Monthly Archives: November 2013
With only three weeks left and twelve news packages and VO-SOTs under my belt, I feel like I accomplished a lot already this semester. At the same time, however, I feel like I still have a long way to go and a million things to learn. That’s alright though, because I know that this is only the beginning of my journalism career. I feel like the SuperSemester has equipped me with a lot of skills and tools that allow me to take the next step, and I am sure all the things I learned will be of tremendous help in the future.
On November 8th, I produced for the fifth and second to last time. The newscast was probably the best newscast I have produced yet, as there were few things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to. In spite of not having all the writers at my disposal, I managed to distribute all the work to the people who were present. I thought that communication among all of us was good as few people asked me questions, which shows that we have gotten the hang of the intricacies that the SuperSemester by now. The three-shot during the sports talk at the anchor desk worked well and I am a little proud to say that I once again tried something rather unusual as a producer. I wish the director would have told the camera to pan right and zoom out a little sooner on the three-shot.
Doing a good job producing requires printing and distributing rundowns and scripts on time. I will also keep more of an eye on video IDs, as two teases about the same story had different IDs. Once again, I will try to stick to the producer log even closer to avoid running late. Don’t be afraid to tell somebody to start working in case they are fooling around and to assign them to something even if you know that that person is not keen to do it. While you should always try to be empathetic, at the end of the day you are in charge and if you don’t get other people to do the things you need them to do, the newscast won’t come together.
I shot two VO-SOTs and one package during the last two weeks and learned a lot in the process. One thing that is important, especially when newscasts re-air or are put online is not to use the words yesterday or today or tomorrow – instead, use the day of the week or the date. Also, one ought to avoid using interview shots and too many signs as b-roll. One should focus on the action if possible.
You need to be persistent as a journalist. If you want to get the best story possible, you need to track people down and ask the tough questions. What’s more, you mustn’t give up the first time you hear ‘no’. When I shot my package about the pitching event, I really wanted to get an interview with Daymond John. I was told that I could have one question right after the event was over. Five minutes prior to the interview, however, Paul Huffman told me that Mr. John had to leave immediately and thus did not have time for me. I could have accepted it and would have still been able to complete my package. Yet the interview with Mr. John was an integral part of the way I envisioned my package. I sat down next to Mr. John’s assistant and told him that I acknowledged that Mr. John is a busy person and that I want to respect his time, but also that it would not take more than one minute and that I would greatly appreciate it. Et voilà, he said yes and granted me one question.
I learned that having to pick one question can be very difficult. I had quite a few creative (I thought) questions I wanted to ask him, but I decided to go with something safe since I only had one shot.
Checking your equipment before you go on a shoot includes your tripod. This Wednesday, my three-legged friend (or adversary in this case) suddenly decided to become a twin-pod, much to the agony of my camera. As a video journalist, you inevitably have to leave your equipment unattended or at least standing on its own sooner or later. While you should obviously handle your camera and other pieces of equipment with great care, it is virtually impossible to avoid accidents over time. Yet journalists should always see to it that they don’t leave their belongings unattended and that the risk of it being damaged is as low as possible.
As the semester is entering its final third, I feel as though I developed something that comes close to a routine. Equipped with basic knowledge and skills but also the awareness that I still have a long way to go, it feels like the challenge now is to maintain a certain quality and professionalism. After all, you are only as good as your last newscast.
My fifth package about Semester at Sea was the first one that I shot on more than one day. As a matter of fact, I shot it over the course of ten days, with action on four separate days. Unfortunately, it took more than 25 minutes for my package to transcode, which resulted in it not making it in time but having to do it after the newscast instead. Although it is unusual, I should have allotted more time to be on the safe side. Investing hours and hours of work shooting, and then not being able to finish your package in time and knowing that it is not the best it can be can be frustrating. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to come prepared (i.e. having a substantial part done) in the morning when editing a package for a newscast, especially on a Friday.
