By Darrell Barton

An Interesting story surfaced recently about the television station in Las Vegas that "doctored" sound in one of it's reports. The RTNDA and other ethics "experts" denounced the practice. For the record, I also have an ethical problem with doctoring reality. Now, let us take a look at big time "main stream" broadcast journalism.

Every network producer I know will tell you that they do not believe in "staging". Then, on their next assignment, most will do exactly that. Reality is routinely altered by dramatic lighting and manipulation of subjects' schedules.

Here's how the lighting thing works. Even though we have the equipment available to us to work in natural lighting in almost any occasion, the average magazine show interview is brightened by 12 light fixtures or more.

Shadows and patterns are put on walls. Background objects are moved from room to room and sometimes purchased and brought to the "location" by the producer. Colored gels tint the background to enhance the mood. Does this change reality? Certainly, I believe it does, as much as the adding of a little sound to a video clip.

Back in the eighties I would light a 60 Minutes interview with four lights. Now, we are in a lighting war. Most cameramen for magazine shows are free lance. Free lance means competition. One cameraman buys a big light, the next guy has to buy two. Producers see your competition show up with three big lights, you better show up with four. Today, I need a suburban just to haul enough equipment to light one side of a two camera interview. Furniture is moved out of the way and more than once I have put a family's belongings in their front yard to make room for the apparatus needed to get a natural look. Personally, I believe, working this way is intrusive and not "realistic" but it is a fact of life today in the world of the news magazine.

Let's talk about B roll and walking shots. B roll is an old television term for footage that covers or surrounds an interview. Here's how it works on a typical assignment. Two crews wrap up shooting an interview. One of the cameramen is asked to "get a little B roll." Maybe a sequence of the person working at their desk. What if the person has no plans to work at his desk? No problem. Change his plans. What if he has no desk? No problem. Use somebody else's desk. What if he's not working that day? No problem. Change his schedule. 'Let's get a little B roll.' How about a walking shot? Maybe a shot of the subject walking through a park. What if the subject has no plans to walk in the park? Dumb question. He'll do it for us. We are the network. What if he doesn't know where a park is? Get out the map. What if he has plans to walk in the park tomorrow? Has to be today. Production schedules rule.

Every major network magazine show operates this way. Most have been and still are my clients. Until a few years ago, CBS News and it's magazine shows were bound by a code that said we would not and could not stage or alter reality in any way. If you did, you were fired. Now those standards are "relaxed" and everyone is in the same club. I have railed, argued, whined, and pointed out alternatives, but I still set up 12 lights, haul furniture, and try to get people to look like they really are working at their desks. That's how I make my living. So a local station in Las Vegas added some real sounding noise to some real video? Big deal. See you all at the next ethics panel.

Darrell Barton
Barton Productions
Edmond, Okla.

Darrell Barton shoots video for CBS News, and is widely regarded as one of the best in the business.

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