Saturday, February 03, 2007

Emotions are taking me over…and a note about race

I was on last night reading about the deadly storms in Florida when I came across a video link to some of the NBC Nightly News coverage of the disaster. I usually prefer to read online rather than watch video but I felt that it’s one thing to read about devastation and another to see it.

About 40 seconds into the five minute clip, there is an outdoor, MOS-type interview between a local reporter and a very distraught woman in front of downed power lines and neighbors walking around assessing the damage.

The reporter is shown very close to the woman, holding onto the woman’s arm almost as if she doesn’t want her to break free. At the end of the woman’s bite the reporter brings her arm around to hug the woman.

I wondered if that was appropriate. I really feel for the woman and her situation but to grab her and hold her…I think that it was crossing the line a bit. It felt very Oprah-ish to me (don’t get me wrong, I love Oprah) but there’s a time and place for that and it’s not necessarily journalism.

And it just looks awkward, like the woman doesn’t want to be hugged. Take a look at the clip, I’d be really interested in what you think about it. What would you do about a particularly emotional interviewee? Do you comfort him/her as that reporter did? Or do you keep your distance and just do the interview?

Scroll back about six seconds and look at the soundbite previous to the one in question. In that bite the interviewee is the only person in the shot (properly framed) and you can tell that she is very upset, but the reporter isn’t made a part of the whole ordeal. He or she stays behind the camera lens.

It’s really effective at showing the subject’s emotions, because the viewer is so up close to her, you can see it and hear it in her voice. The focus is on her (I’m not a big fan of reporter and interviewee two-shots)! Whereas in the other bite, you’re focusing on the reporter and her actions towards her interviewee: the excessive head-shaking, her arm gestures to comfort the woman, even her bright yellow raincoat is a distraction.

During an interview I feel you can sympathize with your subjects with your eyes, your expression, not necessarily your hands. Extending a hug, if appropriate and if your subject doesn’t mind, can be done after the camera stops rolling.

On a side note, there was a really interesting post on Romenesko about the use of race as a noun instead of an adjective. The author, Keith Woods, points out several examples of this practice by the AP in the coverage of Barack Obama. It's so clearly offensive! A few of the examples..."the first black," "the lone black." Would they ever write "the lone white" and leave it at that? I can't believe that the AP would allow such writing to go through its wires. It disgusts me.

As Woods writes "it's an act of dehumanizing the person, summoning up their essence by rendering them an inanimate color." Woods offers a simple solution, use race/color as an adjective and add "man, woman, politician, father, etc." So simple! Wake up AP!! Or how about not drawing attention to race all of the time? How about Illinois Senator Barack Obama, father of two...does his race always have to be underlined? He could be purple, green, rainbow colored, but it's his qualifications that should be emphasized, not his race. How about that Joe Biden? (Sorry that this has turned into a bit of a rant..haha)



At Saturday, February 03, 2007, Anonymous cy said...

HAHA... I understand your frustration with the issue of race in journalism. Even with lighter stories like the Super Bowl, having the first two black coaches to bring teams to the big game was a big deal. Yet one writer (I don't remember who) wrote how emphasizing race de-emphasized their roles as good coaches.

I agree that race shouldn't be as stressed nowadays. We ARE in the 21st century. Yet it's amazing to me how close-minded and ignorant some people can be. People need to understand that race is overrated. Don't get me wrong... I am proud of my identity, but I don't believe I should be treated any better or that I have the right to treat someone else worse because of his or her race.

As for the reporter and the interviewee, oh man, that woman looked like she wanted to run away. It was definitely inappropriate to grab her like that and force her on camera. And why would you even want that on TV? As a reporter, I think it makes me look insensitive and even inhuman. That wouldn't be something I'd want on my resume tape.

At Sunday, February 04, 2007, Anonymous TB said...

It's a tough thing to sit with someone while they tell you about experiences you could never fathom living through.

We're human. We sympathize. We care. That's why most of us are here to begin with.

Still, TD, you're right. When you physically reach out to your subject, you do cross the line.

Human touch is so important and can be so comforting. A hand on the knee for someone who has started to cry tells them, "It's okay. Take your time. I'm here."

A hug takes that to the next level. Whether the person being hugged invites it or not, it can look forced and might detract viewers from the subject at hand.

Yes, you're there to make the person feel at ease. But you're also there to do your job.

Now, having said that. In the future, will I abide by my own rules? I don't know. Put me in front of someone whose family was washed away by a tsunami or who has spent the last week trudging through muddy waters left behind by another Katrina and I'll probably want to scoop them up and take them home.

But can't I do that once the camera's turned off?

At Sunday, February 04, 2007, Blogger Medill Media Watch said...

I agree with you, TD, that race isn't and shouldn't always be the center of attention. But, it's not just Obama, it's not just black people..its Latin Americans, Asian Americans, gays, muslims, etc. who possess qualities that enable some people to "other them" and other them to the point where one, single identity factor reigns supreme above all others.

In terms of race, I believe things have changed for the better because people aren't silent anymore. At least now, there is an open, candid forum on race--what it means, what it is, and why so many people still think it's the sole identity-qualifier...even more than being human; than being a man or a woman.

Still, I am tired of people believing that race is a black and white issue. CNN's Paula Zahn's special discussions on race delved part-time into a discussion on the racial underpinnings of the immigration debate...but a major difference in the discussion--the word "ethnicity" and "ethnic tensions" was used more often than the word race. When CNN re-centered itself on black v. white controversies, race became (and still is) the only word used. If someone had done some homework, they'd realize the differences between the two words and why its politically incorrect to tag one group with "race" and another with "ethnicity". There are "racial" tensions within the Latin American community, within the Black community, within the white's not always--and in fact, NOT USUALLY a them v. us dichotomy...and it's dissapointing that we are still living in times where the word race gives people a chance to hit the big red easy button and automatically think--black v. white.
It's not that simple. It's never been that simple.



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