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Archive for November 2008

More journalism of the future

I have before posted some advice from Robin “Roblimo” Miller for journalists, and here I go again. The first post explored freelancing and queries. This is one is broader in scope, and focuses on the future of video journalism. Robin has grown a successful video service in addition to everything else he does and he’s worth listening to.

How many of you routinely report both in text/stills *and* with video/TV equipment?

My hand is up. Any others?

Fine. In any case, class, let’s begin:

It is hard, possibly impossible, to get as informative an interview when someone has a 72mm (or larger) lens pointed at them than when they’re talking to an innocuous person holding a notepad or possibly a small tape/digital recorder. It gets even worse when they’re being interviewed on camera by a makeup-wearing “TV personality”.

I have interviewed many subjects on camera. More often than not, I did not appear in the finished piece. I try to stay out from in front of the camera as a general rule, not because I’m ugly (which I am) or because I’m ashamed of my appearance (which I’m not), but because the know-it-all on-camera reporter-presence is contrary to the old journalism ideal of the reporter not being part of the story.

Some time back, I wrote – in a story for the Online Journalism Review – that when someone wears more makeup to go on camera than they wear to go to the grocery store, they are entertainers, not reporters. Even since that ran, I have been getting a steady trickle of hate mail from on-air TV personalities. (Please note that I do not say “reporters” on purpose.)

In TV-land, the “reporters” are generally called “producers’ and rarely/never appear on your screen. They are background people who make the calls to set up interviews, do the research, and write or at least outline the questions and scripts that the on-air people read from notes or teleprompters.

I have been a “TV personality” and liked it up to a point, but being well-known (locally) made it harder – not easier – for me to do what I call Real Reporting, i.e. ferreting out information your subjects may or may not want you to have. A bit of semi-anonymity or at least a non-threatening presence is important for this kind of work, along with a willingness to listen to people ramble in hopes of getting at least a few interesting words from them.

Personally, I believe a real TV reporter should stay behind the camera 90% of the time and only get in front of it to explain information that he or she has gotten from sources not willing to go on camera themselves or from non-verbal sources (a.k.a. online or book/periodical research) that can’t easily be added to the piece in the form of lower-third titling.

Currently, TV “journalists” live and die and have their salaries determined by their Q scores more than by their reporting ability or any other factor.

It seems to be even worse on the cable channels. Look at what the “inside media” pubs write about how the cable crowd picks news shows and personalities. It has nothing to do with their ability to get strong, accurate stories, but everything to do with their likability and popularity.

We are starting to see a movement away from on-camera reporters in newspaper online videos, which tend to be made by newspaper reporters who are not used to being the focus of their own stories. I call this the “headless interview” style, and I’ve participated in several Online News Association panels about how to do it well. The TV/cable crowd is not jumping on this bandwagon quite yet. The “talent” (what TV producers and techies collectively call the often-vacuous faces in front of the cameras) is scared as shit that they will lose their paychecks and fame. And station managers have based so much of their ratings success and ad sales blather on having “top talent” on their stations that it’s hard for them to move away from made-up celebs delivering speeches in stentorian tones, and toward having knowledgeable reporters running around doing one-man/woman newsgathering.

My personal term for someone sitting or standing in a studio, reading news, is “radio”.

TV and other video forms are at their best when they “take you there”, not when someone with a powder-covered face under a bank of 3K Kelvin lights is telling you about an event. And radio news, too, is at its best when it works from location, with ambient noise as part of the story, a style only NPR still seems to use.

Things *will* change in the news business, not because of politics or any of that crap, but because of money. It is cheaper for WTSP (Channel 10, St. Petersburg, Fla.) to pay me to cover stuff in my local area as a “headless interviewer” than to send their “talent” plus a cameraperson and a truck 30 miles. And they still can, and often do, screw up my stuff by having their studio mouths talk over the actual people I’ve interviewed.

If you want to sit around and complain about TV and/or cable news, fine. Go ahead. While you’re complaining I’ll be working on ways to produce visual stories better/faster/cheaper. I rode the wave of “Net journalism” into “citizen journalism”, and zoomed past “Web 2.0” so fast I barely noticed it in my rear-view mirror.

