As I start this blog entry, another blog that I track, TVNewser, announces that CBS anchorman and legendary broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, is seriously ill. Cronkite is now ninety-two years old. TVNewser cites CBS sources as the source releasing this information, including the tidbitt that CBS started drafting Cronkite's obituary last week. So let's take a look at now at today's network news, always bearing in mind the vocal "footprint" Cronkite left on the broadcast news industry.
Last night, I was attempting to do a couple crunches and sit-ups on my bedroom floor while watching NBC Nightly News. I had to stop crunching once I saw what Brian Williams was doing on air. Williams was not at his desk; instead, Williams anchored the entire newscast from the NBC newsroom, which I believe is the same newsroom for the cable operation - MSNBC. Here it is: Newsroom. set reminded me a lot of MSNBC's Morning Joe show. And not only was the entire show produced in the newsroom, but it was broadcast with limited commercial interruption.
Kudos to the Nightly News team for experimenting with different ways of telling the news story. Just this week in my journalism lab we talked about the different approaches producers take to telling a news story. For example, instead of just telling the story in a straight Voice Over form or a straight package, producers sometimes put reporters onset so they can interact with the anchors. This style often means the story is told in a question and answer format, which gives the broadcast some variety.
But, did the Nightly News crew experiment blow up in their face or was it a commendable effort? I would definitely say it was commendable. I always wondered if the anchorman behind the desk approach would ever change. Tom Brokaw tried the stand-up style for a couple years, but once Brian Williams took the reigns, the anchor chair returned for a time. Until last night. Once again, terrific idea - I liked watching foreign correspondent Richard Engel leaning on the news desk telling what he knows is going on in Iran. This more casual approach to the reporter-anchor Q&A segment was more believable than when the anchor has the desk separating him from the reporter - the studio norm. However, it didn't all go smoothly. Before Williams chatted with Engel, Williams had to physically walk to Engel, who was awkwardly - kind of mysteriously - hovering in the background. Williams practically had to turn his back to the camera, and walk to Engel in order to ask the question. And just like peoples' body parts, we probably don't want Brian Williams' backside on camera.
I picked up on a few other production mishaps, such as cameras and lights popping up in shots, but it didn't traumatize me. I enjoyed the risk NBC took, but I don't think they should burn their studio set and shoot every newscast from the newsroom. That would be nutso! Let's just use the newsroom shooting for stories that have an international insurgency to them; stories that feed a consistent news stream into the newsroom. Stories like the communication and revolutionary changes happening in Iran. It was a perfect first story for Brian to share from his newsroom.
Even though I like this casual story telling format, I understand that not everybody does. NBC is not the first to broadcast from the newsroom. FOX News started airing their noon show, LIVE Desk, from their newsroom. I interned at FOX when they started this, and I was a big fan of the idea. But not everyone was. One of my fellow interns complained that it was too chaotic for her too watch. The anchors and reporters scurrying around the newsroom, interviewing officials and writers in the newsroom, distracted her too much from the story itself. I completely understood her point. So, let's use the newsroom sometimes, but don't kill it. Like a VO, let's use it as an alternative way to tell a story when the story fits that format.