Home > Uncategorized > Cameras Roll as a News Director Stands Tall

Cameras Roll as a News Director Stands Tall

-first posted at RTDNA.org on January 19, 2010

We news directors do most of our work in anonymity. Our viewers think the anchors run our shops.  Most callers with complaints can’t decide if we’re important or not when they’re yelling at us.  And while the editor of the local paper is usually a town celebrity, no one can tell you the name of the much more powerful men and women who run the local television newsrooms.

I, for one, like my anonymity around town.  I can go to the store, the movies, wherever, and not get bugged about the news like my anchors do.  I have even heard the occasional conversation about my station’s newscast coming from my supermarket neighbors.  It’s like a free focus group when that happens.  You get to hear what they think about you and they have no idea the guy standing right there next to them actually runs the newsroom they’re talking about.

Now, with the anonymous nature of our jobs also comes the realization that when you’re doing your very best work as a news director, no one will know you’re the one responsible for it.  Sure, they know when your news team is nailing the big story.  But who gets the credit then?  The anchors do, of course.  You can work your butt off, staying at the station for 36 hours at a time.  But no one will know it.  Now, that’s fine with me, and fine with most of the news directors I know.  If we wanted to get the credit, then we would have been the anchors.  Still, it’s sad the public never really gets to see us do our jobs well.  Well, almost never gets to see us do them well.

I say “almost” because, as of this writing, 167,693 people have been able to see Bill Shory, news director at WBIR-TV in Knoxville, do his job VERY well.  We can thank YouTube for opening a window for us all to watch a news director show the rest of us how it’s done.   Perhaps you’ve seen it already, the video called “Lane Kiffin Quits; Pre-Presser Drama.” If you have not, you can see it here now:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dbNBd4S8II

Bill is the balding, dark-haired guy you see to screen right of Sports Information Director Bud Ford (sorry Bill, but I feel like I’ve already follicly earned the right to call other guys “balding”).  He listens for the first minute or so of the video and then, he goes to work.  The background is that the media opportunity was offered with the stipulation that departing University of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin would come out and make a statement on camera, then the cameras would shut off for an additional off-camera statement.  In the first two minutes, Bill does what too often we don’t do—he stands up to a boneheaded policy set out by some source we’re looking to cover.  When the UT folks said the cameras would have to go off for part of the appearance, Bill said “no.”  And, at least at first, it looks like he’s managing to change the plan for the better.

But when the cameras roll again, Ford is back saying Kiffin is insisting some of it be off camera.  Bill once again steps up to object.  But listen to what some of the other “reporters” say.  They want to knuckle under immediately and take the restriction on their access and ability to shoot.  “This guy doesn’t represent all of us,” they say.  It’s too bad we can’t see their cowardly faces when they say it.   They’re so ready to give up their rights as reporters they don’t even realize it.  But Bill does.  He calls them out for being so quick to give up those rights.  “We want it on camera,” he says.  That’s something everyone in the room should have been saying.  But there’s another comment you almost can’t hear under all the commotion.  Faced with the rest of the media turning on him, Bill says the most important words of the whole afternoon.  Referring to Kiffin, he says, “He doesn’t get to set the terms.”

And that’s the bottom line here.  Too often, we let the sources set the terms.  Even as Bill states this obvious truth, the crowd of his peers nearly shouts him down, yelling “Yes, he does!”  That’s absurd.  This group of reporters in a major sports market is so cowed by the university media machine that it doesn’t even know it’s the victim here.  Talk about Stockholm Syndrome.  Perhaps the new term for sports reporter/hostages who’ve spent so much time under the thumb of sports information people they don’t even know they’re victims anymore should be “Knoxville Syndrome.”

That day at the news conference, Bill—and all of us—won.  Kiffin’s remarks were all on camera.  He came out, talked for one minute and two seconds, and left.  Was it great TV?  No?  Was it all TV?  Yes.  And that’s how it should be.

Talking to Bill to write this blog, he told me about the aftermath.  I wasn’t shocked when he told me some bloggers and even other journalist told him he should have just lied—said he wasn’t recording the news conference when he really was.  It’s sad that some journalists—remember, we’re supposed to be the good guys—have fallen so far they’re willing to lie to get a little bit of video.  It’s sad, but it didn’t surprise me. But Bill did tell me something about the reaction he’s gotten that honestly did surprise me.  It seems when people really usually get to watch us stand up for them as journalists, they don’t realize what we’re accomplishing.  Admittedly, we can come off as arrogant jerks when we fight for our freedoms.  But in this case, Bill came out of top—on top of Kiffin and on top of the rest of the reporters there.  He says his comments from the public have been 100 percent positive. And there’s one reason for that.  The public wanted an answer for why Kiffin was leaving and they wanted to see him say it on camera.  Though they didn’t get as much as they wanted from him, the public knows that giving Kiffin a pass to talk off-camera would have been worse.

There are lessons for all of us in this and most of them come right from Bill Shory.  He told me he was at the news conference because he saw this sort of thing brewing in advance.  When the news conference was called, his people called him in to have an authority present.  I like that.  We news directors should go throw our weight around with these media relations hacks more often.  Our presence at a tough-call situation like this would help our sports (and news) people know we have their backs.   Beyond that, Bill says news directors should make it clear to their people in advance of crisis situations like this just what it is we’ll stand for when the other side starts to dictate terms.   Certain hills, Bill says in his own metaphorical words, “are worth dying for.”  There won’t always be a chance for a reporter in the field to call back and get some help making a call.  So Bill says we should all give our people an idea of what to fight for and that we’ll back them up if they do.

Bill did chide us all a bit in his talk with me.  We news directors, executive producers, assignment editors, reporters, photographers—all of us are the ones who let it get this bad, the ones who let the Lane Kiffins of the world think they can dictate the terms under which they’ll squirm out from under the public microscope.  I say, if we follow the example Bill Shory set last week, we can be the ones who make it better.  Thanks Bill.

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