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Here & Now still facing challenges with live news

Earlier this week, I made a passing reference to how challenging it can be to deliver a live news piece on TV. This got me to thinking about CBC Here Now, and their live news delivery format.

Most news pieces on Here Now are performed live. More precisely, the intro and extro to each item is broadcast live from the scene of the story. Much of the time, the chunk of story in the middle has been pre-recorded.

Ive been up and down, hot and cold, on this policy since it was adopted more than two years ago. At first, I expressed skepticism about it. Then I came around, when the live reports proved useful as the story continued to evolve right into broadcast time. What could it hurt to have the reporter live at the scene? It ensured that late-breaking developments were captured and nothing was missed.

My opinion continues to evolve, and is definitely swinging in the other direction.

As I said, live TV is hard. And almost every night, there is some kind of flub in one of the live news reports. Nothing really serious, but enough to jar the reporters momentum and toss a speed bump in the way of our concentration on the story itself.

Its been two years, and its still happening. By now, it is apparent that these problems are not going to go away. And I dont fault the reporters for this. Most were not hired to be performers on live television their credentials relate to journalism and their ability to find and deliver the story. The live TV format has been introduced retroactively.

Furthermore, there have been technical difficulties too, many directly associated with the challenges of broadcasting a live remote. Its not uncommon, for example, for the audio to suddenly disappear from a live stand-up. At moments like this, I throw up my arms in frustration and say, Come on guys, to heck with this live thing. Just give me the news.

I am not suggesting that Here Now abandon its live remote delivery altogether. Far from it. But I do think they should be more judicious in how it is applied.

For example, if there is a major fire or other calamity that is still unstable, by all means, bring it to us live. If the budget has just been delivered and the lobby of Confederation Building is crawling with opinion leaders, sure, tell us what they are saying.

But standing beside a broken guardrail on the outer ring road to tell us that one person has died in a car accident, three hours after the emergency vehicles have left the scene, is too much. It isnt necessary.

With many stories those that are truly over and are not going to evolve any further it is fine to pre-record standups at the scene, doing several takes if necessary, then bring it back to the studio for editing.

Perhaps the local brass at CBC dont mind the frequent mistakes that occur on live TV. Or maybe theyre still working on it.

In my view, the technical quality of the newscast is important. I am happy to put up with minor stumbles, when the story is important enough to be broadcast live from the scene.

Otherwise, pre-recording is fine.

But this is just my view. And its an opinion that has been changing and evolving, with the newscast itself.

What do you think? Id like to hear other opinions on this. The folks at CBC are welcome to weigh in as well.

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  • Megan
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    I'm with you.

    Right now, there is a discussion over at a href=http://www.theteamakers.com/2009/07/28/walker-ethics/ Teamakers /a about whether Connie Watson made an ethical error or just misspoke in a live stand-up.

    I suspect that she misspoke. But then, I am also willing to offer the same benefit of the doubt to other folks who appear to misspeak and then are jumped on by the media for providing incorrect information . I suppose the important thing is to have the same standards for your own staff as for regular folks: if it's OK for an interviewee to ask for a do-over, it should be OK for a reporter to ask for a do-over. But those are only possible when your words aren't going out live.

    When the news isn't breaking at that very moment, I'm totally OK with taped information. It makes for a better presentation: the reporter's more comfortable and seems less likely to make silly mistakes.