Cleanup on aisle 3.

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

Ah, now it’s gone full cycle: the blogs are writing about how the mainstream media is writing about how the bloggers have had a second large investigatory victory in exposing the Reuters freelancer Adnan Hajj’s retouched photography from the Lebanese-Israeli conflict. “That smoke curl just didn’t look right! Clearly the clone tool has been employed!” (What’s odd to me is that in looking at before and after side-by-side, I come away thinking “there’s really plenty of smoke in the unretouched version—why the heck did he go to the trouble?”)

Meanwhile, up in Raleigh, there’s some debate (drifting outward to the journalistic community as a whole) about whether reporters should clean up quotes like “They was good friends. They killed my young’un for slam nothing” to make them sound less like, well, where they’re from. For a print reporter, that’s a judgement call they’re completely in charge of. With a quick clatter of keys, a print scribe can make them sound as if they hail from Elizabethan England, not Robeson County, NC. Or, not.

For radio and broadcast, it become more of a question of art—can we chop the heck out of the footage or the audio…do we have enough raw material (and time) to rearrange syllables and slice away all the ‘um’s and ‘er’s and ‘like’s? Often, that’s happening, nearly seamlessly, on a finely-honed NPR piece…in video, you end up with dissolves or flashes or cutaways or perhaps loud swooshy graphics to distract you from the chop work.

And without the editing? Well, just one more reason that local TV news is excruciating these days is that when they do point a camera at someone and ask them how it felt to have that tornado rip off the roof of your house or to have your next door neighbor killed gang-style or to have your conjoined twins separated, the response more often than not is staggeringly incomprehensible. Chalk that up to the limited life experience and exposure to adjectives of the answerers as well as the inanity of the questions themselves. And factor on top of that the training every joe on the street has now: if you’re asked an inane question, let loose with a cliché you yourself have heard on television a thousand times before. That’s what sports figures and politicians do, and we learn from them.