Poor Use of Video

By Doug Drew 

Ryan Mathews is 22 years old and flashes a huge smile when talking about something he enjoys. He grew up in a small city, in a poor family. He was raised by a single mom, the two of them often living in her car because they couldn’t afford a home. Matthews has reason to smile now, as he is due to make $26 million dollars over the next 5 years.

Mathews is a rookie running back for the San Diego Chargers. He is a great interview. He is articulate, interesting, funny and humble.

Last weekend, he was interviewed live during the Chargers-Cowboys game. Immediately, he flashed that big smile. But just seconds after he started talking, the director cut away to show game action, people on the sideline, etc. It was incredibly frustrating because I wanted to SEE Mathews, not just hear from him. Seeing someone’s expressions makes what he or she has to say even more compelling. The director went back to Matthews now and then during the interview, but always cut away quickly to show something else.


More harm than good
I see this all the time in reporter packages and during live interviews in newscasts. As soon as someone starts speaking, an editor, director, or producer, decides to cover the interview with video. Often the video does more harm than good.

Why do we cover up a health expert talking about flu shots with file tape of people getting stuck with needles? Why do we roll video of overweight people (headless people, shot from the shoulders down) when we interview someone about diets? Why do we show file tape of teenagers holding hands or kissing when we interview a guest on teen sex? Often the video conflicts with what the person is saying. Who thinks that pictures of two teenagers holding hands walking along a lake fits with a person talking about where kids can get condoms?

Blurred video
Even worse is when someone decides to blur the video to avoid a legal issue. Not only do we see generic video that rarely fits with what the person is talking about, but also the viewer has to figure out why the screen has gone blurry. How helpful is that to the viewer? Is that blurry video helping tell the story?

The practice of throwing cover video over an interview began years ago when it was quite common for stations to do live or long interviews with officials and bureaucrats. What they were saying wasn’t very interesting, and it wasn’t very visual, so editors decided to cover up the interview with pictures.

These days, most broadcast journalists avoid lengthy interviews with boring officials, yet the practice of covering up interviews with b-roll has continued. I have seen many compelling interviews covered up with lame wallpaper video. Why cover up the grieving mother with general shots of police cars and crime line tape? Instead of seeing the angry parent, upset about the band program being cancelled, why use generic video of kids walking around campus?

Specific video
Certainly there are times when specific video that fits with what the person is saying is very appropriate to roll over an interview. But there are many other times when the best answer is no video, to just see the person talking. And, more importantly, someone has to make this decision. Someone has to think about what the right approach should be. Just as we all know to write to the video in our scripts, the same theory should apply to video used over interviews. Does it match what the person is saying and does it help the story?

The bottom line is to stop this knee-jerk reaction. Going to b-roll as soon as someone starts talking shouldn’t be standard-operating procedure. Sometimes the viewer just wants to see and hear the person.

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications. He can be reached at ddrew@602communications.com. Follow Doug on facebook http://www.facebook.com/dougdrew and on twitter at http://twitter.com/dougdrew