Posts Tagged ‘television’

Shooting Video: Don’t Invite Too Many People Into Bed

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

While watching Game 6 of the NBA Finals, two commercials caught our eye:  One showed a father and his newborn and demonstrated how when Dad dozed off and turned his head away, the smartphone was smart enough to pause the video he was watching on the screen. The second commercial showed a couple trying to decide how to spend their Friday night and demonstrated how the woman used her smartphone to change the TV channel to a movie she wanted to watch. We don’t know how well those smartphone features work, but they seem pretty cool.

We also watched two additional ads about tablet computers. Those ads took a different approach:  They quickly delivered a laundry list of cool features. But we don’t remember those cool features.

Some businesses that ask us to produce videos feel obligated to stuff as much information into the videos as possible. Those companies try to include as many interviews with different people as possible. We advise against this.

When Keith reported on television, his best stories often focused on one person or one idea. He learned over the years that trying to include too many people or too much information into one story watered down the message. Instead of taking away a lot of information, viewers took away very little.

We understand the tendency to try to include as much as possible into a single video. Keith understood why people, seeing one of his TV stories as an important media moment, wanted to extract as much as possible from the opportunity. But we believe with video, less is often more.

In other words, don’t invite too many people into bed. You will be much more satisfied staying faithful to one awesome person, idea or story. You can always shoot another video another day.

Media Relations Is Like Dating

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

A Los Angeles media relations vice president sent me a pitch that includes 20 paragraphs, one of several pitches I continue to receive one year and 11 months after I left my TV reporting job.

The email begins with two paragraphs addressed to me followed by an 18-paragraph report.

As a reporter, if I were interested in additional information, I would have requested from the media relations VP a report after her initial two-paragraph email seduced me. There is a reason people should not, during a first date, talk about themselves too much or give up too much of themselves after dinner. First, you do not want the person on the other side of the table to feel overwhelmed by your words. Second, if you give it up on a first date, you increase the chances someone might not come back for more. In fact, in this situation, when time permitted, I may have taken some tidbits of this release and tried to develop my own story locally without ever contacting the person who sent the pitch. Media relations often is similar to showing a little leg. Give them just enough to tantalize them and to want to call you back.

But this first date went sour for many more reasons. The 18-paragraph report is under the words “for immediate release.” I reported on television for 17 years and do not recall any times the words “for immediate release” played any practical role in the newsroom. I have raised this point more than once before, sparking a contentious debate among public relations professionals. If someone sent me a news release, I assumed it was for immediate release and continue to not understand why including those words is necessary. I conclude that including the words “for immediate release” is an old-school practice that, in my experience, serves no practical purpose for my former colleagues or me. As always, I am open to other points of view. However none of the previous debates I have sparked has given me reasons to change my opinion.

The first two paragraphs do not explain why this story would specifically romance a Phoenix audience. The paragraphs also do not include the names of a local person or business to court for the story.

The pitch says the author of the included report is available to talk, but the release does not explain why I should interview him instead of someone local. In fact, I actually interviewed local experts on similar topics more than two years ago.

The 20 paragraphs include a slew of statistics and percentages and I find myself willing only to skim all the information. Considering the number of emails some reporters and producers receive each day, most of them probably would not get past the first or second paragraph after seeing the length of the pitch.

Journalists willing to wade through the thicket of information might actually find ideas for interesting stories. This is especially true for trade media. Unfortunately, if the media relations vice president is hoping to attract the attention of a larger audience outside the industry, her pitch will likely often miss its target because how she dressed it. It reads more like a research report than something meant to woo journalists in a timely fashion.

There will not be a second date.

Why The Media Gets Hot And Bothered Over Weather

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Why The Media Gets Hot And Bothered Over Weather

When rain recently persuaded me to switch on my windshield wipers, I had forgotten how weather often impacted my life.

Reading this Tweet reminded me:  “Love that taking pictures of wet concrete constitutes news in Phoenix today.

Weather and I have often danced together in the rain, from the hurricanes I covered in North Carolina to standing in a strong Phoenix downpour because it made for a much better live shot.

Covering flooding several days straight in a small Arizona town showed my new co-workers when I started at a Phoenix television station the depth of my creativity for live shots and storytelling.

