Out of the Box Red(e)ux?

Subtitle: How one simple shot on a TV news broadcast got my clearly twisted mind thinking about how news is presented.

Back in the early 90′s while I was working in Sacramento, KIRO’s “Out of the Box” newsroom experiment came and went in the Seattle market. KIRO_Eyewitness_News_logo

It was a big deal back then – to have anchors roaming around the newsroom trying to “be conversational” and make the sausage factory that is a TV newsroom look organic.

Part of the reason it didn’t work is because the technology we have today didn’t exist back then. Out of the Box was a check written on a bank account that didn’t have the digital technology required to cash it.

Ultimately, the quest to look authentic only made the whole thing less authentic. So back when the newspapers thought writing bad things about TV would somehow help them, KIRO’s efforts were the subject of endless ridicule. Almost more than when the station put the chopper into the opening credits in the 80′s.

My opinions were always based on operational concerns: When I would come home to visit and watch, I remember thinking about how much extra time was required to not only gather and package a story – but to choreograph the damned thing too.

Out of the Box also violated one of my great beliefs about TV news which is despite the name, news doesn’t happen in the news room. I think that thought is part of the reason I wouldn’t support Out of the Box (circa 1993) today. It is too newsroom-centric.

I got to thinking about all this after watching the lead story on KING5 last night. Mimi Jung was on fill-in duty and was standing on the set, out in front of the studio cameras.

This is called “breaking the video space.” It means that the producer is stepping away from the illusion of “place” created by the familiar news set to, in this case, provide a sort of behind the scenes Matrix-breaking look at reality.

That shot is usually used for promotions or parade-of-tears PSAs and the like. It says, “Yes, what we normally do in this space is a sort of televised make believe version of reality, but now I am pulling back the curtain to tell you something really, really important.”

But is a TV studio more “real” than the news set? Does using the studio as a “set” with the set as a mere set piece somehow take us out of the proverbial box?

Frankly, shots like this one seem like a subtle indictment of how we present the news – on a set – no matter how fantastically it’s designed.

So how do we move ahead? Ditch the set? Use it as a prop? Go Out of the Box and back into the newsroom- where news is created but not happening?

I don’t know, but time has probably come to do something else – especially since the technology now exists to support it, and especially if you’re not the dominant brand in your marketplace.

Jenni Hogan (at KIRO no less) is playing around with some old/new ideas with her social-media driven “Connect” show. While my big problem with social media remains the same as it has always been – that social media are primarily used to discuss – well, social media… some of the concepts are perhaps worth looking (again) at when it comes to the “place” from which we deliver hard news.

I wonder if Jenni knows she’s doing something her predecessors thought would be cool 20 years ago?