The Glaring Problem with TV Live Shots

Hi there, TV news. I know I haven’t talked about you in a while, but I have been thinking about you. And something occurred to me that prompted me to write you.

Apparently, you (and the many dedicated, hard-working reporters in the field) have a new problem. It is a meme run amok. Interview subjects and passers-by are taking advantage of your live broadcasts to propagate a phrase that is as dehumanizing as it is infantile:

“F██k her! F██k her right in the p███y!”

(don’t bother hovering over the text, I am not using a spoiler font)

It is dehumanizing, because it implies that a woman should not have any decision about how she might want or not want to use her body, and infantile because… well… it is. It’s also the same thing that a Heisman-winning quarterback yelled after jumping onto a table in a crowded cafeteria, and got him suspended for half a game.

Many reporters are expressing frustration that this happens a lot. One even turned the double-edged sword of live television back upon her verbal assailants:

Unfortunately, she may have inadvertently spread this meme even further.

Television news… you have a problem. And the problem isn’t that you lack adequate security for your live crews, and it isn’t that you need a delay on live shots.

It’s that your audience doesn’t respect you anymore.

No respect

You could make the case that the audience hasn’t respected you in a long time, having trickled away to apps and Halo and entertainment programming. But that was a disrespect of omission. We are talking overt disrespect of commission here.

That total jerks are hijacking your airwaves for a few seconds of bro-hug tribal asshattery is not your problem… it is a symptom.

Your real problem is that they are onto you. Even these guys, with their infantile dehumanizing minds. They are onto you, because it finally seeped into their simian brains that you both speak the same language: Dehumanizing and infantile.

Even in the 1980s and 90s, we had a term for useless live shots – “Live for the sake of Live.” We called them Dog Licks. It’s a callback to the joke, “Why does a dog lick itself? Because it can.

Dog-Lick Live Shots are the remote segments performed in front of an  empty building, hours after any real news occurred. It usually involves a reporter throwing to a taped package, while simultaneously performing an amazing verbal feat: In as few seconds as possible, introduce the piece while providing a justification for why you are there, where nothing is. And do so in one take, with no prompter and no flubs.

It’s not easy work. And it’s not like the reporters elected to do that. They were ordered to.

I am not talking about those moments where the meeting is still going on, or finished at 4:30, and there wouldn’t have been time to drive back. Technology is wonderful in that regard. But producers back in the newsroom have a long and time-honored tradition of making reporters go live from the craziest of places. The reason? “I need a live element in the B block.”

And it’s the reporter’s job to make it look like it wasn’t just an okay idea – that it was the best idea.

The ugliest spin

It’s even worse when severe weather is in the area, and we have to deal with a torrential downpour of reporters out in the field, where it might or might not be raining, and it might or might not be sleeting, or God forbid there be a tornado. Before I left television, I had an experience with tornadoes. On consecutive Tuesdays, with severe weather dominating the coverage, I did live shots within a half-mile of a radar-confirmed tornadic vortex. One a half-mile north of me, the next week a half-mile to my south. Statistically, I was hit twice.

On one of those days, I was actually out in the elements for the duration of the rain event. Nearly ten inches of precipitation landed on my head that day. And why?

Because the viewers at home are perceived to be so stupid that we need to put a human being out in the weather for them to know how bad it really is. In those moments, I was little more than a prop. An educated, experienced… crash test dummy.

Wait, that’s not fair. Crash test dummies are complex scientific instruments, capable of providing data on newtons of force, G forces, velocity, and many other important and useful data points related to a storm’s intensity. I am limited by my vocabulary, my ability to shout into a microphone over heavy winds, and possibly my ability to bleed in an expressive manner when struck by debris.

Turning reporters into crash-test dummies and props? That’s dehumanizing. It’s not as insulting to the reporter as “F her in the P!” is to women, but mainly because the reporter is being paid not to think of it in those terms. The reporter is actually hoping for a payoff — as much non-lethal damage and chaos as possible, so they can get a better job.”

Speaking the same language

So… yeah. There is a poetic justice that hooligans would shout dehumanizing things to people representing an industry that dehumanizes its own employees. I am not defending them in the slightest. Vulgarity has no place, and neither does treating women like objects.

But maybe, just maybe, TV industry people… maybe this is a wake-up call that the mindless Joe Sixpacks you’ve been condescending to for years might just be onto you. Maybe they have known for a while, and only now feel empowered to express their opinions about the artificiality of what you do. I doubt this is a commentary on their desire for more substance, more investigating journalism – but it can be seen as a rebellion against what you’ve been peddling. News Lite.

The jerks in the video wouldn’t be shouting those things at your employees if you hadn’t treated them like props.

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  1. Sam Hamm says:

    About a decade ago I had a fun side blog that made fun of weather coverage in TV news. One post takes on the sheer silliness/stupidity of the live shot, and includes the line, “The wind generates debris, and then turns the debris into projectiles. PROJECTILES! This is a very dangerous situation, and only a complete jackass would be out walking around in this.”
    (Note, this particular post is OK, but some other Storm Team content is definitely NSFW)

    I’ll also add that my mother (who passed back in 1999, which I mention only to point how long ago this was) used to refer to the personalities in live shots as “weather rocks” because they reminded her of the novelty item one can buy at craft shows and thrift stores: “If the rock is wet, it’s raining; If the rock is warm, it’s sunny” and so on.

  2. Good points, all. I lost respect for and quit watching the news a while back when it became apparent to me that the only thing they were interested in showing me were blood, guts, stupidity, and jerks, and then end with an uplifting “human interest” story just before sign-off, so I wouldn’t feel bad. The blatant manipulation . . . I just got weary of it. If I want those things, I can get them online in FAR more detail and with whatever bias I happen to want.