Weather persuaded me to perform an epic-long live shot as I walked from the very front to the very back of a mobile home, showing damage.

Weather led me, again in the cause for creativity, to walk across a bridge on live TV while traffic passed and snow fell.

Weather ruined a good pair of boots as I stood in knee-high water for a live shot from a flooded apartment parking lot.

After weeks of studying a political race and arriving at election headquarters, weather erased all, sent me to damage and landed me as the lead.

Weather, or a lack of it, led me to call a producer and explain the damage didn’t warrant a story. She ignored my advice and assigned me not one but two reports.

Potential weather sent me to the outskirts of town to cover two stories on snow that never arrived.

Weather that had passed led me to splash my foot in a puddle on TV, later forcing me to realize never again to deliver such a stupid live shot.

We can muddy the waters with philosophy, but broadcast media cover the weather first and foremost because it typically translates into top-notch ratings. The problem is too many TV stations don’t decipher between legitimate storms and a few swaying trees and often insist on drenching us with coverage no matter how many snowflakes settle on the ground. This is similar to the embarrassing relative who is loud and obnoxious no matter if he is in front of a few family members at home or whether he is in public where people stand and stare. He has no filter.


“Weather is a huge part of news wherever you are located,” a Kansas photojournalist told me. “Tornadoes, heat, rain or lack of rain. To me, it’s the same by comparison. Yes, watched by viewers. Gets ratings for sure. They played the same piece on tornadoes four times here and when weather here happens, every reporter is on it.


“Like the world is coming to an end,” said a former Chicago TV news supervisor when I asked him about coverage in his area.


“As for our weather coverage, we definitely focus on severe weather more than you might think for a place that gets a decent amount of rain,” said a former Phoenix reporter now in The Golden State. “But they don’t go nuts for a few drops like some folks at [my former station].


I asked a Michigan photojournalist, “Do Michigan stations over cover the weather?” “Yes” is his final answer.


A former Phoenix reporter now further north told me, “Not quite as aggressive. But when it snows, we do go bat s—t crazy.”


“It’s about the same. [My station] is less obnoxious,” told me a Phoenix reporter who has worked at more than one station in the market.

TV stations cover so much weather, people often advise reporters not to include their awesome weather live shots on their resume tapes. Most reporters have an awesome weather live shot and it won’t usually help distinguish them from the other candidates for a job opening. (I included one anyway. It was really awesome!)

The morning that reminded me of all this, the FOX, NBC and CBS stations each led their noon newscasts with weather, when their live shots showed it was no longer raining.

FOX, my former station, called the morning’s rain a “quick and intense downpour.” Their coverage included a reporter’s live shot, video from a department of transportation camera, additional video of a freeway and a report from the weather forecaster.

The NBC station displayed toward the bottom of the screen a banner “Summer Storms” and checked in with its weather person.

The CBS station took us to a live reporter, where the reporter said there was still a “bit of overcast.” Their banner read “Valley Rain” and also took us to their weather forecaster.

The next time you search for an umbrella and worry how the rain impacts your hair and clothes, remember how rain and its cousins of precipitation make some people go “bat s—t crazy.”

SB1070: How The Media Faired Under A Full-Court Press Of Pressure

Monday, June 25th, 2012

SB1070:  How The Media Faired Under A Full-Court Press Of Pressure

A few months after arriving as a TV reporter in Phoenix, I was working the nightshift when the U.S. Supreme Court announced in the evening its decision on Bush v. Gore. Someone assigned me to do a newsroom live shot explaining one of the country’s biggest judicial decisions ever. I’m proud of my education, but I am not a legal scholar. I spent the first few months at the station covering crime and weather. My prior assignments there involved stories such as chasing dust storms or pointing live on TV to trees swaying in the weather. Those reports did not help prepare me for this story.

Before my live shot, I watched national correspondents discuss the ruling and read the AP wire. I needed to hear their insight to ensure I said something logical when I hit the air with my own assessment. I learned this:  The experts on the national level were even struggling to properly discern the court’s ruling on such short notice.

