“Reality” Television


I’m a “freelancer” now.

I know, doesn’t it sound exotic?

Actually, it’s a euphemism for “poor” but let’s not allow that get in the way of recording the associated advantages: staying in your pyjamas until all hours of the afternoon, leaving for work at 6 pm, and filling your head and diary with eclectic projects, many of which are yet to come into fruition.

My main job, remarkably, is in television. Would you believe, I translate and write news items, apparently watched by millions. (Don’t worry, there are lots of checks by more experienced people before my words turn into broadcasts).

I’ve only done a few shifts but I am learning rapidly how “news” works.

When I arrive at the office, I sit down at a computer and open a software programme which contains a run-down of all the news items due to be broadcast on the upcoming show.

Reports tend not to last more than about 2 and a half minutes and shorter bulletins are over within 25 seconds. So brevity and clarity are essential.

Kate Katharina reporting from Washington, with foam microphone.

So is understanding exactly what a story is about. It takes an expert to break something down into its barest form.

You have to work quickly. If a story is breaking, you need to sift through the information coming through the wires, distil it, find appropriate pictures and videos to accompany it and finally send it on to somebody who will produce it and fix any technical glitches.

It’s a huge responsibility.

And it’s that responsibility which I have been thinking about.

It’s important to remember how lucky I – and I assume most of my readers – are to live in an area of the world with an independent media and in an era in which information can go global in seconds.

More people have more access to more information than ever before.

As a result of this mass circulation and sharing of information, we can get away with having fewer sources.

And because the media now works like a web, rather than through straight lines as it used to, things can get tangled up more easily.

Since newspapers and television rely in a huge part on “wires” (=news agencies like Reuters and Associated Press) the pressure and responsibility on those reporters to be 100% accurate is enormous.

News agencies are a business. They can’t afford to send their reporters absolutely everywhere in the world, particularly not to every war-torn country with poor infrastructure and hostility to foreigners. So, our news comes from the people who happen to be stationed in certain parts of the world.

The headlines we get are a political, social and economic reflection on western life and values.

And it’s important to remember that we probably miss as many stories as we run.

Having been surrounded by extraordinarily hard-working and intelligent journalists, I’m far from disillusioned by how the media works. But I am becoming more aware of how arbitrary the selection and presentation of news has always been and will remain.

Things are moving in the right direction. Tweets fly off from the obscurest of locations, bloggers are becoming more influential, and technology is advancing in the developing world.

However, manipulation is becoming easier and more sophisticated, and misrepresentations can spread like wildfire.

I’m only starting out in the field and I am young and stupid. My main concern though is a noble one. I want to tell a truthful story well. And if that means staying small-scale and telling you about a a spindly old man and his giant dog, or about the old man who couldn’t stop falling, at least you know that these are things that I have seen with my own eyes, not images which have landed on my screen after rushing through the wires. And no matter how timid a voice I am on the blogosphere, the fact that I have one screams volumes about the democracy which we should never, ever take for granted.

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8 thoughts on ““Reality” Television

  1. How well you have described your work! And with what perception you have tackled the universal problem of truth and manipulation. Stay the way you are! The world would be a better place with principled people like you!

  2. Wow. That piece is brilliant. I love the way you are so aware that others in this world are not so fortunate and do not have a free press or a voice. It gives so much more meaning to what you do.

    I have friends in the Maldives who are fighting for independent journalism and work for a site called Minivan – http://www.minivan.com – it means ‘independent’ in Dhivehi, the language of the Maldives. Democracy is struggling to survive there. I witnessed a coup there in February but the whole thing has been covered up like something out of a George Orwell novel. Today, the first democratically elected President, Mohammed Nasheed, was arrested for failing to appear in court. The judiciary is not independent. The police act with impunity and are not independent. Human rights abuses have escalated in the last few months.

    If you come across anything about this on the wires….probe a little deeper if you can! Many people believe the place is paradise…. if only they knew. The country is disintegrating and the former dictator is regaining control. It’s very sad.

    Lat week a group of celebrities had a letter in the Guardian expressing their concern for democracy in the Maldives.

    I hope you learn plenty in your new job and that you enjoy it. It sounds to me as though you will!

    Best Wishes, C

    • Hi Clare,

      Thanks so much for drawing my attention to the situation in the Maldives. I’d heard nothing about the things you mentioned and have just been reading up on them. The link you included led me to a car site but I found this http://minivannews.com/ and was wondering whether your friends are involved in it? If I get a chance tomorrow (it depends how much happens in this part of the world!) I’ll do a wire search for the Maldives. It would be interesting to see if and how events there have been covered.

      Thank you too for your kind words. I feel very lucky to have thoughtful and attentive readers like yourself!

      Will keep you posted anyway!

      Kate x

      • Oops! A car site? now that’s a silly error on my part…and that’s why I’m not a journalist and you are! Yes, you have the right site. These guys are actually surprised they haven’t been deported yet or had their website blocked. They know all about the effects of tear gas though! “In the Maldives?” people ask with disbelief.

        And thank you for your great words in your blog!

  3. What a great piece, a nice insiders view on the media. I remember my first real insight into what can be considered media alteration or even manipulation. A very minor example but an eye opener at the time for a much younger and even more naive me :). My uncles girlfriend was contributing to a piece in the Irish Independent magazine pitched on ‘Irish men viewed from an international female perspective’ (my uncles girlfriend is French).

    She was mostly positive in her remarks of course, otherwise she wouldn’t have been with my uncle 🙂 but I remember in the interview she said something that was or could have been perceived as remotely negative, something like ‘a little insecure’ or something to that effect. It was actually a two page spread with her picture and everything, but they edited that semi-negative part out. I remember she was pretty annoyed about that. But I remember coming to the realisation that the interviewer or editor had manipulated her quote i.e., the truth! to appease to their readership. In this case keeping readers happy was more important than the truth. A very trifling example but it kind of alludes to part of what you are talking about. I hope you continue on that noble quest of yours! ;>)

    • Hi Mike,

      That’s an interesting example because I would have thought that in that case, they would have wanted a little bit of negativity, rather than just saying “foreign women love Irish men.”

      When I was doing my article at Spiegel, I noticed how difficult it was sometimes to put an article together. You’d have all these quotes and facts and figures and you’d have to somehow make a coherent story out of it. I can understand (though obviously not justify) the temptation to simply and to select quotes and details which support the story you think can most easily be told. The truth in so many cases is that stories are cloudy, inconclusive and sometimes boring and complicated. The problem is that TV and other media require attractive packaging in order to keep people’s attention. Often a whole lot of truth gets lost in the process.

      Thanks for reading and leaving a thoughtful comment! And I look forward to reading your own blog soon 😉

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