Editors Notes

WHY TV “JOURNALISM” SUCKS!

Early in my broadcast career in Seattle I had occasion to work with Bob Robertson. He covered various sporting events while I ran the camera. The fun part was listening to him describe the game. All I had to do was follow his lead.
Everything he did was off-the-cuff. He was prepared with the names and stats, of course, and could fill the dead air with all kinds of interesting facts and figures. I haven’t worked with anyone that good since.
I bring this up because I recently read a blog post about the state of TV journalism, today. The post was on Kevin Levine’s blog and talked about the late Robert Trout and his skill as a reporter. In particular, his ability to ad lib (read the part about President Roosevelt.)
When I returned from Vietnam and started working in television news, most of the anchors had come out of radio by way of newspaper reporting. Not only could they write, they could, if the need arose, ad lib their way in, out and around any corner. Some, of course, were more adept than others, but to a person, none of them could be caught off guard.
Things changed as we moved into the 1970’s. Station owners and network executives began to realize that news was a cash cow. The more news they put on the air, the more money they made. That started the trend toward the pretty face and the “skill” of reading a teleprompter.
Many of the anchors we see today have degrees in journalism in some form. Studying journalism and actually doing the job with intelligence and skill are two different things.
A friend of mine is an anchor at one of the local TV stations here in Seattle. He is good looking, well dressed and goes through the motions of asking the right questions (when I meet him I invariably get the third degree about what I’m doing.)
When I challenged him to do what Bob Robertson or Robert Trout could do – ad lib a story without a teleprompter or notes – his eyes glaze over and the world as he knows it disappeared.
Now, for the record, can I do the same thing? Yes. I amazed one of my general managers by filling an entire half-hour from six lines of hand written notes on a 3×5 card. The amazing part is everything I talked about made sense!
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