I once remember watching a reporter on national television fumbling through a court’s decision in her hands, trying to report its meaning before anyone gave her a chance to significantly look through it. The problem is this:  When the U.S. Supreme Court releases a landmark decision, few media outlets are going to report “The Court has released its decision. We will report that decision once we have a moment to make heads or tails of it.”  Media are eager to report the Court either upheld or struck down the law. And as the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s SB 1070 again reminded us, rulings are not sports games. Decisions don’t always offer a clear winner or loser.

I followed news of the decision on Twitter:

At 7:22am, A Tweet from The Associated Press stated the court “strikes down most of the crackdown on illegal immigrants.”

At 7:26am, the Los Angeles Times referred to it as a “split decision.”

At 7:27am, the BBC Tweeted the Court “upholds some” of the law.

At 7:30am, a local reporter wrote the Court “upholds key portion …”

At 8:30am, a Tweet from The New York Times’ stated “High Court Rejects Part of Arizona Immigration Law.”

You always can quibble with wording. Tweets using words such as “strikes down” and “rejects” probably led some of the law’s critics to believe the Court agreed with them. Tweets using the words “uphold” likely led some of the law’s supporters to assume the Court agreed with them. But overall, credit these media outlets, or in some cases these individual reporters, with realizing under strict deadlines that this decision is not a slam-dunk victory for either side. I’m sure someone can find examples of poor reporting I’m unaware of. But the rush to cover other big stories in the past has left behind bad examples of making factual or misleading mistakes in a quest to make the news first.

In this case, much of the media, in how they initially portrayed the ruling, appear to have made the right decision about the decision.

What do you think of that story’s reporting? Did you see errors I didn’t?

Maybe Video, Social Media And Media Relations Shouldn’t Be A Numbers Game

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Maybe Video, Social Media And Video Shouldn't Be A Numbers Game


A media relations and video production client argued these services are part of his overall effort to build his brand, spread the word about his business and position himself as a leader in his field. He is less concerned about crunching numbers to calculate how appearing on television or posting video on his website directly impacts his bottom line. In fact, he doubts such concrete calculations exist. This philosophy reminds me of why business people wear sharp suits or top-notch outfits. The conventional wisdom is such clothing impacts their image, especially when meeting potential new clients for the first time. However, I find it highly unlikely someone could determine how much more business someone obtains by wearing a fancy suit versus a raggedy T-shirt. People don’t ask for such statistics. They simply understand looking good is a strategic part of the overall package.

Many applications offer analytics to help us determine how various efforts truly impact our business. Some analytics come with cool titles. Others offer numbers that appear relevant but some of us aren’t exactly sure what they mean. It’s like someone is building a road in the right direction, but we’re not actually clear if it will get us where we want to go. Perhaps these applications employ top secret formulas above our understanding. But maybe some of these analytics are more marketing than mathematics.

Sometimes simple anecdotal information is the most rewarding. One day, while visiting the office of the client referenced above, some people calling in said they scheduled appointments after watching the website’s new video. The client learned this using a simple formula:  When the new clients called, his staff asked “How did you hear about us?” Also, the video has received a large number of hits. That’s more eyeballs on his business although we don’t know if those hits turned into paying customers. This same client now is on the first page of Google. But he told me he’s not sure if that’s translated into more appointments.

A media relations client says after his story appeared on television, he received 20 leads. He simply set up a formula asking people how they came across his company.

Another video client says it’s no coincidence the company’s website visits significantly increased after posting two videos. He declared the videos brought an immediate and positive impact. He wrote: “Well, from this end there is the tangible measurement of web traffic increase after the release of each video … Tons of anecdotal stuff … which I feel is the best.”

If you read blogs and browse social media, it’s clear some of the public has an obsession with a concrete equation to determine how services such as video, media relations and social media directly translate into making money. On The Flip Side, some companies that provide these services also appear obsessed with trying to deliver that formula. I remain skeptical. I read a case study in which a company argued on its website how its digital services directly impacted a business’s sales. But even after reading this well-written case study, I’m not sure I’m buying the connection.

Sometimes, companies must simply use common sense to determine whether a technique is working for them. The answer may not be 1 + 1 = 2. But you might just know success when you see it.