So, as MSNBC and MSCBS and MSFox and MSCNN and the rest of that crew worry about “bias” and wring their hands over their declining audience, I will be moving forward, figuring out new ways to make and distribute news in various formats – not all of which will be successful, I might add – as the old MSM dies out and a new establishment comes to the fore, hopefully raising my tiny little boat as the tide of the future sweeps over the media business, swamping some and lifting others.

And that’s our “Notes from the Future” segment for tonight. Please stay tuned for the season premier of the “Joe the Plumber Show”. Tonight’s scheduled guests are Sarah Fey, Tom Cruiser, and Jimmy Buffer, whose latest hit, “I May Be a Redneck but I Think Obama Will Be the Best President Ever, and It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere So Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw Instead of Talking about Politics,” is heading straight to the top of the country charts!

(Posted with permission.)

My new friend

Elvi and I attended one of the city’s two autism banquets Saturday night and had a grand time, so grand that on the way home we decided to extend our night out. We headed to our standard Crescent Street haunt.

I normally go for rum and Diet Coke, but my favourite bartender used Malibu Mango rum. That was delicious. I highly recommend it to all connoisseurs of girly drinks.

Yet that was not the highlight of the night.

The DJ played some crap, so we took a breather. Elvi sat on the couch next to the dance floor and I stood in front of her, tapping on her knees. I felt a poke in my bicep and looked to my right to see a woman in her mid 20s leaning against the wall. I assumed it was a mistake, so I smiled and turned back to Elvi – but then this woman poked me again.

I raised my eye brows inquisitively and she stumbled toward/onto me. “Mid 20s” might also have described her breathalyzer result. She put an arm around my shoulder, nestled me into her chest and spoke to me.

“I can tell your not dat serious about her,” she said, meaning Elvi.

“Not serious about her?” I asked, stunned. I shouted into her ear above the music, “I hope we’re serious. We’ve been married 12 years.”

“You’re married?”


“Go be safe. Go somewhere else.”

I thanked my new friend with a quick nod but bravely stayed right there. A new song came on and Elvi and I started dancing again. My friend then told Elvi something, which Elvi doesn’t recall. I bet it wasn’t something about titanium welding or even something as fundamental as metal crystal structure.

Regularly scheduled programming

My Web host consolidated his IP addresses while at the same time his DNS provider changed offices, so all things have been in Internet limbo since early Friday morning.

I sort of knew this was going to happen. I should say I would have known it, had I read the e-mail warning more closely. I thought this was still months away. I would have warned readers (you) otherwise.

If you can read this, all is back to normal.

It seems this week I’m at the nexus of a strange intersection of Web-outs. My site, the official WarBirds forum, and AGW. Odd.

While fiddling around with IP addresses in my FTP app, Blogger, and elsewhere, I bought a new domain.

Once upon a time, an Australian airplane geek who goes by the handle Spelchk drank a little too much. As we gentlemen (mostly) of a certain age, a certain geek persuasion, and a certain blood-alcohol level are prone to do, Spelchk logged in to AGW to post – back when AGW was hale and hearty, last weekend.

Near the end of his message, he noted that he was drunk but, being drunk, he used a cuss word and, being drunk, he spelled it wrong. I suppose Spelchk does not stand for “spellcheck”, or maybe it does, but only when sober.

He meant to write that he was shitfaced, but he actually wrote “I am shitcafe.” Well, “shitcafe” is simply brilliant, and it has taken on a life of its own. Today, while at Go Daddy to update my DNS record, I checked. was available. I now own it for a year, in return for an investment of $12.15.

But what, if anything, am I going to do with it?


I play hockey Friday nights at the new LCC rink. (LCC, short for Lower Canada College, is a private school here in NDG.)

Tonight, somebody broke into our dressing rooms and stole about $700. I lost $95, but at least the thieves left our wallets, all cards, and car keys. I’m glad that I chose to only take $100 instead of the $200 I was thinking of that morning at the ATM.

I can’t help but admire the ballsiness of the thieves.

The layout at LCC differs from most rinks. The benches (brown) are across a hallway from the dressing rooms, but to get to the benches, you pass through standard doors (D) in a standard wall.

Normally, if a dressing room is robbed, the thieves enter an unlocked room, or break a lock, or enter through the dressing room attached to a shared shower room. We padlocked our dressing rooms and the bathrooms at that rink are not shared. The locks on the doors, we found after our game, were not broken but opened with our own keys.

The thieves stealthily lifted our keys from our benches while we were engrossed in our hockey. None of us saw the keys taken.

