As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, newsgathering by TV news stations has changed completely.
“Social distancing” means the recording of an interview, whether out in the field or in the studio, has to respect the two metres separation rule.
It’s no longer safe for a cameraman to place the microphone on the tie or lapel of the person being interviewed. Doing so requires the cameraman to be within inches of the mouth or nose of the interviewee – dangerous. Moreover, the box that transmits the sound to the camera is usually hooked onto the interviewee’s trouser or dress belt. Might this be contaminated?
In order to avoid such close contact, TV news crews are using what used to be called “gun mics”. This involves the interviewer and interviewee sitting or standing at least two metres apart, with microphones for each of them attached to very long poles. This avoids one of them suddenly being infected with the virus when the other one happens to cough or sneeze. Indeed, some of the interviews I have seen over recent days place interviewer and interviewee far more than two metres apart. Clearly, they are taking into account a point made by BBC Correspondent, David Shukman, in a recent report when he quoted scientists as saying that the droplets that explode from us when we cough or sneeze can travel far more than two metres.
Consequently, we are seeing more and more “wide shots” of an interview rather than “tight heads”. A “tight head” shot is when the interviewee is in frame from the breastbone upwards. That would involve the cameraman being immediately adjacent to the interviewer, which would be dangerous if one of them has the virus. A “wide shot” is when both interviewer and interviewee are filmed simultaneously from a distance, meaning the cameraman is keeping well away from both of them.
Studio interviews have also changed. In fact, they hardly ever happen on news programmes these days. Instead, interviewees or indeed correspondents working for the news channel do their interviews from their laptops at home.
There are one or two tips quite a few interviewees need to learn to improve the way they come across in a laptop interview.
Firstly, with a laptop on your desk and you sitting at the desk, you’re often looking down at the camera on your computer. In other words, the main picture the viewer sees is one of the camera looking up your nose – not appealing. Therefore, if the camera on your laptop is not in line with your eyes, place a few books under your laptop so that it’s in line with you sitting at your desk.
Avoid leaning forwards and backwards. Suddenly veering towards the laptop camera in order to reinforce the point you’re making generally means you suddenly go all blurred.
Also, be aware of what’s behind you and what’s in front of you when you sit in front of your laptop. Don’t have some weird pictures or posters on the wall behind you. That will attract the attention of your viewers and no one will be listening to you.
Also, work out where the light is coming from in the room where you’re sitting. The other day, I saw an interviewee at home being interviewed online. He was clearly facing the window. The light was pouring in through the window and consequently lit up his face in a glaring way. It was almost as though he had a fever – a worrying signal.