Saturday, January 20, 2007

if the sound isn't natural, should it be neutral?

Last Monday morning NBC aired a segment called "No Man Required' Mothers", where guests debated the trend on single moms who choose to bear children despite being single. The background sound is what got my attention--an up-beat girl-power song by Aretha Franklin....the title escapes me now, was playing in the background. The music ended when Meredith Vieira began to question pro-fatherhood guests and then resumed during the teases and when the guest single moms would speak or in the background, toward the end of a single mom SOT.

I decided that for the rest of the week, I'd set aside focusing so much on nat. sound and really key in on background noise and music. On the evening network news, music and pop sounds that correlated with graphics were much more prevalent than on local evening news stories. The background sounds and music really amped the stories and gave them more punch than many of the local news stories. But it occurred to me that many of the songs selected (i.e. "my last dime", an 80s song was playing in the background of a feature story on debt (ABC) or one of Handel's more sorrowful compositions was played during a story on Iraq and boosted when there was a full screen graphic on the number of lives lost (CNN) reflected an editorial production decision to translate the feelings/mood of the producer to the viewing audience. In some ways, news story soundtracks enable a creative freedom but also threaten to convey the wrong message or too strong/weak a message, or simply--a message, rather than a neutral news story.

It's tough to maintain a stance of neutrality when telling stories, but it's the way that stories are edited (the order of the sots, the length, the focus, the broll used) that threaten to promote bias. Music selection and placement is no exception.