tyndall report posts
David Muir's Journalistic StylingsDavid Muir's Journalistic Stylings
Andrew Tyndall2014-10-24T03:13:42-08:00Hollywood Reporter asked me to provide a primer for newly-arriving viewers of David Muir's ABC World News Tonight. It is cross-posted here.
Now that ABC's World News Tonight has all but climbed into first place in the evening news ratings race, David Muir, the new anchor, can expect an extra sampling from viewers unfamiliar with his journalistic stylings.
Needless to say, this is not your Peter Jennings newscast. Under ABC News president James Goldston, World News has cut back on international and political stories and introduced a sensibility closer to that of Good Morning America, complete with tabloid true crime, sports-and-celebrity coverage, news-you-can-use service journalism and buzz around social media.
Unlike at CBS and NBC, World News offers a cable-news-style graphic that makes a story's headline visible even when the broadcast is on mute. In the month since Muir's arrival, his newscast's pace has quickened and its newshole has shrunk at the expense of teases and promos. For his Instant Index roundup of the most-viewed video online, Muir spends nearly half as much time before the commercial pod telling us what we are about to see as we actually enjoy with the ensuing reveal.
The nightly newscasts initially were conceived as television versions of the news agenda found in major newspapers. To ABC's credit, it is trying to rethink its nightly news to make it medium-specific, news that can be uniquely found on television -- in other words, a video newscast rather than a newscast that happens to use video.
Some innovations are refreshing, others miss the mark, a few are frankly ridiculous. While they are not exclusive to World News, they are seen there more systematically. A sampling viewer should watch for ten telltale tricks.
1.Actuality: The underlying event is not really newsworthy. Either something almost happened but was averted, or the event amounted to local news but had no national consequence. But it happened to have been recorded on video. It's news because there is something startling to see, not because something startling happened. Related audio actuality (911 calls, etc) can get the same treatment.
2.Bait & Switch: Often the video of an event is not enough to sustain an entire package. Watch for a pair of techniques for spinning the story out: First, the use of "watch," whereby the correspondent rolls back the video to play it again, perhaps several times. Second, the bait and switch, in which we are told that the new video is similar to a previous, more serious story that was actually newsworthy.
3.Play One on TV: Cellphone video never will have the production values of fictional moviemakers. So watch for a news event being likened to a movie or TV series, so that it can be illustrated by star-laden footage. Related to the bait-and-switch phenomenon, sometimes a news story will be similar to something that happened previously -- to a celebrity.
4.Self-Promotion: The newscast needs to reassure its viewers that its newsgathering is of a sound pedigree. So World News mixes in file footage of an anchor's previous interaction with a newsmaker or showcases its own correspondents asking confrontational questions or includes a soundbite from an in-house expert like Brad Garrett (ex-FBI) or John Nance (airline pilot) in order to seem more authoritative.
5.People are Paying Attention: Completely nonscientific and unrepresentative popular reaction now can be obtained by quoting from Twitter and Facebook. It looks buzzy and gives the story an air of importance.
6.Reality TV: When Muir was a reporter, he was a master at inserting himself into the middle of a story. He's most famous for striding through factories high-fiving blue-collar workers for the Made in America series -- the journalist as central character in his own reality TV show. Now, Matt Gutman is partially filling Muir's shoes.
7.Soundbite Shortcuts: HBO's John Oliver had fun at 60 Minutes' expense with a montage of interviews with dramatically phrased, well-written soundbites -- except the bites all came from the correspondents' own leading questions. Muir takes no backseat to 60 Minutes. Related, see correspondents channeling Art Linkletter, sitting on the floor trying to get kids to say the darnedest things.
8.Korean Storytelling: When video is not available, ABC relies heavily on its Virtual View computer animation team to depict what they imagine the scene might have looked like. And to take viewers to far-away places, why use ABC's own cameras when Google Earth can do the job?
9.Special Effects: To give video that little extra help to be compelling, music is mostly used for inspirational feature stories (check out ABC's America Strong series), black-and-white video for a sense of personal danger (along with handheld camera), and video game-style, lock-on-target clicks for foreign threats.
10.Verb Mangling: Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley spotted the misuse of "-ing"-ending verbs more than a decade ago. That trend has found renewed favor at ABC, where reporters impart a sense of current urgency to past events by slipping in an "-ing" (example: Joe Biden's son [is] "testing" positive for cocaine). ABC's Paula Faris loving it.]]>Five Notes from Tyndall Report on end continuation of NBC Nightly News' win streak: posted on October 7thFive Notes from Tyndall Report on end continuation of NBC Nightly News' win streak: posted on October 7th
Andrew Tyndall2014-10-07T05:18:36-08:00NBC Nightly News failed to attract the largest audience among the broadcast networks' weekday nightly newscasts. The top spot went to ABC World News Tonight, and its newly installed anchor David Muir, who took over at the start of September.
Five quick points:
1.This should not be seen as the beginning of the ratings setbacks at NBC News nor the beginning of the advances at ABC News. Rather, the change in the evening newscasts is the last domino to fall. NBC had already lost its #1 spot with Today and Meet the Press. Until now, Nightly had been a holdout.
2.There is always greater churn in audience composition when there are changes in the anchor. A new face always inspires sampling: loyal ABC viewers who had been alienated by Diane Sawyer are tempted to return; longtime NBC and CBS viewers seeking variety have a reason to experiment. Such ratings volatility can be expected for the next few months before it can be called a trend.
3.Muir inherited a newscast at ABC that had already undergone significant content changes under his predecessor: "Certifiably Disneyfied," as I pointed out in my review of 2013's newscasts, spending least time on major stories, foreign affairs and politics; most on lifestyle, celebrity, show business and sports. If anything, Muir's newscast has adopted faster format too, pacier than its rivals, and his predecessor. An average hard breaking news package filed by an ABC correspondent lasts just 100 second (138 seconds on NBC, 121 on CBS); the length of an average feature is 120 on ABC (153 on NBC, 133 on CBS).
4.The major news story during Muir's first month as anchor was the war in Iraq and Syria. It is a complex of stories including ISIS, Kurdish peshmerga, USNavy airstrikes from the Persian Gulf, and refugees in Turkey. ABC spent only 38 minutes covering this complex of stories (just 10% of its newshole). By contrast, it would seem that NBC could claim a hard news edge, with 62 minutes last month (15% of its newshole). Yet viewers who wanted the most comprehensive coverage in that timeslot should have chosen neither. CBS Evening News spent the most time, 89 minutes (22% of its newshole).
5.Indeed there is evidence that NBC Nightly News has diluted its hard news appeal in the month since Muir took over. In part by subtraction: Chuck Todd, its chief White House correspondent, left the newscast to take over at Meet the Press. In part, NBC has focused more on celebrity profiles. In just one month (besides legitimate celebrity news -- the death of Joan Rivers, the suspension of Ray Rice, the conviction of Oscar Pistorius) NBC has aired celebrity profiles on Ben Affleck, Tim McGraw, Meredith Vieira, Joan Lunden, Keke Palmer, and Derek Jeter.
Ever since Scott Pelley took over the anchor chair at CBS, Brian Williams at NBC has tried to occupy the middle ground between old school hard news (at CBS) and an increasingly buzzy, tabloidesque, social media approach (at ABC). NBC's celebrity focus in September may be a sign that this middle ground is beginning to feel squeezed and that it has to compete more and more on ABC's turf. If so, it runs the risk of incurring more defections from those looking for serious content: not to Muir but to CBS Evening News.
UPDATE: on October 14th, Nielsen announced a correction to its ratings data to the effect that it had overstated the size of World News Tonight's audience by some 300,000 viewers. Therefore Nightly News' win streak has not been broken. My observations about the trends at play stand, nevertheless.]]>Comments on ABC News' CommentsComments on ABC News' Comments
Andrew Tyndall2014-01-10T03:57:32-08:00my characterization of its nightly newscast as having become Disneyfied in the past year: "Our mission is to give our viewers information that is relevant to their everyday lives. Winning the Murrow for Best Newscast in 2013 and enjoying our best season in 5 years is far more meaningful than Tyndall's method that confuses quantity with quality."
I have no argument with ABC News' characterization of itself as, instead of having a mission to present a serious newscast, embracing a mission to present viewers with "information that is relevant to their everyday lives."
Included among the changes in focus that this new mission represents, among others, are the following:
-- addressing its viewers as consumers (with tips on handling everyday life) rather than citizens (on decisions made by the body politic)
-- a turn away from global concerns (lack of resources spent on Syria-Egypt-Afghanistan) to domestic ones (in particular, the weather)
-- a preoccupation with what people are talking about (the viral buzz of the Instant Index) rather than with what is happening (public policy debates)
-- an emphasis on what entertains people (shobiz, sports, celebrity, human interest, true crime) over what affects them (gun control, healthcare reform, budget policy, surveillance)
Three quick points on quantity and quality:
-- I believe this Murrow award was for the best single day's newscast, not the best newscast day-in, day-out. My analysis takes the long annual view.
-- When ABC refers to its "best season", I believe it is confusing quantity (audience size per Nielsen) with quality, as the saying goes.
-- It is true that the method embodied in my Year in Review uses quantitative measures not qualitative ones. That does not mean that I concede that ABC World News' journalistic style remains unchanged, and only its deployment of resources has switched from seriousness. The Disneyfication of World News is thoroughgoing, embracing both story selection and story presentation.
Lastly, on the issue of ABC's cancelation of its subscription to my database some ten years ago [which is not part of Schneider's public statement, but has been mentioned by him to some media reporters, for example here and here], three more things:
-- If the cancelation was indeed the motivation for my analysis of ABC's 2013 performance, why would I have waited ten years to make this observation? ABC is the one that changed last year, not me.
-- If the executives at ABC believe that no one would notice the changes in the format and content of their newscast simply by resuming their annual subscription with me, then they are deluding themselves.
-- I resent any insinuation that my research findings represent some kind of shakedown: that I would suppress them if only ABC resumed its subscription. Prior to these insinuations, I had no animus towards ABC and would embrace any decision they might make to reverse course and resume serious coverage of the day's news.
UPDATE: here is a reminder of a Columbia Journalism Review article by Paul Friedman, a onetime executive producer at ABC World News Tonight, written 18 months ago. In it he presaged the wholesale changes that became evident during 2013. He quoted ABC's in-house label for their new style: Insurgent!]]>November Goes Wild in the MidwestNovember Goes Wild in the Midwest
Andrew Tyndall2013-11-23T06:19:41-08:00November is an unusual month for tornado season in the midwest. So when a line of 75 twisters touched down in seven states on Sunday afternoon, the devastation was surprising enough to warrant headline coverage as Story of the Day on Monday, even though only eight people had been killed. All three newscasts led from Washington Ill, a small town near Peoria, evoking the tried-and-true iconography of tornado damage: the tattered Stars and Stripes flying amid the debris, and Christian survivors saying their prayers as they picked through their belongings.
CBS and NBC both kicked off their newscasts with a by-the-books round-up of the devastation. NBC's Kevin Tibbles hitched a ride from the Channel 5 news helicopter at his network's affiliate in Peoria to survey the debris field. Even the station's anchor team had to suspend its live storm coverage to take shelter. CBS' Dean Reynolds told us that this was the worst November tornado damage in Illinois since 1986.
ABC kicked off with human interest instead under its xTreme Weather Team logo. Alex Perez narrated the homevideo of Washington Ill resident Kris Lancaster: Lancaster cut his head because he was too slow to turn his camera off and find refuge (an amateur mistake unlike Peoria's Channel 5 professionals); he discovered his house destroyed; and then, after a tearful search, found his pet cat Titi alive in the basement. CBS also used the human touch to illustrate nature's wrath: Don Dahler, in Kokomo Ind, brought us the smiling toddler that her pregnant mother Courtney Bray saved from her crib by huddling in the bathtub. The crib was crushed as the house collapsed.
Ginger Zee on ABC (at the tail of the Perez videostream) and the Weather Channel's Mike Seidel (at the tail of the Tibbles videostream) on NBC were both called on to explain the meteorology of the storm. They failed to do the right thing and address the climatology as well. Is climate change a factor in creating the conditions for such an unusually intense autumnal weather system? Neither Zee nor Seidel mentioned global warming.
NBC evinced a special interest in Friday Night Lights with Ron Mott in New Jersey to end last week. It continued that football theme with Kate Snow in Illinois. The township's exhilaration Saturday, when the Washington Community High School's team ended the regular season 12-0, heading to the Illinois state playoffs, was punctured by the twister. Coach Darrell Crouch had his undefeated players lead the clean-up effort. Go Panthers!]]>Above The Philippines with the PentagonAbove The Philippines with the Pentagon
Andrew Tyndall2013-11-23T06:19:19-08:00Seth Doane and NBC's Nancy Snyderman provided free positive publicity to the Pentagon by becoming its passengers. Doane offered an Osprey's eye view of the coastal destruction courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. Snyderman played amateur navigator for a USNavy pilot heading for the remote island of Homonhom.
This time Dr Nancy, NBC's in-house physician, was attending the clinic run by Dr Pranav Shetty of the International Medical Corps. On Friday, she helped out at an Israeli military clinic in Bogo City; last Wednesday it was the Mammoth Medical Mission in the ruins of the city hall in Tanauan.
Meanwhile ABC covered The Philippines not at all. Since Typhoon Haiyan formed ABC has found it half as newsworthy (16 min v NBC 37, CBS 30) as its rivals have.]]>Gosk Skips the CorrectionGosk Skips the Correction
Andrew Tyndall2013-11-23T06:18:58-08:00Richard Besser, CBS' Jon LaPook, NBC's Stephanie Gosk -- covered the recommendation by the American Heart Association, which would have permanently hooked fully one third of the population on these drugs. Now ABC's Dr Rich and CBS' Dr Jon raise a warning flag. Researchers at Brigham & Women's Hospital double-checked the AHA risk calculator and warned that half of those falling under the guidelines would have been medicated unnecessarily.
NBC's Gosk, a general assignment reporter, not a physician, skipped the correction. Stephanie -- First, Do No Harm!
The other pharmaceuticals story of the day concerned the vaccine Bexsero. It is not approved by the Food & Drug Administration but will be administered on the campus at Princeton University anyway, because of an emergency outbreak of meningitis. ABC's Linsey Davis covered the shots Friday; now Elaine Quijano catches up on CBS.]]>Journalistic Misdemeanor BlotterJournalistic Misdemeanor Blotter
Andrew Tyndall2013-11-23T06:18:15-08:00video camera there to record them: John Miller narrates the dashboardcam from a state police traffic stop gone wrong outside Taos NM.
Filed under the category of reporters how abandon the role of journalist to cast themselves as central character in their own reality TV show: ABC's Matt Gutman plays deep sea freediver, holding his breath under water for five minutes, to illustrate the duress that killed Nick Mevoli at Dean's Hole in The Bahamas. Gutman had to rely on the imaginations of his network's Virtual View computer animators to guess what actually happened to Mevoli, 220-feet below the surface. In a piece of cross-promotion with ABC's sibling in the Disney corporation, Gutman also threw in BlueEyeFX video from ESPN's E:60.
Filed under the category of using satirical comedy clips as a marker to validate the newsworthiness of a story, ABC's Linsey Davis -- unlike her colleagues here, here, and here -- did not use a clip from Comedy Central's Daily Show for validation. Instead, like her colleague Robin Roberts did here, Davis picked NBC's Saturday Night Live. Davis' package on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was ABC's third in the last four weekdays; during that time neither NBC nor CBS has found Mayor Ford worthy of a correspondent's attention.
Finally, filed under the category of notorious individuals who attract coverage for what they once did, not what they just did, George Zimmerman caught the eye of ABC's Steve Osunsami. Zimmerman, the gunman who killed the teenager Trayvon Martin without committing a crime, has been arrested in a domestic dispute. This is the seventh time since his acquittal that Zimmerman has been covered by a correspondent on the evening newscasts -- six of the seven were on ABC.]]>Tip of the Hat to FOXTip of the Hat to FOX
Andrew Tyndall2013-11-23T06:17:43-08:00FOX News Sunday. His guest was Wyoming Senate candidate, Republican Liz Cheney, who found herself in a family feud with her sister Mary and her sister-in-law Heather Poe. Liz went on the record as opposing the right of lesbians to get married. All three newscasts used the soundbite from Wallace's show to jump on the Cheneys: CBS' Nancy Cordes, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, and ABC's Jonathan Karl. Both Mitchell and Karl went to their networks' archives to find a q-&-a with father Dick on the same-sex issue. ABC's used Karl himself; NBC used Today's Savannah Guthrie.]]>