Mistaking technique for artifice 

4 September 2007 tbs.pm/82

Five News to ban staged shots

So Channel Five’s new news editor, David Kermode, is banning a bunch of traditional interview techniques in a bid to try and restore trust in television news, after recent problems with so-called “TV fakery”.

The techniques to be banned include the “Noddy”, where the interviewer is seen reacting to the interviewee’s answer to a question – generally shot afterwards – and cutaway shots (where we see something else, usually the interviewer, briefly) in general. Other banned techniques include walking shots, showing the subject on their way somewhere so that you can introduce them with a voiceover. “Reverse questions” are also recorded after the interview and have the interviewer stating the question: banned too.

Well, what’s the point? It’s been suggested that many of these techniques are hangovers from the days of traditional tape-based video editing and aren’t needed in the non-linear digital age. Sorry, but that’s rubbish. Let’s look at what you will see instead.

Cutaways are used to add interest or cover an edit. So suppose you don’t do them. What happens? You will just sit there looking at the interviewee talking at the camera. Boring. If there is an edit, you’ll see that too. The subject will move slightly across the edit point so they will appear to jump distractingly. Or maybe there’ll be a crossfade so there is a weird double image.

Suppose we don’t do walking establishing shots. What will you see as we tell you about the interviewee? A still photo? Some equally meaningless shot of them at their desk, or answering the phone, or in the Houses of Parliament or whatever, again shot specially for the purpose – is that any more ‘real’. Obviously not.

No reverse questions means you will hear mumbled questions from the interviewer off-mic and off-camera, because there is only one camera. Or do you do a two-camera shoot and then edit between them? Well, the broadcast unions would have loved that in an earlier time. Now it would just be seen as too expensive.

Banning these techniques wholesale will lead to more boring, tedious, less-watchable interviews. It will do absolutely nothing to impact the lack of trust people allegedly have in television news, or pay-quiz ripoffs or anything like that, which are the result of much more significant fakery than recording the interviewer stating the questions so you can hear them, or cutting away from the subject to avoid tedious sections or a distracting discontinuity over an edit.

Reducing the freedom of editors also reduces the segment producer’s ability to tell the story in the most clear, succinct and effective way. And that is the point. As long as the story that is told is accurate, there is no reason why standard TV and editing techniques cannot be used to tell it. They make the segment more interesting and accessible, and thus get the message across more effectively.

Banning these techniques outright makes no sense at all. Luckily Newsnight’s Peter Barron is not quite so silly about it (see Noddy’s not dead).

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Richard G Elen Contact More by me