Brian Edwards Media

And now we cross live to…

You are a reporter for the television news. You go out, shoot your story, take it back, edit it and record the soundtrack. It is neatly packaged and all ready for the six o’clock bulletin.  The newsreader could deliver the intro and go straight into it – s/he could even do the voice-over. That’s the way news used to be.

But that isn’t good enough for modern news. You,  the reporter, have to go back to the location with your camera operator and stand, shivering in the pitch black, maybe in the rain, and do your ‘live cross’.  It’s bizarre enough at the best of times.  In the depths of winter it borders on insanity.

Why do we have live crosses? Well, there are two reasons: the first is completely legitimate – the news is still happening and you are updating the item you shot earlier; the second is all about (you guessed it) ratings.

In 1946 sociologist Lloyd Warren set up Social Research Incorporated for the University of Chicago. This group included a team of distinguished social researchers studying the interaction between audiences and their telly sets and selling the results to networks across the world. Over time they changed the face of commercial television news completely.

Their studies of Middle America showed that the majority of viewers were more interested in crime than politics, more interested in health than big issues, more interested in relationships than factual information,  more interested in things that affected them directly than – well, anything else really. “News you can use”.  Not the things that are shaking the nation, but murder, mayhem, disease of the week,  human interest stories, and celebrity gossip, liberally laced with doses of sport and weather  – and personalities.

 From this research was born the concept of para-social interaction, a sort of pseudo-intimacy with the people on the box, a one-way, riskless relationship viewers could have with the news team.

News became “Eyewitness News”; authoritative newsreaders morphed into chatty duos; faceless, voiceless journalists who gathered and shot the stories were elevated to Best Supporting Actor/Actress roles. In short, the networks gave us a family: Mum, Dad and the kids on the news, and the happy sport and weather uncles and aunties, whose previously separate sections were now incorporated into the bulletin.   They all chatted together, commented, voiced opinions as if they themselves were the experts, and generally brought us a rollicking good time.  Not a lot of important national and international news, of course, but the bonus of a feel-good experience. And the more we associated with a ‘news family’, the less likely we were to change channels.

Which is why tonight you will see some poor (probably young and blonde) reporter shivering in the dark telling us about something that happened quite close to where she’s currently standing – several hours ago when it was daylight.

Bit silly, isn’t it?

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26 Comments:

  1. personally i get all my news from twitter… then read the papers/listen to the news etc two days later and feel smug for knowing it all ahead of time.

    If only some other researcher found a different more intelligent group of people to study, we might never have been plagued with Sally Ridge etc

  2. Ok, while we’re about silly news bits.

    Sending Mike McRoberts anywhere theres a disaster to report live from the scene, then manufacturing the news, as in the little injured girl he carried about in Haiti.

    or trying to find that one kiwi in the midst of general mayhem and carnage so we can patriotically connect with their suffering.

    i guess there really is something to the monkeysphere. One person killed is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.

  3. Yes, those live crosses are just daft…and hilarious…and so predictable, as some poor trenchcoated journo points to a closed door or street frontage sign, saying: “The [office/school/etc] is closed now, but earlier today it was the scene of…”

    Newsflash to TV bosses: we already KNOW what an office, school, etc, look like! And in the dark of winter, really all you’re showing us is some signage, most of the time.

    On another note – I’m all for female journos looking suitably serious, but is there *really* a need for some of them to look like they’re trying out for a role as the Angel of Death? A couple of them seem to wreath themselves in black and wear perma-frowns, as if worried they’ll otherwise be mistaken for airhead dollybirds. Lighten up, sisters! You can be clever and still crack the occasional smile.

  4. Live crosses are something I just hate on the news. Every time I see one I wonder (usually aloud to anyone in the room) why we need a reporter at Queens Wharf at 6 pm at night? Or at Rangitoto College when the students came back from Mexico with swine flu? Or outside the High Court during a murder trial? Or outside/inside parliament?

    The live cross isn’t complete without the scripted questions from our news anchor. Asking questions that could have been answered in the recorded item.

    The silliest live cross was during the “Napier seige” — the anchor live at the scene crossed to the reporter … who was in the same street as them…

    • The silliest live cross was during the “Napier seige” — the anchor live at the scene crossed to the reporter … who was in the same street as them…

      I’d forgotten that one. I think it probably takes the prize for live cross idiocy.

  5. My favorite live cross was a couple years back during the terrorist attacks in central Mumbai; TV3 crossed LIVE! to a reporter standing in the darkness outside the (empty) Gandhi Community Hall somewhere in South Auckland.

