Phoners are Dead Jim

Dude, I hate phoners.

There is a great scene from Murphy Brown where Miles is on vacation and he’s a witness to some big news story. I don’t remember if it was a coup or a storm or whatever, but he was the newscast “eyewitness”.

They got him on the phone and was going live but no one had a recent photo. So they toss to him in the middle of nowhere and you see his picture on the tv screen, and it’s his high school or college graduation picture. He’s wearing a cap and gown while his voice reports what is going on wherever he was.

That was in 1989, and sadly, we’re still using phoners today.

Even when every living soul has a smartphone in their pocket or hands, viewers are stuck looking at a still photo and hearing a voice. That’s practically radio isn’t it?

And there’s no reason for it at all.

What once took hundreds or thousands of dollars for a sat truck, three man crew and booking satellite time, we can do it all for free. Yet some stations are still plastering a pre-produced graphic with some photo from years ago.

I’ve seen it several times this past week.

It’s bad television and our viewers deserve more. When their 9 year old kid can Skype mom and dad from grandpa’s house, a tv station can’t figure out how to put pictures on the air?

Are you serious?

I actually heard someone say their station needs to spend more money to cover breaking news. A new satellite truck or fix the old one. Stations are paying hundreds of dollars on backpacks that do exactly the same thing that a smartphone can do.

There are a number of ways to get pictures on the screen for free.

Skype is the first and probably the best in terms of quality and dependability. One station Skype account and others for each reporter and photographer in the shop. Skype to Skype video calls are free and there’s no delay, opposed to the 3 second delay from those expensive backpacks.

It makes no sense to not use Skype.

Or, Google+.

Google+ hangouts are great tools for local television stations covering breaking news.

On a hangout (or is it in a hangout?) up to 10 people (reporters) can be on one video call. All of the reporters will be at the bottom of the screen and whoever is doing the talking pops up full screen.

That’s without a director punching buttons.

Think of those nights when you have multiple reporters in the field to cover a storm. Instead of punching up multiple reporters from different locations, the station can log into one account, see all of those reporters on one page, and toss to each one. When they start talking, they come full screen while the other reporters remain at the bottom of the page.

Another is Facetime. I’ve had multiple times in the past year where I’ve needed to interview someone far from where I can go. I’ve asked if they can Skype and most of the time they can’t. Then I ask if they have an iPhone.

All but one had an iPhone and could do a Facetime interview. I even interviewed someone driving to town from Canada. They pulled into a convenience store parking lot and Facetimed with me for the on camera interview.

Our control room didn’t know what to do with any of this, so I’ve simply done the interview on my iPad with my camera pointed at the iPad’s screen. It looked fairly good on tv, but at least it wasn’t a voice over a graphic.

Dude, I hate phoners.

There’s no reason to do them now. Viewers know it, when are we going to catch up?

 


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