How do you explain how TV news works?

April 11, 2017 01:30

By Lydia Timmins, RTDNA Contributor

Have you ever tried to learn a skill you’ve never seen before? Archery, if you’ve never held a bow. Curling, if you’ve never stood on ice. Writing a vosot, if you’ve never seen a TV newscast.
That’s been my main challenge this semester: students taking a TV news field production class who haven’t ever actually, you know, WATCHED the news. It adds a whole level of complexity. Go ahead, laugh. Now try to explain a vosot. How it is that the person standing in a remote location with video being shown over that person’s voice is different from a person standing in the studio doing the same thing? We producers know that the reporter is tossing to a package, while the anchor is live-voicing the story… but the students don’t. And no matter how many times I went through the process, I couldn’t seem to get all the students on the same page.
While my teaching frustrations have some entertainment value, the bigger question comes as our industry faces its future. My students consume news, no question. But not in a way that helps them decipher traditional TV news formats. VO? Vosot? Package? When you are clicking links and dipping in and out and back and forth on a phone or tablet, those distinctions become less important. Perhaps... unimportant.
Story and content and truth are what’s important and what we should focus on. Journalism that is compelling and meaningful to the audience. Having a conversation with the audience, however it was that they got to the newscast in the first place. Young millennials hardly even own TVs anymore (or so they tell me when I try to make them watch a newscast). That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be part of the news conversation, it just means we have to think of new ways to draw them in. And it’s not just the young adults, it’s becoming all adults. Getting audiences to watch and to trust the information we provide.

Making connections is what makes the job of a journalist critically important. Not just soundbites from Senator A and Senator B and calling it a balanced story. Providing background, context and true facts are what separate journalists from commentators and bloggers. Identifying a vosot is not as important a skill as unwrapping a tangled web of statements to get to the real truth in a story. That’s the skill we have, and it’s the skill we need to hone to regain the trust – and the eyeballs – of the public.

Lydia R. Timmins is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware.