Standing up for TV news

It was like a punch to the stomach when I walked into the CBC newsroom many years ago, before business casual, to see my beloved news anchors and reporters, groomed and suited from the waist up, but scruffy blue jeans and running shoes where the cameras didn’t go.

That visit drove home how artificial television news is. Pretend-live interviews recorded many hours earlier. Multiple cameras and takes. Fake reaction shots. Computer graphics that rival rock concerts.

When Canadian taxpayer-supported CBC unveiled its new set and format last night, I noticed that on-air journalists are now forced to wear entire outfits and are probably toning up at the gym. That’s because much of the news is now delivered standing up.

Even anchor Peter Mansbridge, no spring chicken, was forced to stand, though I suspect there’s a comfy chair hidden just off camera.

I first noticed this standing trend a while ago on competitor CTV. Although the anchors continue to luxuriate in chairs, the camera often swings to specialty health or entertainment reporters, rigidly planted on some lonely island elsewhere in the pretend-newsroom set.

At least Peter’s colleagues stand near him, though across a glass table, bantering and introducing their clips.

This leads me to wonder: do they believe that successful standup comedy evolved from talking head comedy? Of course not.

Standup news is simply one more way television is trying to adapt to the new world of digital media. Every news provider is frantically searching for the elusive alchemy.

Just recently my regular newspaper, the Globe and Mail, began promoting heavily what’s coming up.

I don’t get it. When I discover a new newspaper, it’s usually through a search engine, which is how many quality newspapers are expanding their audience.

But my morning read still hinges on a mug of coffee and a couch. The only advantage of all the promos is that I get to work faster because there’s less to read.

Yet I love many of the Globe’s innovations, from the reporter who tweets incessantly to insightful video interviews of women behind veils.

CBC news is evolving too, with podcasts, online commentary and satellite radio broadening its reach.

All this experimenting is prompted by news executives trying to figure out the precise formula for making money.

In the November issue of Vanity Fair Michael Wolf talks about how Rupert Murdoch is stubbornly insisting on pay walls to monetize the news. The fall of a grand titan, I predict.

Then there are the millions of bloggers valiantly trying to make money from their sites. Although some new voices will break through the racket, it’s unlikely that most of us will ever use our sites for more than promoting our businesses or having fun.

I don’t think standing up is going to attract more viewers to TV news, any more than a poorly produced video, the blogging trend du jour, would make me a six-figure blogger much faster.

But I do know that some day someone will figure it out. That someone could be a well-oiled but slow-moving convergence conglomerate. Or it could be fleet-footed bloggers like us.


3 Responses

  1. I admit that I rarely watch tv news, but I feel I must tune in soon, after seeing your post and reading John Doyle’s hilarious column in today’s Globe on all this stand-up business.

  2. I often fall asleep with Peter Mansbridge.But he’s less relaxing when he’s standing stiffly. I was still awake for Jon Stewart.’s news satire. I love TV news. If there’s a good new war, I watch CNN.

    When I checked this morning there were more than 225 comments on the new format on the CBC website, the vast majority negative.

    John Doyle is so funny and we often have similar tastes. Loved the column and send him my link.

    You’re missing out on a national treasure.

  3. The only stand up news show I have seen before this, was called The Naked News. The reason they were standing up is obvious. But I absolutely see no innovation in standing up and broadcasting the news. My recent class had a big discussion about this subject, and it was all negative feedback.

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