If you watch the news, you’ve probably seen a “look live”. That news-speak term means a reporter who appears to be live in the field, but was taped doing the introduction to their story, or sometimes their throw back to the newsroom or a different type of seemingly live hit, well before the show is aired. In fact, look lives make up a much larger quotient of airtime than actual live hits do.
So why devote my first blog of the New Year to this seemingly irrelevant topic? Because part of me thinks a look live is equivalent to lying to the audience, and journalism is supposed to be about telling the truth.
Look lives are so prevalent in current newscasts I’m beginning to wonder if there is some type of look-live training protocol which designates the time and speed at which reporters should nod their heads at the camera lens so it appears they are listening to the anchor back in the studio.
Interestingly, there often seems to be no concern over details such as it should be broad daylight in the time zone the reporter is filing from although it is clearly dark. What’s important is appearing to be live in as many locations as possible throughout the broadcast. Format trumps quality of content — the definition of Altheide and Snow’s Media Logic.
Altheide and Snow believe news is more drama than journalism; not about determining the best way to share information, but entertaining viewers in order to retain market share and make money. News is a perspective, not the truth. It doesn’t matter whether you’re really live or not — just that it looks good when you appear to be.
I took an informal survey of a group of journalists, representing every Canadian network and one local Toronto station, currently at work in a variety of jobs including producing, reporting, and directing, to see how they feel about look lives.
One reporter said that “standing in front of a static background, whether live or during a look live is not effective. Standing and/or interacting with a dynamic scene can engage the viewer and bring about a greater understanding of the story. Technically it’s not always possible to be live so a look live is a great alternate”.
Another wrote, “Look lives are meant like a stand-up. It shows you were there. We never say they are live, but it is a bit of a fudge. However, most viewers think the entire newscast is live, so live versus look live doesn’t seem to be a big deal. Sometimes a newsroom has to be pragmatic”.
A producer added, “I am not a fan of look lives. I prefer real time and I don’t think you are fooling anyone. That being said, as long as it’s not a fake chat or you are pretending to be live, they can add to a show in the event that you need it for pacing. For example, tonight we are doing an ‘as live’ from Buffalo to show our presence there — then a real live from a sports bar for the Junior game”.
A director had this to say: “If you say the world LIVE, you better be. But if you say, “Joe Blow is in Washington tonight”, and Joe starts talking, I have no problem with that. Before the reporter tapes his/her top, the writer will talk to them and let them know how the host will throw to them. That way they are reacting to the exact words the host would say to them if they were live. It’s just another more immediate type of intro. I see it in the same light as when we have to pre-tape interviews. Unless there is something that dates them, we don’t admit they are not live. As a director, I just add it to the ‘magic of television’ bag of tricks”.
Another producer said, “I get why we do them — I don’t like them. They always look fake to me, but then again I have a trained eye. The bigger question is does the viewing audience really care if you’re ‘live’ or tape? I think it’s a bigger deal to the media. Ask the average person and they don’t know or care”.
If there are any average people reading this who don’t work in media I’d love to know if that’s true, because I really do care and I’m wondering if it’s because I was trained to be a journalist.
As I begin to examine the relationship between traditional media and the audience, and how to build bridges to ensure a wider variety of stories are told from different perspectives, I’m truly perplexed about what impact, if any, “fudging” the truth has on journalistic integrity – and what journalistic integrity actually means in 2011.