Friday, March 30, 2007

News you can relate to

Meredith Viera stumbled into Youtube infamy Monday as soon as she plummeted head first into the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink in the middle of an interview with Will Ferrell. Viera was interviewing Ferrell about his new movie, Blades of Glory, about an Olympic skater/sex addict, when she attempted to skate through his legs and failed miserably.

Within minutes the video was replayed over and over again on the Today Show. Hours later, I had already seen the video countless times. I saw it on the TV at the gym, on the web pages of my trusted news sources and in emails from my friends.

Normally, I’d be bored after watching it for the tenth time—but this time I found myself unable to stop watching the clip.

I’m not sadistic—I don’t take pleasure in watching other people’s pain. I loved watching it because I sympathized with her. This is the type of thing I would do. I once got a bloody nose in the middle of a class play and I tripped up (no, not down, but up) a flight of stairs while leading a tour of U.S. Capitol building.

I cannot remember the last time I really related to someone I saw on the news.

While watching the clip on Youtube, I found links to other news bloopers, so I clicked on a few.

There was hilarious footage of a news reporter who was doing a story about cats. She did a live shot with a cat in her hand when all of a sudden it began clawing at her.

She laughed hysterically, dropped the cat and then appeared to burst into tears. (To be fair to the reporter, the next day on the newscast, she insisted she was laughing and not crying.)

There were so many other hilarious clips of reporters mixing-up their words and others of props gone disastrously wrong. But what struck me the most was the reporter’s and anchor’s reactions. They were not afraid to laugh, admit their mistakes and appear like normal human beings.

One of my biggest hang-ups about the news is that the reporters and anchors are not always people I feel I can relate to. Most of the time, I feel like they are not even people I’d want to be around.

I cannot stand “reporter’s voice.” If someone started talking to me in their reporter voice at the grocery store, I’d be scared. I’d never want to be hit on by a guy who was using his reporter voice.

I also don’t aspire to have hair that does not move in a windstorm like most female reporters and I certainly don’t want my nickname to be “Pancake” after people see how much make-up I’m wearing.

So to watch these clips and to see anchors and reporters behave like normal people was inspiring.

A number of webcasts and video blogs that are gaining popularity are those hosted by every day people. Amanda Congdon soared to fame by delivering the news from her blog in a personable manner and in jeans and a tshirt. Now, she can be seen on

A number of local news stations are also having their producers come out from behind the camera and report some of their content for the web.

I’m not asking anchors to show up on the desk in track suits, but I want my anchors and reporters to be real. I want them to scream when something is scary. I want them to laugh when something is hilarious. They do not have to crack their head open on an ice skating rink, but if they do…I’ll be watching!


At Friday, March 30, 2007, Blogger Amanda M. said...

I saw the Meredith clip the day after it happened on the Today show. Matt Lauer was off when it happened but said he'd seen it 11 times on a late night talk show. That made me feel really sorry for Meredith because I'm sure the late night hosts were cheering on the head bang.

I have mixed feelings because I don't like Meredith that much - can Matt anchor by himself? And I think she could have made even more fun of herself rather than acting like she'd acquired dementia. It would have been really refreshing to hear, "I was so embarassed when that happened."

I guess like EW related to Meredith's self-deprecation and laughter; I'd like to see some vulnerability from our news deliverers.

At Friday, March 30, 2007, Blogger MK said...

Being "relatable" is an un-teachable quality for television journalists. Viewers are supposed to feel close to them and want to be like them. But can a viewer really feel like they relate to someone who reads everything they say and isn't allowed to make mistakes? We expect a lot of these journalists - to do their job with everyone watching and to never make a mistake - and it may be an unfair standard. While its great to see real pros deliver the news without a flinch or flub, it is these "human" moments that make us relate to our newscasters. When I think of Walter Cronkite (who did his work before I was born but is still one of the most trusted men in America), I think of him removing his glasses and failing to compose himself after he delivered the news that President Kennedy had been shot. He didn't crack his head on an ice rink, but he wasn't just a talking head at that point. It is curious that now Katie Couric sits behind the desk at the CBS Evening News (or on it or whatever she does) and her attempts to soften the nightly news seem to be backfiring. She is intentionally trying to seem more human and she comes across as forced now. Its a tough racket, that's for sure. Maybe that's why blooper reels are so appealing - they are unintentional. Not everyone can be as relatable as Walter Cronkite, but it wouldn't hurt to have a sense of empathy or humor while delivering the news.

At Friday, March 30, 2007, Blogger mm said...

I completely agree with you, mk. No one can be taught how to be relatable. It's sort of like the "it" quality.I wish things were different, but I think some people have it, and some people don't.

I liken it to meeting a group of semi-strangers at a cocktail party. I'm attracted to people who have "it." They're usually funny and kind. Sometimes they're good-looking. Most times they appear approachable. But it all depends. I think that's why this business is so difficult. There is no formula for "it." And one person's "it" factor can never be yours. Copying is like wearing shoes that are too small -- you look ridiculous, you are uncomfortable and you are always looking for something that fits better.

At Saturday, March 31, 2007, Blogger MW said...

Yeah, it's nice when TV personalities break out of the usual reporter persona. They actually seem human. I think Beth Bennett covered this in Monday's CB class, but it's kind of unfortunate that there's sort of a template in how TV personalities are supposed to act, and how that's not going to change, at least not in television.

On the other hand, as mk pointed out, it's not so great when reporters TRY to act casual. It's painful to watch when some reporters try to "loosen up" on television, especially when they're doing things that don't come naturally to them.

At Saturday, March 31, 2007, Blogger AG said...

I saw the Meredith clip the day after it happened also. I had obviously heard about the "incident," but didn't get to actually see it until the next day. I agree that there needs to be something to a news anchors personality that people watching can relate to.

I do, however, find myself confused as to how to do that. I go up to the news desk and freeze. It's like I cannot loosen up to even be myself. I do not know why it happens. I can go up to anybody on the street and have a conversation anytime. But, for some reason at that desk, I become terrified.

I admire those who can just be themselves and some show some vulnerability and prove they are "just people" too.

At Saturday, March 31, 2007, Blogger AJS said...

But as we were discussing in class when Beth showed us that CBS producer in the rooftop garden (or whatever it was), we like someone authoritative. Despite the strides Katie Couric has made, I still think -- and I believe polls still show -- that people want their anchor to be the "voice of God." They want a father-like figure telling them everything is going to be all right. So how do we balance being relatable with losing the sense of authority that viewers expect when they tune into their news?


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