September 7, 2004
Assignment #1: News Critique
I taped and watched the Tuesday, September 7 edition of the local ABC 7 News; it was the 5 p.m. news report. The news anchors in the studio were Ron Magers, Cheryl Burton, Alan Krashesky, Harry Porterfield, Jerry Taft (weather) and Mark Giangreco (sports). Field reporter Jeff Blanzy covered one sports story live.
One thing I noticed about all of the news anchors was that they, as would be expected, all spoke with clear, articulate voices. Each person has a distinct style: Ron Magers’ voice has a smooth, relatively deep voice that carries well; Cheryl Burton could probably afford to speak up just a bit; and so on. However, everyone is quite good at enunciating, and I don’t think I noticed more than a couple slight slips. Beyond that, all had a strong on-camera presence. Each one knows his or her lines down pat, and the stories and teleprompter scripts are well-written.
I will admit that I was impressed with the actual personality and comfort level of the various anchors. Camaraderie and respect are probably the best words to describe their interactions with one another. It is standard for news anchors to deposit a little “thank you” or similar comment after another’s report, but with these anchors, it seemed genuine. Occasionally two or three of the people would share a quick, amusing exchange and then have a good chuckle.
Additionally, the newscasters are their usual dapper selves (although I think all the men must be buying from the same ugly-tie store). Even if I were a fashion expert I wouldn’t have much to say; the semi-formal clothing is appropriate and, as would be expected, pretty conservative. Burton did stand out a little bit, due to some jewelry. Given that her attire is usually a dress suit, she’s a little more colorful than the others. Heck, she even matched the blue tones of the set. The only person who could stand for improvement was Jeff Blanzy—he was outside at Wrigley Field, but his makeup (or lack thereof) left his face looking a sickly, pale brown.
Blanzy was the only field reporter used for the half-hour show this time, but a few others (Porterfield and Burton, to name two) did have some brief VO roles for some of the other stories. As far as Blanzy is concerned, he was about on par with everyone else: he knew his stuff and communicated the facts well. One of his interviewees, however, was a terrible speaker who mumbled most of his words and hardly looked up at the camera once.
Technically, I didn’t see much of anything go wrong, except that at one point early in the broadcast, the shot was supposed to revert back to the studio (from a clip filmed near a Chicago public school) and instead froze and then blacked out entirely. It only lasted a few seconds, though.
Probably the biggest complaint I would make about the news show overall is that a lot of their graphics could be improved. They’re not unattractive, but they can be hard to read. First example: When one of the anchors is introducing a story, a graphic and “story title”/caption is placed in the top right corner of the screen (like the Cubs logo for a sports story). Normally the picture used is appropriate, but there was one story about traffic congestion where the image didn't make sense. Someone used a picture of a line of cars on a highway—and superimposed on top of this was what looked like a square ink blot. Who knows what it was supposed to be. It was so unidentifiable that you’d think it was a cubist Rorschach test. Other instances of poorly chosen graphics or text were two sports stories from later on in the broadcast. One sports caption read “Let Me Be Your Tennis Ball…”; another read “World Kup” (referring to hockey). If these were humorously intended, I sure didn’t get it.
Here’s a more significant example of visual/graphical blunders. When the weatherman went in front of the bluescreen to show the location of Hurricane Ivan, we saw a satellite image of it in the Atlantic Ocean. The hurricane is seen as a large white swirling mass. The white represents cloud cover. Someone in charge of superimposing the text (whomever was using the chyron) didn’t bother to think that maybe white-colored text would be a poor choice to overlap onto the white satellite imagery. I could hardly read a thing.
I only have a couple other changes I’d propose. For one thing, when we are being shown a caption related to a person, place or thing (example: John Smith / University of Chicago student when someone’s being interviewed) on the small caption bar near the bottom of the screen, the text should remain visible longer. It’s shown for roughly three seconds.
Lastly, I would rework the signoff, which currently is much too abrupt. We literally see about three or four seconds of the anchors saying “goodbye” (not four words more) and then we immediately cut away from the interior-studio shot. It cuts to the “closed captioning provided by” screen, but everything feels rushed. I have nothing more to say except that I thought the broadcast was high-quality and presenters were professional… so speaking of “signoff,” I’m going to follow suit.