On October 23rd, I produced for the fourth time. By and large it was a decent newscast. I thought the “New Deal” approach worked well, because I knew exactly who I had at my disposal. It also made it easier for me to keep track of who is doing what. I think graphics-Ben is a great addition to the team as he makes sound graphics and is able to work independently. I should have kept more of an eye on things like sports and weather and started proofreading stories sooner so that we could have printed the rundown and scripts sooner as well. People who are working on their packages should get in at least an hour before everybody else to have a head start. Its extra stress and uncertainty for the producer and everybody involved if somebody’s running late with a package and nobody knows if it’ll be ready in time.
Next time I produce a newscast I will try to have a list of things I need to do which is not on the producer’s checklist to make sure I don’t forget about those kind of things. Once again, I will look to sticking closer to the checklist and making sure that everybody is on the same page.
Tension in the newsroom is almost inevitable in a fast-paced working environment that revolves around meeting deadlines. It’s important to understand that occasional frustration and snappy answers are part of working for television. While you should try to remain calm and courteous at all times, sometimes raising your voice is the only way you can express that something is urgent or to get something done. One should never take it personally and in case it bothers you until after the newscast, you should talk to the person once the stress has subsided.
I anchored for the 6th time this Wednesday. Since I only had to write stories that day, I had plenty of time to get ready and read every story at least once. I felt fairly confident and thought I did alright overall. My interaction with fellow anchor Taylor Gorton felt natural and I learned that saying her name during the weather toss goes a long way. However, I wish I wouldn’t have mispronounced two or three words. I feel as though I have yet to have an overall sound newscast that is highlight reel material.
Here are a few more things I learned over the last two weeks. When writing the text for VO-SOTs and packages, one mustn’t forget to complete “RUNS:…” and “Outquote”. Another intricacy one shouldn’t overlook is to insert the “MORE VO” command for VO-SOTs. Especially as a producer, is it easy to forget important subtleties, such as tease flags when writing one’s teases and adding the producer’s and director’s name in the closing credits. When doing a stand-up, don’t take voice over during the first 5 seconds, because your lower third might be superimposed over b-roll. (If you do, tell director to take lower third during the second time the reporter is visible.)
I had some issues with audio over the last two weeks, which gave me the opportunity to learn and improve a lot. I found out that audio channel one and three, as well as two and four are connected. Reporters are to use all four audio tracks for natural sound.
Finally, show faces, not spaces, meaning that when interviewing somebody, one should leave out everything that is not relevant to the shot. Moreover, center up on computer shots, and interview everybody left and right. What’s more, write down when the interviewee stands on the left and when he or she stands on the right. Knowing during which interview the person stands on which side allows you to add variety when editing. I found that it is crucial to listen and look at clips on location (framing, audio, video, etc.) so you can spot errors and, for instance, bad audio on the spot and, if necessary, repeat it.
As more and more details about the mass surveillance activities surface, various news organizations and journalists express concern about the effect ubiquitous eavesdropping has on journalism. Although research and articles are shedding some light on the effect spying has on our society and journalism, the disclosures seem to be far from being over and far more research needs to be done. One thing can be said already though: The little we know is reason for concern.
In an earlier blog entry from September 6th, I discussed the importance of news media in a democratic society and gave some examples of how institutions agencies have attempted to intimidate journalists. My article from September 29th shows why mass surveillance concerns us all. In this article, I will specifically enlarge upon the consequences of mass surveillance on journalism.
Needless to say, hampering a democracy’s press is hampering democracy itself. In a public comment to the Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies convened to President Obama, a group of scholars, journalists and researchers from Columbia Journalism School and the MIT Center for Civic Media say that mass surveillance “presents a grave threat to the effectiveness of an independent press.” The 15-page letter argues that there is a “discrepancy” between the NSA’s eavesdropping activities and the existing law and policy designed to protect the confidentiality of journalist-source communications. What’s more, a “climate of secrecy” established by mass surveillance methods is itself “harmful” to journalism, as sources aren’t able to find out when they might be spied on, or how “intercepted information might be used against them.” As the letter shows, the NSA does not have to adhere to the policy of the Department of Justice. The double standard is not only “intolerable”, but endangers the communications between journalists and their source. The review group calls for “one set of rules.”
