A producer with whom I worked at both KVUE TV and KXAN TV had a saying taped to his typewriter (Yes, typewriter.) and later his computer. It read: “Think weird. Think live. Good luck!!!” I never asked him. I didn’t need to ask him. It spoke for itself.
In those days at the first sniff of what might be a huge spot news story, I had the philosophy of the Austin Fire Department: Throw everything at it and then back off if need be. I would send multiple crews and a live truck. The goal, of course, was to get the first and best pictures on the air. (Then our slogan was "First. Best. Live." With the advent of the web, the philosophy should be much the same, even if the live pictures do not make it on the air, they will be on the web. Just ask Sousa Williams who oversees the AP award-winning web team at KEYE TV (CBS).
Nowadays, however, the picture is being blurred. Watch out for the aggressive live web presence of that video giant, the Austin American-Statesman. Yes, the newspaper. Since veteran photographer Zach Ryall became the managing editor of statesman.com a year and a half ago, that aggressive approach has become more and more apparent. Ryall was a photographer for his first ten years he was at the newspaper. For the next 20 years, he was director of the photography department. He’s seen change. Now, his philosophy is might be “Think weird. Think Live. Good luck!” “We rolled. I said, ‘Let’s get out there and stream live.’ We do it whenever the event presents itself,” Ryall says. “We’ve probably done it a dozen times.”
“Yes, and we're proud of that,” agrees American-Statesman managing editor Fred Zipp. The latest occasion for live coverage was the attempted arrest of three sleeping men in a car which left one of the men dead when it is said that he appeared to be going for a gun and another man shot when he allegedly ran toward police. It happened in the early morning hours, so certainly TV morning shows covered what they could from a dark distance. As the sun rose, so did the tempers of the gathering crowd.
The Austin American-Statesman had several reporters on the scene including their live operator. When things started to get ugly, they went live via broadband without narration. It was dramatic. They sent out an alert:
Breaking NewsMonday, May 11, 2009.
Watch a live video stream from the scene of the officer-involved shooting One man was killed and another was injured early this morning in an officer-involved shooting in the parking lot of the Walnut Creek Apartments at 6409 Springdale Road near Manor Road, police said.
The newspaper was not through, however.
Monday, May 11, 2009.
Live video streaming of officer-involved shooting press conference at 2 p.m. One man was killed and another was injured early this morning in an officer-involved shooting in the parking lot of the Walnut Creek Apartments at 6409 Springdale Road near Manor Road, police said.
Again, the American-Statesman was the only live medium.*
True, it was a busy news day with Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken deciding to withdraw from the race instead of facing Lee Leffingwell in an expensive, uphill runoff. KXAN.com did stream that coverage live. KXAN TV is live via broadband often during its newscasts. It is inexpensive and relatively easy. Viewers, however, must put up with the often grainy, pixel pictures. Somehow, that video is easier to accept online than it is on television, where viewers are used to seeing clean video.
The newspaper is learning as it goes with the goal of being more polished. Photographers/reporters are now using tripods—no more shaky pictures that look like home video. “When we stream, we have lights and tripods on most stories,” Ryall says. Further, he holds routine “brown bag” sessions on shooting and editing for the photographers and reporters.
Reporters are becoming the photographers more and more at the local TV stations too. “We have made unprecedented restructuring decisions in station operations, including the use of multitasking news professionals (sic) that will report, photograph, and edit local content for our television stations and web sites,” said Vincent Sadusky, LIN Television CEO in the LIN annual report. KXAN TV is owned by LIN. “This new approach to newsgathering requires talented individuals to embrace the job diversity and fast pace of new media—truly a new way of thinking.”
It is a new way of applying “Think weird. Think live. Good Luck!!!” Also, don’t look over your shoulder. “It's no accident. We're that far ahead,” says Zipp of the American-Statesman.
* I am able to watch several TV channels at the same time. Watching several web sites is problematic. I tried to check around. I could have missed all. It has been suggested that I subscribe to certain station's alerts. I shall subscribe to all stations' alerts.
© Jim McNabb, 2009