    • My favorite live cross was a couple years back during the terrorist attacks in central Mumbai; TV3 crossed LIVE! to a reporter standing in the darkness outside the (empty) Gandhi Community Hall somewhere in South Auckland.

      Though this one has to come a close second!

  6. So long, as they have a thermos of cocoa, are armed with a gale-proof brolly, and are wearing thermals, raincoat, scarf, beanie, etc., I don’t see a problem.

    Seeing our hardy, young reporters standing out in the dark; braving the wind, rain, sleet and snow etc, adds to our own security of being inside. The fireplace seems to throw out more heat. It’s like hearing the rain come down when you’re snug in bed. Same with these reporters, they have a function that goes beyond the obvious and the prosaic: the bearers of news. They also provide contrast, between the outside elements and the comfort of the warm indoors.

    So, keep up the good work, guys. And in the parlance of your chosen vocation: Let’s wrap up!

  7. I suppose JC that the Research that you quote does translate to NZ. They certainly use it here! I often dip into Maori TV and they seem to have fun, they tackle in-depth interviews and I don’t think they have live crosses to bear! In fact some of their interviews like during the Election were searching and in depth. Great.
    If it works for MT I wonder why it wouldn’t for the others? Perhaps they don’t have the money which must be wasted on live crosses.

  8. My favourite live cross was during the international banking crisis when a funereal Simon Dallow crossed live to a bimbo who was standing outside a Queen Street bank, perhaps a couple of hundred metres away. It was dark, the bank was closed…

    Although my favourite ever live TV drama moment came during the floods in Manawatu back in 2004. I was covering the story our in Feilding and having a yarn with a copper I knew. Then, who should turn up in an unfeasibly large 4WD but Paul Holmes, the Miniature for Broadcasting himself. Holmes had a flunky pour buckets of water down the street over his feet as he did his live to camera piece, thereby increasing the drama by at least five billion percent. Excellently, the sergeant (who must remain nameless) turned to me and said: “Holmes is here – Christ haven’t we suffered enough?”

  9. These examples just reminded me of one pointless (pre-recorded) cross I saw a year ago, just after Michael Jackson died, when there were numerous film crews waiting outside MJ’s house waiting for relatives/furniture movers/police/etc to arrive:

    A film crew took footage of another film crew (who happened to be from Japan) filming a journo trotting briskly down the street, breathlessly addressing the camera in urgent tones while she did so. This “action scene” was filmed several times over, in order to get it just right. Apparently having a slightly out-of-breath reporter running down the street made the piece more “pacy” than just standing there talking straight to camera.

  10. My favourite drivel was the Ruapehu eruption when TV One (from memory) postioned a camera on an adjacent mountain top. Unfortunately the camera was obscured by cloud so the presence of the camera became the lead news item rather than what it actually showed to us.

  11. @Jeffrey, @JC, re: the anchor being in the same place as the reporter:

    When the anchor went up to Napier for The Siege, at least it had the excuse of immediacy and location. When Wendy Petrie went to the Rangitoto College front gate on a Saturday, in the evening, in winter (dark) and during the school holidays, THEN crossed to the reporter standing 5m away… I’d say that beats out Napier.

    • OK, guys – I’m going to compile a Wall of Shame tomorrow from these comments and add it to the thread. So keep those dire memories coming!

  12. A couple of nights ago there was a live cross from TV1 6 o’clock news to Jack Thame covering the judging of some food competition. Thame, in the process of sampling the food, turned to face the camera and with a mouth half full charmed us all with his expressions of satisfaction and rolled the contents of his mouth as he continued to report…

  13. I thought it was just me getting cantankerous as I get older. I’ve thought for a long time that the “crossing live to our reporter” reporting is both vacuous and inane. Very often in the lead in to the story, the desk-bound newsreader gives information then he/she proceeds to ask the reporter questions that elicit exactly the same information.

    Some more examples for your wall of the bizarre

    When the “Luck of the Irish” lotto syndicate in Masterton won $35 million, the reporter stood outside Kirkcaldies in Wellington for the live cross. The link? They would now be able to shop at places like this.

    A couple of years ago, there was an item on Lion Breweries. The live cross saw the reporter standing by the lions at the Centotaph. Why? Sheer desperation I suppose.

