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A Deeper Dialogue

A Deeper Dialogue
Matt DeNinno ’00 at the nationally syndicated television magazine Inside Edition, where he has worked for 14 years.

Scranton alumni in broadcast reveal the benefits and challenges of the 24-hour news cycle.

It was not that long ago that Walter Cronkite, also known as the most trusted man in America, delivered the news each evening. These days, virtually anyone with a smartphone can break news, leaving journalists to react and analyze rather than inform. How do TV producers deal with pressures brought on by new technology?

Everything Digital

Matt DeNinno ’00 has worked at the nationally syndicated television magazine Inside Edition for 14 years.

“When I was hired here at Inside Edition, Facebook was only for college students, Twitter didn’t exist, and watching the local news story on your cell phone was impossible,” he said. “Nowadays, these are all essential tools in news gathering.”

DeNinno, who learned the earliest version of the digital editing system when he was a student at Scranton, had positive things to say about the possibilities available to journalists, thanks to advances in technology. For example, he said that Skype and Facetime enable great interviews immediately, even from across the country. Before, news teams may have avoided a story if it was not deemed worthy of a plane trip.

Most broadcast journalists agree that social media has changed their jobs, as did going all-digital.

Jennifer Gerardo ’99, a producer with CBS Interactive, has worked on both live and taped shows for 15 years. She recently worked for HLN, producing for Showbiz Tonight. When she was hired by CNN in 2003, she made the transition from working partly to fully in digital. “This was a whole new way of thinking about television,” she said. “You got the job done so much more quickly.” 

David Lettieri ’00, who graduated with a counseling degree, works at CNBC and is the lead AVID editor for The Suze Orman Show. The show is tapeless. Advances in technology have enabled him to make changes more easily than when he started out, and uploading new clips online could take hours. “If something is not factually accurate by the time the show airs, we can fix it very quickly,” he said. “This way, we are relevant and downloadable.”

Breaking News

Now that producers can get information on air and online more quickly, there is increasing pressure to break the news. This often means very little time to check facts. “The challenge is for journalists to not get caught up with being first at the expense of being accurate,” said DeNinno.

Competing to break a story is not a new idea, but the lag time is much shorter than it used to be. Alex Gittleson ’08 is a coordinating producer at ABC and the son of Norman Gittleson, a producer at CBS news for nearly 40 years. Just a few years ago, Alex would hear breaking news from his dad before it showed up elsewhere (Twitter, for example). Now, with so many outlets available, people like Norman and Alex rarely have the opportunity to break a story. 

“Now anyone who has a lead can put it out there, but that comes twofold,” said Gittleson, referencing the man in Abbottabad who live-tweeted about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. “That Abbottabad guy was legit, but there are others who are not. The 24-hour news cycle is good and bad because everyone has a platform.”

As a producer, Gerardo understands the danger of putting a social media post on air. “You have to be careful,” she said. “A photo from Facebook might look real, but is it authentic? In previous years, you had some time to vet this stuff before the six o’clock news, but now everyone wants it yesterday.”

The reliance on social media has not only shortened lead-time, it has also changed the role of journalists.

“With the public getting its facts instantly from social media, journalists and news programs are forced to be more ‘reactive’ when telling a story,” said DeNinno.

It’s not all bad, though. “If Inside Edition can’t break the story, we conduct more in-depth interviews or explore new angles,” said DeNinno.

Involved Viewers

As technology evolves, it’s much easier to analyze what is trending and rating, and quickly. These “trends” sometimes have a snowball effect in the mainstream media. 

Gerardo referenced the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing en route to Beijing as an example. “For every story about the missing plane, there are 10 stories we’re not covering because they’re not going to rate,” she said. 

Gerardo and Lettieri both noted the lack of coverage of India’s recent election at the expense of other “trending” stories. They say it’s important to look beyond what the viewers want.

As a way of involving viewers, anchors are now conducting live polls and reading aloud posts or tweets on-air. These virtual letters to the editor can change the tone of a news show on the spot. HuffPost Live produces segments with laptops on hand. Anchors read comments and questions as they stream.

“What the Huffington Post is doing is cool,” said Gerardo. “They talk to experts, celebrities, viewers and their own writers. The viewers are talking to the anchors. It’s an interesting dialogue.”

Lettieri thinks there are benefits to involving viewers, too. “By having that interaction with your audience, you can gauge the pulse of the nation without having a guy with a clipboard standing on a corner asking questions,” he said.

The Future

Despite all the challenges they face, our alumni are excited to see how broadcast journalism will continue to evolve. 

“The public’s viewing habits are changing so we, as storytellers, must continue to change with them or get left in the dark,” said DeNinno, who credited The University of Scranton with preparing him for the fast-paced industry. 

Matthew Reavy, Ph.D., ’84, G’92 is the chair and an associate professor in the Department of Communication. “We try to prepare our students with skills that will last,” he said. “Instead of spending too much time teaching them technologies like Twitter or Facebook, which may not be the powerhouses tomorrow that they are today, we help them understand how to adapt.”

But if all else fails, it’s OK to go back to the basics, at least according to Gerardo: “Sometimes to write a good story, you have to put the phone down and get outside.”


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