Old Media Gives New Media the LBJ Treatment

Houston’s KHOU Channel 11, our CBS affiliate, did a great job covering last night’s election returns.  Granted, we were getting numbers faster via the internet, but call me old-fashioned, I just like watching the returns scroll across the screen while reporters squint, tilt their heads, and try like mad to hear what the studio is telling them while they report live from candidates’ watch parties.

KHOU picked fantastic studio guests, then got out of the way and let them talk.  Rice University political scientist Bob Stein had plenty of time to discuss the nuances of the tight races and really go into the wonky details.

Doug Miller, who has earned the title veteran reporter, usually reports from one of the campaign watch parties, squinting into the camera with the best of them.  I enjoyed having him back in the studio, and especially appreciated his interview with Harris County Commissioner Sylvia R. Garcia.  No softballs, but he clearly knows and respects her, so the pushing wasn’t pushy.

The one complaint?  The way the station integrated new media into the broadcast.


Two political junkies, Nancy Sims of Mayoral Musings, and Charles Kuffner of Off the Kuff, live-blogged the returns.  Periodically, the camera would cut to their corner of the newsroom for some analysis.

This photo from KHOU’s website shows the angle viewers saw.  We saw reporter Len Cannon head-on, and saw Nancy and Charles primarily from a 3/4 profile.  It felt a little bit like we were watching mob informants who agreed to only show part of their faces.

I know TV would rather show an action shot than people sitting around talking, but showing bloggers with their hands on the keyboards doesn’t exactly set of dynamism meters.  It would have been nice to see all three of them facing each other in a more traditional TV staging.  I mean, you could have watched the whole show and never known for sure whether Nancy has a left side of the face!  (She does, in case you are concerned, and Charles has a right side of his face.)

Also, and I was fine with this, but I never caught them saying anything like “I’ve just updated my website to reflect X,” or “Just now, so-and-so tweeted about the mood backstage at campaign Y.”  They were providing straight-up analysis like the other talking heads, so why did they have to do it with their hands on their laptops?  Those laptops could have been made of cardboard for all we know.

The other places this technology-as-prop thing appeared was when Doug Miller was clicking around on the website, pulling up numbers to reinforce his points.  You could see the screenshot, but not big enough to read it, and we were watching on a fairly huge HD television.  Either make it full-screen so it is a readable graphic, or have him just talk about it without us having to watch him click.

At one point, we were watching a website load on television.  At another, we all watched him accidentally click on an ad, then have to hit the back arrow.  I mean, we all do it, but watching it on TV is painful.

I started to wonder if something sinister was going on.  As I admitted earlier, we were getting our numbers from the internet, so much of what we saw on the TV was already history.  Whenever new media became part of the story, it was as though the news room forgot how to make news look good.

Shooting commentators from the back, not blowing up the computer image to be wall-size the way the weather and traffic maps are blown up on a regular basis?  Was this the TV people sitting in the big chair behind the big desk while the new media people were in the tiny chair with uneven legs?  I doubt they tried to make their competition look bad intentionally, but maybe subconsciously?

Anyway, a minor complaint and perhaps helpful critique.  Or snarky, in which case I apologize for it coming off that way, but so often, this new media does, you know.  Thanks to the whole team – even if I was watching history as far as the numbers go, the analysis was enjoyable and much appreciated, and the Harris County website hasn’t figured out how to pull that off yet by any stretch.

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