A few shooters Klein has known refilm an entrance or exit because of bad lighting or bad framing. Such “staging” is considered wrong by nearly every shooter. Kim and Klein recall the worst example they’ve heard of. Following an earthquake in Las Vegas, a pair of cameramen got into a van and had some friends outside shake it, so they could simulate the quake from inside. Theater got them fired. “And they’ll never find a job in this business again,” Kim says. It’s time for the standup.
A standup is a reporter’s sentence-long statement to the camera, usually with explicit hand gestures and artful facial nods. Reporters address the camera when they need to impart a fact, an idea, or some other content they have not gotten from an interviewee. The best standup should be part of a scene, avoiding the trite shot of a person-with-microphone in front of a building. Kim writes her sentence, rehearses it twice, says she’s ready. Just then Klein leaves to follow Amy into nurse Betty’s room, so Kim has time to run through what she imagines will be the story’s segments: video, sound bites, where to place the standup. A man in the waiting room with a badly deformed knee has been watching and listening and decides to chip in his two cents. He says he came to the clinic today without an appointment because he just started a new job at Wal-Mart and the benefits haven’t kicked in yet. He says, “But I’m no good for your story because I knew not to go to the emergency room for my problem.” He’s been paying attention while Kim and Klein have been creating the news, making it (which is different from making it up) right in front of their “coeditors” in an El Cajon clinic. Kim and I discuss the importance of television-reporting as a public forum. Television allows us to see ourselves as we are and to participate in the creation of ourselves as we’re covered. Once the so-called audience lets the medium into their actual lives, the distinction between image and reality blurs. When this happens, Kim says, her job is much easier, much more fulfilling. Generally people feel they have a say on TV because not only are the news crews out in the world covering people all the time but also, for good and for ill, the stations try to appeal to everyone, especially the dispossessed and the uninsured, those who recognize Margaret Radford and feel they know her. Klein returns and Kim says her line in a stop-watched ten seconds: “Like Amy, many patients who use community-care clinics had no idea they were available, even though there are 60 clinics like this one throughout the county.” Sound bite, standup, as if she hadn’t rehearsed it, and, in fact, that’s what it looks like later when it airs. Behind Kim’s standup I notice three older women, waiting their turn to see nurse Betty, who’ve watched the news gathering, getting the facts, shaping the story. Though their expressions aren’t on the video, they shine in my memory with looks enthralled. Neither quizzical nor distrusting. They are like cousins at a wedding seated some distance from the front, who may not know everyone but know they belong.
Walking back to the news van after spending two hours videotaping scenes for a 90-second package (a longer, more narrative piece), Klein says he recognizes that these days many people do distrust the media, especially those in corporations and government, “who won’t talk to us because they think we’re out to get them. Like 60 Minutes.” But this story reminds him of how trusting the “everyday public” can be. “In some ways people think [if] the camera’s here, I’m probably going to get better service. I’m going to the front of the line because the camera’s here.” And yet rounding up a story is seldom this smooth. Klein describes filming a piece about the high cost of prescription drugs for seniors. Rushing to meet a 5:00 p.m. deadline, he was well into the afternoon before he found an 82-year-old woman who would talk to the reporter and who would line up (as the tape records) her daily regimen of medication, then shake out pills from a bottle while commenting on their expense and their necessity for her survival. The tough part, Klein says, was not persuading her, not “buttering her up. But it was nearly two o’clock and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this shot!’ ” Klein says he’s edited stories up to five minutes before air, then boom! it’s in the can, it’s on, it’s history, and it’s on to the next day.
Near 5:00 p.m., I’m home, ready to scan the other stations to see what they’ve made of Jacob’s newser. I wonder whether Kim and Klein’s story was run-of-the-mill or original. (I confess to not watching much local news, my reasons probably no different from yours.) Was the story they did the story? Have they changed what happened so much that Dianne Jacob’s purpose has been recast? Perhaps radically changed, even falsified? And from Channel 10’s point of view, will Kim and Klein’s package hold the viewer’s attention? I am aware that reporters often expand and personalize their stories, if they have the time. But usually they don’t, not with everyday deadlines. In fact, according to research done at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, 90 percent of what is deemed “the news” comes from a few sources — the police scanner, a network feed, an Internet source, or a scripted media event like Jacob’s address to the cameras. (The other 10 percent — a woefully small percentage — is generated by reporters’ ideas in the newsroom.) Jacob and other government leaders know the media has an obligation to come when they call. I recall her staying to answer reporters’ questions, believing her presentation of the message would be theirs. Does she care if television reporters alter that message? Certainly she wants accurate reporting and (I’d presume) her official mug on the box. But to do her version of the story is no more complex than Round Table hiring young boys and girls to deliver pizzas. In any case, the other stations do nothing but cover the newser with a voice-over. Jacob is seen (sometimes heard) delivering the message. They did it her way.