Furthermore, the authors reject the logic of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which asserts that collecting information on everyone is no different than doing the same on specific individuals. “The surveillance of essentially everyone has effects far beyond the surveillance of journalists alone. […] For a free press to function we must also protect the means of communicating with a journalist.” The comment also says that sources have become nervous about talking to reporters, as reported by journalists from various news organizations including the New York Times and the Washington Post. Summing their appeal up, the groups states that “mass surveillance is a serious threat to the constitutionally protected function of a free press, and therefore to democracy itself, because it impinges on the ability and confidence of every possible source who might talk to a journalist.” The possibility for journalists’ communication to be monitored everywhere and anytime poses new challenges for our profession.
At an online news association conference in late October in Atlanta, media professionals were told that they needed to learn about secure and safe communication, meaning they have to use encryption and good security practices. Jonathan Stray from Columbia University reminded participants that while encryption is vital, it doesn’t protect the metadata, i.e. sender, recipient, time, and more. Stray called journalists “targets” who are working in a “high-risk” profession, while media lawyer Nabiha Syed said the bigger problem is that we are missing “clear and transparent procedures that protect right.”
On August 18, David Miranda, partner of Guardian interviewer of whistleblower Edward Snowden Glenn Greenwald, was detained for nine hours and questioned at Heathrow airport. A controversial British law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals. Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.
In the middle of October, a British Parliamentary committee announced it would investigate The Guardian’s reporting on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks as part of a broader counterterrorism inquiry, while a poll found that more British citizens oppose the whistleblower’s leaks than favor them. At the same time, however, a Pew Research poll shows that the public values the watchdog role of the of the press more today than before the Snowden leaks. In an August survey, seven in 10 agreed that news organizations “keep leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done”, up from a low of 55 percent a decade ago.
Former Independent editor Chris Blackhurst criticized The Guardian’s publication of the leaks, arguing that they’re not much of a story and that if government authorities contend that they’re not in the public interest, “who am I…to disbelieve them?” Glenn Greenwald responded in an article on his own, attempting to refute Blackhurst’s arguments. Greenwald said Blackhurst’s opinion is a “predominant mindset among many in the media class.” Moreover, he said that that when journalists do talk this way, “they do us a service, as it lays so vividly bare just how wide the gap is between the claimed function of establishment journalists and the actual role they fulfill.”
On October 25th, the N.S.A.’s director, General Keith Alexander, accused journalists of “selling” his agency’s documents and called for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets. In a roughly 30-minute interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog, Alexander says “it’s wrong that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn’t make sense.” He added: “We ought to come up with a way of stopping it.” It doesn’t get much more obvious that this does not comply with the First Amendment.
The Snowden revelations have sent a chill through those reporters covering national security issues. If the NSA can easily gather details about who a reporter phoned or emailed, that sends a signal to whistleblowers that their anonymity can no longer be protected. David Sirota, columnist, journalist and author, shows in his article Obama’s war on journalism how the U.S. President prevented a Yemeni journalist from being pardoned by calling Yemen’s leader. After Abdulelah Haider Shaye exposed his government’s coverup of a US missile strike that reportedly killed “dozens”, he was sentenced to five year in prison. In Sirota’s article, New York Times media correspondent David Carr says that “suggesting that there is a war on the press is less a hyperbole than simple math.”
The CEO of the Associated Press Gary Pruitt recently said that there has been a “chilling effect on newsgathering“.
On the plus side, the disclosure seem to have animated a plethora of media outlets to do in-depth reports and dedicate many of their staff and resources to the effort to inform the public. To which extent they feel genuinely convinced that this topic deserves all the attention or if they merely jumped on the bandwagon is, I believe, secondary, because all the reports enable readers and viewers to really educate themselves about the surveillance activities. Another positive development, which is in keeping with the extensive coverage, is the international debate Snowden’s leaks have sparked.
However, there seem to be grave detrimental effects on journalism as governments and agencies around the world fear that their inner-most secrets may be revealed. I believe we are at crossroads, both as a society and journalism. Will the vast majority of journalists, sources, and potential whistleblowers be too afraid to speak up? Or will courageous, idealistic men and women not allow governments and institutions to intimidate them and emulate people like Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald? It’s up to every single one of us.