    Just recently when the manslaughter verdict came in for the death of the young university student who died when rope swinging from the Balance bridge, the news started with a live feed from some young woman reporter standing in the cold and gloom under the Balance Bridge (out the back of beyond from Woodville). Her reason? Now the verdict is in, people’s minds will be turning to this spot.

  14. I generally dont watch the news but listen to the national programme .Live news generally isnt live .I dont see the point of having to watch someone read me my news.I accept that some film footage may add to the detail but mostly is superflous to the event.There are exceptions .No reporter could accurately describe the December Tidal wave in Asia.Dr Edwards didnt you once state that TV was a greater verbal medium than visual?

  15. Re: Genny’s post (9 July) saying she only gets her news from Twitter…
    Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!
    Social networks give very little/no thought to VERIFYING anything before they spread the word. As much as this “eye witness” tv news is rubbish, worse still is social network news.
    And if you need an illustration, Genny, check out what happened last year on 9/11 Day:

    http://yardyyardyyardy.blogspot.com/2009/09/wag-dog-meets-911.html

  16. Here it is – the Live Cross Wall of Shame:

    ‘A couple of years ago, there was an item on Lion Breweries. The live cross saw the reporter standing by the lions at the Centotaph.’

    ‘Just recently when the manslaughter verdict came in for the death of the young university student who died when rope swinging from the Balance bridge, the news started with a live feed from some young woman reporter standing in the cold and gloom under the Balance Bridge (out the back of beyond from Woodville). Her reason? Now the verdict is in, people’s minds will be turning to this spot.’

    ‘When the “Luck of the Irish” lotto syndicate in Masterton won $35 million, the reporter stood outside Kirkcaldies in Wellington for the live cross. The link? They would now be able to shop at places like this.’

    ‘When the anchor went up to Napier for The Siege, at least it had the excuse of immediacy and location. When Wendy Petrie went to the Rangitoto College front gate on a Saturday, in the evening, in winter (dark) and during the school holidays, THEN crossed to the reporter standing 5m away…’

    ‘My favourite drivel was the Ruapehu eruption when TV One (from memory) postioned a camera on an adjacent mountain top. Unfortunately the camera was obscured by cloud so the presence of the camera became the lead news item rather than what it actually showed to us’

    ‘My favorite live cross was a couple years back during the terrorist attacks in central Mumbai; TV3 crossed LIVE! to a reporter standing in the darkness outside the (empty) Gandhi Community Hall somewhere in South Auckland.’

    ‘The silliest live cross was during the “Napier seige” — the anchor live at the scene crossed to the reporter … who was in the same street as them…’

  17. ‘A couple of nights ago there was a live cross from TV1 6 o’clock news to Jack Thame covering the judging of some food competition’

    I saw that too, and wanted to reach out to the telly and SLAP the child.

  18. TV1 had yet another pointless live cross the last night (13 July): Lisa Davies in Timaru for a story about Alan Hubbard.

  19. Hello again,

    Just a late “P.S.” on the topic. On last night’s lead item on One News, about the euthanasia debate, there was a live cross to Kim Vennell, standing in the dark in front of a multi-storeyed building. “The hospital behind me is where many Auckland cancer patients go to die,” she opened with (or very similar words to that effect). I watched with interest to see if the name of the hospital would be revealed….nope, nothing. All I know is that the building was, apparently, part of a hospital somewhere in Auckland. But from what I could see, it could have been almost any office building in any one of NZ’s larger cities. Maybe she should have stood in front of the hospital’s signage board, after all!

    • It’s purely ridiculous, isn’t it? And winter only highlights the pointlessness of these ‘live crosses’. Why the poor girl couldn’t have recorded her intro earlier in the day when a) it was warmer and b) we could see something is a mystery. But then we couldn’t have the ‘happy chat’ between the reporter and the news anchors. Question: would any of us miss it?

  20. Exactly. A live cross should add something meaningful to the story – such as new information that the reporter has become privy to subsequent to recording the main item, or a new visual angle that helps better develop the viewer’s appreciation of the story.

    Showing us a background view of a tower block on a dark, rainy night and informing us that people often die in hospital tells us nothing we don’t already know.

    I can only think of two reasons they are therefore including such inane crosses: 1) to provide – as you have mentioned – an opportunity for anchor-reporter bonhomie (“the news is fun!”) and 2) to give viewers the subconscious perception that, while they relax comfortably at home, the channel’s intrepid reporters are meanwhile still hard at work out there, bringing the latest news to you even in the dark and cold (“see how hard we work for you!”)