3 Things I Won't Miss About Pandemic TV
This Friday, we'll hit the two-year mark since the pandemic was officially declared. I don't know if any of us will celebrate.
The last two years has changed the news media more than the last 50 years, in my opinion. There has been an explosion in the number of people being interviewed over video, sports teams and leagues have been forced to find ways to get their players interviewed virtually and gone were the days of reporters packing a room to fire questions at politicians.
Now that things are slowly returning to "normal" for TV journalism, there are three things that I won't miss about the last couple of years.
Reporters Over the Phone
There’s no doubt there have been many times over the past two years when politicians and medical officials needed to do news conferences with reporters asking questions over the phone.
Let’s face it, it wouldn’t have been good public health policy to do a news conference to pass along more bad news about COVID, with reporters packed into a room breathing on one another and on the politicians. Getting reporters to ask questions over the phone has been a good move.
I can point to cases though when various provincial governments (Hello Alberta – Best Summer Ever 2021) still did news conferences where reporters weren’t allowed into the room, even though COVID case counts were low. It seemed to be a force of habit. If it was working last month, why change it?
The bigger problem though has been that governments like it this way. They have more control of what happens. More control leads to fewer tough questions for the politicians and more questions they want to answer. It also leads to some clear softballs from reporters that politicians hit out of the park.
Government communications people and political advisors who run these news conferences have had the ability to decide which reporters and media outlets get to ask questions and which ones don’t. If you don’t make “The List” you don’t get to ask a question that day. Conversely, there have been reporters who have been at the front of the list far too often. Reporters know favourites are played at these news conferences, but they might only make their situation worse by making it a public issue.
Post Game Interviews
I can’t wait for the days when media outlets are allowed to once again bring their own equipment and personnel to interview players before and after games.
For the past couple of years, professional sports teams have been trying different tactics to allow reporters to ask questions over Zoom and other online platforms. Many of these interviews have come after games. The end result has been some God-awful video of players sitting behind microphones not properly framed (too much headroom is now a classic look), or the video is such poor quality it looks like it was shot on an old Nokia cellphone and the video was beamed from the moon.
From time to time, teams have also tried to get artsy by putting virtual backgrounds behind players with logos of the team and a sponsor, but the end result has been the player’s face gets washed out and he looks like a ghost. The teams didn’t realize, or perhaps didn’t care, that you need a good camera and lighting to pull this look off.
Many pro sports teams during the pandemic could and should have done better. Many of these teams are worth billions of dollars, but only used $99 webcams for the media interviews.
Two years into the pandemic, you would think the people being interviewed over video from their homes or offices would have been able to get it right.
I still see the same mistakes made by people being interviewed by both local TV stations and national cable giants.
Far too often I still see people looking down into their laptops on their desk in front of them. They would look so much better by putting a few books under their laptop to raise the camera on the computer to be level with their eyes.
Last Friday, I was doing media training for a group in Winnipeg and one of the people I was working with made his look much better by simply adjusting his laptop to give less headroom. It took two seconds.
I also still see people do complete interviews without hardly ever looking at their camera. It’s a simple but very important rule of communication – what you’re saying has far more impact when you look directly at somebody as you’re talking. Far too often, people look at themselves on their computer screen instead.
I don’t just blame the people being interviewed. Reporters interviewing them have to do better too. If they see people looking at themselves instead of the camera, they should stop the interview, give some instruction and then start over.
In many cases, good isn’t good enough.