Monday, March 08, 2010

MARK GARAY: TV interview going away as we know it?

Former KTRK 13 anchor Mark Garay guest blogs this post on the mikemcguff.com blog:

The Changing Interview

Without question, a major part of news gathering has always been the interview. You really can't tell a story without talking to the people upon whom any given story is based or at the very least, related. There are also advantages, actual golden moments which happen off camera during interview settings. Often, as the crew was setting up, I used to talk to interview subjects to make them feel comfortable and discuss the questions I planned to ask. These moments produced GOLD more often than I can count. Knowing they were off camera, interview subjects would open up a bit. Sometimes more than a bit. Much more. I've gotten details off camera I never could have with the tape rolling. Sometimes, an interview subject would lean forward to reach my ear, and whisper some wonderful nugget of information or gossip. Other times, my interviewee might mention something he or she felt was completely irrelevant, but was actually a fascinating direction for my story to go. Producing a news story without interviews is like playing baseball without bases. You can still participate in the game, but there's no structure.

INTERVIEWS ARE CHANGING

Increasingly, we are seeing Network Correspondents interviewing people through live internet video connection services. I saw one such interview recently, with the correspondent actually saying, "We interviewed (Mr. Johnson) over the (name) web service."

The reasons here are fairly obvious.

-Costs

TV News Networks are handcuffed in many areas, because of... well... the areas. Networks aren't covering one town or one country. They are trying to cover the world. And as such, it's very expensive to properly tell the stories network audiences have come to expect. Network News Bureaus used to help by covering national regions or foreign beats. But with the bulldozing emergence of cable and internet technologies, Network Bureaus have had to close down due to cost saving efforts by tower "officed" executives who may know as little about news as they do about priorities. It's very expensive to staff network bureaus. You have on air "talent", videographers, editors, assignment managers, producers and administrators to pay, equipment to maintain, and office space to lease or buy. And that's just the beginning. As a result, networks have had to compromise the product upon which they relied so heavily to pay the bills. They can't compete with audience segmentation and the inexpensive resources employed by their media competitors. To loosely quote a line from the movie Cinderella Man, "it is a sad death to a once flourishing success, with the body still breathing."

-Immediacy

Even if the networks still had the resources they've been forced to sacrifice, getting news crews to the interviews takes time. Here's an example: It's a Tuesday. In Washington, there are Senate hearings unfolding about the fatal gas pedal problems with Toyota. A high ranking company official is telling our elected officials that the problem has been taken care of, and that the American public should continue buying Toyotas with full confidence in safety and reliability. At the same time, in Pocatello Idaho, a woman and her 9 year old child are killed in a Toyota on their way home from school. Obviously, these two stories might be connected. And if it turns out they are, getting a network crew to Idaho in time for that day's broadcast would likely be impossible. Used to be they could fly a crew post haste from the Denver bureau, or maybe the Seattle bureau. Not anymore. Instead, the stories are told through the blinding speed of the internet. No one is making a whole lot of money by covering this story on the web, but who cares? The story is being told and the public is getting what it wants. Who cares if the network isn't the messenger, aside from the network?

My friends, reality is a bitch. Information is constantly finding ways to reach people quicker and cheaper. The networks are battling Abrams tanks with spears and swords. They cannot compete. It is this former news reporter's opinion that instead of seeing news professionals sitting next to their interview subjects, you will start seeing more of them looking at their interview subjects through a monitor.

And remember all those "golden moments" I discussed earlier in this piece? You can't find gold without searching for it in person. And it simply won't land in your lap through a computer monitor.

- Mark Garay

Find out more about Garay's latest work at CodeMark Poductions LLC.

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