The arena has security cameras, which should have captured images of the perpetrators. With any luck, the thieves will be LCC students, making them easily identifiable and found. If they’re not, I don’t have much hope of recovery, or revenge.

It’s probable, I’d say, that the culprits are LCC students. Professional thieves would have made off with more than just the cash, and LCC students have been known to fall on the wrong side of the law now and then.

New from TriggerStreet

(And from others as well.)

“Fanboys” looks awesome.

Here’s a bit of an interview with the producers.

Party, sleep, event, sleep

That’s been the pattern for the last two days, if we define days by the Hebrew calendar.

Friday night, we hosted a Halloween party which I attended until 8:45, when I changed out of my costume (Roanoke Jones, Indiana Jones’s colonial ancestor; see if you can find it in the pics) to go play hockey. My kids dressed as Death (a la “Sandman”), a Voodoo doctor (of theology, no doubt), and Death (a la the Grim Reaper).

In hockey, I have decent hands in close and I score more than my share of goals, but recently I’ve been scoring on wristers from the tops of the circles. I’ve usually been one of the better players in the games I’ve joined, but this group is younger, faster, and a heck of a lot more talented than I ever was. My shots are going in the net like change-ups: the goalie expects a much harder shot and instinct throws his trapper high as my slower shots rainbow (relatively) below the glove into the net. It’s embarrassing for both of us.

This week I took an errant slapshot off the side of my head. Had I not been wearing the helmet, I’d still be picking rubber out of my ear. Thanks to high-impact plastic, all I suffered was a few seconds of tinnitus.

I went back to the party but only one other adult was left. A herd of unruly children chased me upstairs.

I woke at 8:00 a.m. to go assistant-coach an exhibition game. The refs didn’t show up, so I did that instead, with a coach from the other team, from Lasalle. They beat us 6-0. I see many tips that would help our team – say, ways not to give up six breakaways on Child Three in a game. Our head coach was excruciatingly positive in the dressing room.

We returned home and I went back to sleep. See that pattern?

Failing to convince Child Three to go with me to watch the Canadian women’s hockey team play at Concordia, I watched the second period of the Habs Saturday night. That team played horrible, especially Alex Kovalev, and when Elvi and I left for a party I didn’t bother listening to the rest of it on my car radio. When we got to my friend Dan’s place, I saw the final score of 5-4 projected on his wall and mentally kicked myself.

Dan and I share the same birthday – in the same year, but that’s something we only discovered months or years after we became friends. I don’t think I’ve seen him in a dozen years. Besides him, we knew Pat (see here), who I last saw about 15 months ago. We tried to convince our old crony Barnes to show up – he lives only four blocks away but apparently I’m no longer so much of an attraction.

The party was a Halloween party one day late, and the costume of the night was a couple who came as tetes carrees, which is French for “square heads”, a derogatory term for us English speakers. The perfect touch was the woman’s Tie Domi Leafs jersey.

We spent most of the night talking with Pat, and Pat spent most of the night chatting with us. I think we were all glad that each other had shown up. I drank a bit much and asked to go home around 1:30, the second 1:30 of the night. Usually, Elvi is the party-pooper, or the wiser, whichever way you want to look at it. I fell asleep as soon as I hit my bed, which is rare.

I woke at 8:30 with a splitting headache. I have only ever had two hangovers in my life, no matter how many I’ve tried to earn, and the key feature of those is nausea, which I had. I took some ibuprofen and tried to read the paper. No dice. I couldn’t concentrate for the pain. When I lay down, my head hurt more, and I’d broken out into a cold sweat. Well, the sweat wasn’t cold, but it gave me chills.

It took me about an hour to figure out what was going on. That wasn’t a hangover, that was an atypical migraine. I almost always get migraines in the afternoons or evenings and the pain associated with this one was steady, not throbbing. I haven’t had one in a very long time. I went straight for the heavy duty painkillers and 45 minutes later, the pain had subsided enough for me to get back to sleep. I woke again around noon, but I’ve felt loogy all day.

I had urged myself to finish my danged biopic script by the end of August, but only managed to reach the halfway point by Labour Day. September and October have flown by, and I’m again urging myself to get this thing done by December. This is already a lost weekend as far as that goes. I’ve only had time to do some relatively quick research tasks and I still have two scripts to look at for Alex that I plan to get to tomorrow, so we’ll see how that goes.

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