Sunday, February 7, 2010

Struggling with Broadcast Reporting

A week and a half ago I completed my first news package for J432. It was possibly the hardest project I've ever done.

I had a number of technical problems (mostly with mics not working properly), which made the footage from two of my six interviews unusable. I always record audio on two channels, using both the on-camera mic and another one directed at the subject (usually a lav), so that I will have some ambient sound in addition to the voice, but also as a back-up, so that if the some of the audio from one is unusable I will still have something. Maybe I had the levels too low on the on-camera mic, or maybe there was too much ambient noise, but I had no usable sound. Will have to be more diligent about using headphones for sound checks, and not just relying on the camera's audio meters.

Working alone, I'm finding is very difficult. I enjoy writing questions and conducting interviews by myself, but lugging all the equipment is a serious physical challenge, and the amount of time it takes to set up is substantially longer than it was when I worked with a group or even a partner. I sometimes feel overwhelmed trying to make small talk with interviewees (not one of my strengths) while I'm setting up and trying to make sure I'm not forgetting anything (white balancing, checking audio levels, etc).

I also struggled with focus. There turned out to be a lot more to the story than I initially realized, and I couldn't fit everything into my two-minute piece. I had to leave out a lot of information that I thought was important, and really struggled with writing a voice over that filled in the information I couldn't pack in with sound bites.

I also found writing in TV news style really challenging. I hadn't done formal news writing in a while prior to this class, and writing for broadcast is a truly daunting task for me.

I almost never watch television news, partly because I don't own a functional television, but also because I usually don't like television news. Trying to emulate something that I generally find to be formulaic and insincere is pretty frustrating.

I do really like some radio news,particularly what I hear on public radio, but I don't think much of it adheres to the style my instructor expects me to use for these assignments.

Radio Lab host Jad Abumrad, for example, probably doesn't sound "authoritative" enough, and sometimes speaks in a manner that some TV news viewers might find offensive.

Personally, I think he and co-host Robert Krulwich do a fantastic job and I really value their work. I love to listen to them and trust them because they seem sincere and unpretentious, and to be genuinely interested in the information they present.

They cover topics that I know very little about (but am often curious about), but make them accessible and interesting for a general audience without making me feel like they think I'm not smart enough to understand. I also like that the show is creatively produced,using music and sound bites to aurally illustrate ideas in way traditional news shows would never dare.

I can't think of any daily news shows on radio or television that I have this sort of appreciation for. Maybe that's the curse of daily news. When something has to be done immediately, I suppose there isn't much room for creativity or really trying to draw your audience in in a sustained manner. Of course the short format of daily news is also extremely limiting.

I find short format really unappealing. I really enjoy doing a lot of research on a topic, and producing things that are visually interesting is really important to me.

I suppose it's good for me to get experience with this kind of work, but I'm really looking forward to next term when I'll finally be in Documentary TV Production.

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