A report from a foreign correspondent that runs to five minutes of film or tape may need to be cut to two minutes of running time. Therefore the report must be written in short, sharp sentences.
Involved prose that develops an argument phrase by phrase, hanging conditional clauses on the main clause like decorations on a Christmas tree, are a handicap to the editor. Especially if the reporter raises his voice at the end of a subordinate clause, thus making it impracticable to cut the report at that point. The reporter has to find the right balance between the brisk short-sentence news delivery, and the use of voice variation to make the report easy on the ear. Radio journalists usually tape their own interviews on battery-operated recording at 7 VI revolutions user second. Not all radio reporters, of course, will record interviews. They may use a ‘radio car’, which gives them a direct link with the studio so that they can broadcast their report ‘live’; or they may telephone a report on a conventional Post Office line. Tape has the advantage of actuality, but the disadvantage that it needs to be edited—and that takes valuable time.
The television journalist often travels, particularly on foreign assignments, with a camera and sound crew. He is responsible for selecting the subjects to be reported, selecting the backgrounds, writing the report and delivering it ‘to camera.’ The camera and sound crew are responsible for capturing the report as the journalist intends it, and obtaining the best possible technical quality. Occasionally the television journalist will recruit a local camera and sound crew in the country of his assignment. Television news, even more than radio news, is a presentation. That is, it is not enough merely to report the news.
As a newspaper displays different news items in different-sized type, with different-sized headlines and varying quantities of picture illustration, so the television news bulletin must have pace and variety. The producer is making a programme that must grip the viewer as powerfully as a play or a variety show. Perhaps the news producer has an advantage in that the viewers, for the most part, are basically curious to know what has happened in the world and so the proportion of information to entertainment can be greater. Nevertheless the news must be made palatable. This does not mean suppression or deliberate distortion—it means that complex subjects must be analysed to their elemental parts, and obscure subjects clarified.
Apart from the straight reports from his correspondents and from news agencies, the television news producer has other visual aids he can use. He may use still photographs—for example, of people mentioned in the bulletin. He may use graphics and cartoon film—for example, to illustrate changes in tax rates during a budget.
He may bring in specialists—the political correspondent, or the medical correspondent—to comment ‘to camera’ on news items that affect their specialisation and need explanation. As on a newspaper, all the material that comes into the mews room is read by the copy taster. He passes anything that may be of interest to the chief sub-editor, whose team of writers and specialists prepare this news for the bulletin. Later the producer and the newscasters (who ‘front’ the news bulletin before the cameras) meet to determine the order of items and the balance of the programme. Meanwhile film is being edited, tape edited, still photographs prepared, and the studio itself lit and checked for sound. Around three-quarters of an hour before transmission, there is a rehearsal, to check timing.
But even after this, new items may be added and others discarded to make room. During the transmission the director sits in the main control room before a bank of monitor sets. Besides him (or her) is the vision mixer, whose job is to switch from once camera to another, and to cue in video-tape or film as directed. There is a separate sound control room and often (for complicated productions) another for lighting. The pressure in both studio and control room is intense, and the newscaster must be prepared to ad-lib if anything goes wrong.
At this stage the production aspect of television takes precedence over the news aspect, rather as at the climax of a newspaper’s production. Television is the medium now most capable of exploiting the news action ‘scoop’, provided only that a camera can be got to the points of action in time. The moon-walks, when the American astronauts became their own reporters, are one example. Vietnam was another.
Yet another was the blowing-up of airliners hijacked to Jordan by Arab guerillas in September 1970. An Arab cameraman shot film of the explosions. ITN producer David Phillips joined with the American network CBS to charter a Caravel jet from the Royal Jordanian Airways at a cost of ?6,000 to fly the film to London.