Tuesday, July 05, 2005

In Defense Of The Uncomfortable

Some posts and comments on Jeff's blog point out how uncomfortable someone looked anchoring on the 4th. Nothing mean was said, and although I didn't see it, I have some different thoughts on this.

As much as some who have been here a while hate to acknowledge it, this is still a market where some people get their starts. As Gehly likes to put it, people "grow up" here. And as suprising as it might be for newsies to understand, there is a certain percentage of viewers out there that accepts this and in fact embraces this. I know, because since leaving TV, I've heard it from people. They've watched some of the talent here struggle at the begining, grow and find their voice and become a "part of the family." And they become attached to the ones that stay.

I'll go a step further and applaud Jim Garrott for, as much as possible, giving producers and photographers a chance to report and anchor. Two things here... one, sometimes people hire on at 25 as producers or photographers because they know they'll get a chance to build a tape or get promoted. Four pretty solid journalists come to mind from recent years: Steve Gehlbach, Kathy Topp, Melissa Dunton and my wife. I think the experience made them better reporters. But even before any kind of job change, as a producer, your understanding of what crews go through improves greatly when you spend a day in the field.

From a management standpoint, this philsophy is solid because these people will spend say 6 months to a year behind the scenes before starting the two (maybe less, maybe more) years of reporting. Right away, you now a have a reporter who knows how to get around town, knows the equipment and knows who all the players are. That can sometimes be a tough learning curve.

I guess my thought on this is it is a Catch 22... some newsies and vets and critical viewers want people to be ready to be on, but it's hard to be ready with out getting experience. Yes, I recognize it is easier to do this at some stations versus others that are more concerned about attracting new viewers and maybe don't want to take as much of a chance on someone... I get that. My opinion is short of a person going crazy on air, taking that chance here isn't the end of the world.


Anonymous said...

While you make some valid points there is also something else to consider. When a group of people in a newsroom (reporters, anchors, photographers, producers, assignment desk ,et al) make a collective effort to put a newscast on the air, that finished product should not be sabotaged by an "anchor" who is not prepared to credibly perform. It simply undermines the entire effort by every other staff member (and that's a lot of man-hours there), not to mention damage the integrity of the news operation in general.

Yes, this is a "starter" market where people grow up (as you put it), but that does not mean that a person's first anchoring experience has to be live.

The fact is there is no training done in this market and it has hurt the integrity of the shows in this market.

Edgar said...

While I stand by my original post, you do make a very good point. And as I didn't see the show, I won't argue about it specifically.

The "grow up" was quoting someone else by the way...

As for the rest, this market still lets interns do packages (which mind you, I don't begrudge), so I'm not sure how much integrity as you write is an issue.

You do bring up a couple of good thoughts which I'll try to cover in future posts.

Anonymous said...

Again, there is merit to what you have written in your response. But there is a big difference between an intern putting together a package and someone anchoring who is unprepared to do so.

A packaged story is self-contained, on tape, without the deer-in-the-headlights effect that takes place on live TV. Hopefully, any copy is checked, and the audio is voiced as many times as is necessary to get it right. There are no second takes for an anchor who is untrained and unqualified.

Ultimately however it is the fault of the person who made the decision to put that person on the air, without the proper training.

Remember too that some people can have their confidence severely damaged by an incident like this. It is not fair to the "talent" to throw them into that situation if they are not ready.

Edgar said...

I absolutely understand what you're saying. But I also believe in sink or swim.

Should people be practicing before they anchor? I'll go as far to say even people who anchor should be practicing or at the very least reading scripts out loud... more things are caught that way.

But yes, for newbies, training is important. However, doing it live is significantly different than practicing and the only way to get better is to do it for real.

I won't disagree with your point that it can look bad etc., but you've got to start somewhere.

I won't use his name (although to be honest he tells this story with a big smile and a hearty laugh) but a former reporter in this market tells the story of his first on set experience. It was a reporter sit in (so to your point, this was probably good pre-anchoring experience). The anchors toss to him, he turns to the camera and freezes. Stone cold.

I'm sure his boss thought he was ready. No one had a clue that would happen. But it did. This person turned out to be one of the better journalists I've worked with and his live presentation was more than solid. He swam.

Billy Dennis said...

Aren't there early morning news shows where these new anchors can lose their cherry, so to speak?

