Last Friday in this space, Anne Marie Drew, a professor of English at the US Naval Academy, wrote about being interviewed by ABC-TV News, and the curious detail of having to be videotaped while walking as part of the segment.
"I don't know what school of broadcast journalism teaches that walking is an effective visual technique," she wrote. Well, Anne Marie, at the risk of striding into a media minefield of controversy, let me walk you through a few basics in this subject. As a former TV reporter, I too have stumbled over the dilemma of how to introduce each new character who appears in a news package.
What we're talking about here is called "the establishing shot." In some cases, especially up-close-and-personal segments, the establishing shot is easy because you just start by showing the subject doing what he/she does best. ("Pounding railroad spikes with a sledgehammer in each hand is tricky for most people - but not for John Henry!")
However, a serious problem can occur when a story includes sound bites from many different people. Inevitably, we must deal with someone like Anne Marie, an academic type whose occupation is maddeningly devoid of a spellbinding establishing shot (the only thing worse is an economist - many times have I heard reporters bemoan the difficulty of showing somebody "'doing" economics).
Anne Marie was also right in step when she noticed how often the walking shots appear in daily newscasts. I once worked with a photographer who added an extra element by having people walk to a door, open it, and go through. …