getting master control to tune in the feed -- why bother, for something you knew was put out by someone with an agenda?

I suspect what has changed in the past couple of years is the increasingly non-linear distribution of feed video, and the willingness of the networks’ feed services to use their pipes to send along VNRs. Under those circumstances, it’s a lot easier for VNR material to get mixed up with legitimate stuff, and a producer who’s pressed for time might not notice whatever little flag might be on the script that indicates it’s a VNR. At least, that’s my charitable interpretation; perhaps there really are a growing number of stations that know they're taking footage from VNRs and just don’t care.

But even if that worst-case interpretation is what’s going on, I don't want the FCC getting involved. You let a government agency mess with that, there’s no telling what else in our newscasts they might like to mess with down the road.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Koppel's innovation

Ted Koppel makes a snarky suggestion for a new kind of job in journalism. And then, as if on cue, NBC makes plans to open a Beirut bureau.

Koppel has a point; indeed it's remarkable how few foreign bureaus the networks have reopened since 9/11. When they were being shuttered in the early 90s, I vaguely recall network suits making a lame journalistic justification: The Cold War was over, so it was no longer necessary to cover the Americans and Soviets making their moves across the global chessboard. But I submit that if the nets had kept up their commitment to foreign coverage, and made it interesting and relevant to the viewer, perhaps more Americans would have been clued in to the antipathy felt in some corners of the world toward the U.S. government, and 9/11 might not have been such a bolt from the blue.

It's official. This is lazy writing.

I don't hear it as often as I used to, but it still grates when I do:

It's official. Governor Smith is running for another term.

"It's official" seems to be the default template for stories that everyone's been anticipating for weeks, perhaps months, and then finally come about. Leading a story that way signals to the viewer that nothing is new; it's an engraved invitation to change the channel. Try to find some nugget of actual news:

Governor Smith says he'll cut tuition at state universities if he wins another term. That's one of the promises he made today when he launched his campaign for reelection.

Bag "it's official." It's lazy writing.