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Good Night & Good Luck

By Janet Wilson September 14th, 2009

Bill Ralston blogs:

I mercifully missed the Qantas Awards but I understand TVNZ news swept almost all the telly journalism awards.

That, in itself, is a little odd because I find the standard of reporting and the stories run on 3News at least the match of TV ONE and I probably watch at least as much of 3 News as ONE’s.

Something annoys me about ONE news. It’s not the presenters, they’re fine. The set is good, the titles fine, the music OK. The reporters, by and large, are fine.

Then I began thinking about it. Actually, the content of the stories on TV ONE is not the problem. It is the packaging.

It seems ONE News has had another attack of the Magids. Frank Magid Associates is an American company that specialises in souping up news bulletins in the US style.

I believe TVNZ used Magids in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. TV3 also used them a couple of years back but didn’t seem to so wholeheartedly embrace the Magid philosophy as TVNZ has done.

This explains the endless live crosses to reporters standing in darkened streets, outside deserted buildings, and in wide-open empty spaces breathlessly saying, “It was all action here a few hours ago…”

The bulletin starts, up come the anchors, there’s a couple of shared lines between them about the big story and then its off to a galaxy of reporters dotted in little boxes around the screen for a live cross.

The reporters donut (bookend) all the top stories, cluttering the bulletin, slowing it down, and too often babbling some trite line or two about the news event.

The anchors are made to look dumb by asking them obvious questions, presumably the questions the producer must think the public would ask if they had no knowledge of the subject.

The late Walter Cronkite, a guy who knew a thing or two about news, loathed live crosses to reporters in the field. His argument was if the reporters’ comments were important enough they should have been packaged in the story itself.

Presumably the multitude of live crosses are there to show the news bulletins “reach”, that the reporters are out there telling it as it is, that it is live and happening, and whatever happens, whenever, “we’ll be there”.

The problem is, too often, bugger all is happening. It looks artificial and posed.

The best live crosses are when there really is something happening and you need constant updates: “The gunman is still in the house and I just heard several shots…” or “The jury’s coming back after nearly eighteen hours deliberation…”

I notice other Magidisms have crept back into ONE’s bulletins. “Punch ‘n Judy” split intros where the anchors share the introduction to a story, plus the awkward “happy chat”.

I thought we’d grown beyond that.

I hope 3News is not too dispirited by the Qantas TV Awards. They are a lottery, anyway.

TV3 is sticking to its straight down the middle style of presentation and it works, for me at least.

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