There are college stations where this can happen too. But, i would hate to close off television (or radio) broadcasting to those who lack a very specific college degree.

Experienced anchors and reporters don't come from a factory. They are handmade.

Anonymous said...

If I were a viewer, I'm sorry, I would feel as if it were a slap in the face coming from the number one station. This may be a "starter market" but there are people who spend their entire lives here and don't look at Peoria as "another stop on the way up."

Edgar said...

Like I said in the original post, not all viewers, at least the ones I've talked to since leaving look at it as a "slap in the face."

Are there some who might see something like this and go "whoa?" Sure.

As for taking offense to the label of "starter market", I think the bitterness is primarily yours. Most of the "vets" I know who have chosen to make this home embrace the role of mentor and are very supportive of those trying to get better and/or ultimately go somewhere else.

Many of them maintain strong friendships with people who as you say "stopped on the way up."

Anonymous said...

I don't fault anyone for wanting to better themselves. What I do have a problem with are the people who have their foot out the door before they ever step in.

To those, Peoria is just another stop, but why should the citizens of Peoria be subjected to newscasts like that? Are Peorians worth less than Chicagoans? Does it not hurt someone when a reporter in Peoria makes a mistake that embarrasses a citizen or causes them great emotional or financial distress? Should a reporter not be concerned with the community because they're only going to be here two years and get out? Why should Peorians be forced to suffer through mediocricty?

I've chosen to make my home in Peoria. This is only my second market and I've been here 10 years. My previous shop shut down or else I would probably still be there. How can you truly care about the community and report fairly and accurately if your only looking at Peoria as "another step"

If your plan is to someday move on, that's fine as long as your working for what's best for the community your presently in....not your tape. Market size doesn't mean jack. The quality of your work means everything whether your in Chicago or or makret 212. If you dont' take pride in your work, your cheating not only your self, but the viewers who rely on you to give them a fair and ACCURATE report of what's going on in the community they have chosen to call home.

Now, what this has to do with the original comment, I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

Come on... People are writing like this is the first time this has happened. Weekends and especially holidays are adventures in local television (not just Peoria) and always have been. Even if the anchor in question had been ready and trained the Producer, TD, Audio, Switcher, etc... that day who was also filling in for the normal person would have probably messed up. It's summer, a holiday and the quantity of people watching is low. That's why you see who you see and there isn't a concern about it by news directors at any station, not just Peoria. If someone on the crew feels "sabotaged" then they haven't worked in the business long enough to understand that's the way it is and will always be. The viewers... They don't care and most times don't notice. We're much bigger critics of ourselves then most viewers are.

I will suggest however that the quality of Peoria television news seems to have gone down a lot since my days in the biz. What I mean is that weekends and holidays today are a lot worse then the days when Fraser Engerman, and Elaine Houston were the weekend anchors and young pups like Eric Shangraw and Kurt Pegler were holiday fill ins (for the life of me I tried to remember WHOI weekend staff from the late 80's and couldn't). Why is that? Or is it just that those of us no longer in the biz remember things better then they really were?

Anonymous said...

There has to be some potential there... Not everyone can do it. It's not like rocket science, but there is a nack to it.
I can tell ya that if one P-town news director didn't take a chance on me a while back, I would have never been able to go on to bigger markets. Breaks still need to be handed out to those who work hard!

Anonymous said...

They were better... then the 90's came...

Anonymous said...

...People are writing like this is the first time this has happened.

No, people are writing because they are fed up that it continues to happen. The latest incident just illustrates how badly the sink or swim philosophy can back-fire.

Anonymous said...

I probably didn't belong anywhere near an anchor desk or key wall when I took over for Edgar on the weekends at 25. and I know I didn't belong on-air when I was interning. I look back at some of the stuff that made it to air that summer and cringe. not sure what management was thinking:) I was grateful for the start...and I did "grow up". if you watched a show I anchored last weekend, or the story I turned tonight, you'd understand.

Anonymous said...

It seems this subject has developed into a debate about people being given a chance to anchor. But the guy was awful and that's the problem. He never should have gone on the air in the first place and whoever made that decision to put him at the anchor desk should learn from it. Maybe next time they will make a more careful decision. The quality of the show suffers and I'm sure theother people who worked on that show didn't appreciate seeing their effort p*ssed away.