Noddy's not dead
We've had a huge response to our item looking at the techniques used in putting together TV news pieces, following the decision of the new editor of 5 News to ban "staged" shots (watch the item here).
The outcome is by no means clear cut. Many thought that editing shots like "noddies" and "reverse questions" should be banned, some on the grounds that they could lead to deception, others that they are just plain old-fashioned and clunky. But many others think any ban would be a gross over-reaction and that as long as the broadcasters use these techniques responsibly there is little problem.
So what is our conclusion on Newsnight?
The first thing to say is that the issue of editing shots is in a different league from the incidents of deception and dishonesty which have caused turmoil in the TV industry in recent months. But if the industry's response to those problems is a new level of transparency towards our viewers then it is surely right to address what we used to call the "magic of television"
• Noddies (the reverse shot of the reporter, illustrated here with Evan Davis, Rosie Millard and Andrew Marr, which is recorded after the interview is over, and used to cover an edit point in an interview)
I'd stop short of a total ban, but we certainly encourage our producers to use them sparingly. On Newsnight we make a lot of longer films and I can imagine if we banned the noddy ending up in a perverse situation where you'd have lots of weird cutaway shots of anxiously clasped hands or white flashes just to avoid a perfectly harmless image of a reporter (apparently) listening to an interview.
• Reverse questions (the reporter or presenter's questions, recorded after the interview is over, when only one camera is available)
We're not going to ban these. Unlike most news programmes we often run exchanges between correspondents and interviewees within our films, rather than just soundbites. If we rejected the reverse question we could end up with a lot of shots of interviewees listening blankly to the interviewer's question, or the equally unnatural "two shot" (a wide shot of interviewer and interviewee talking about what they had for breakfast)
• Walking set-up shots (the shot of the interviewee, very often a politician, walking stiffly past the camera as a means of introduction)
These are banned. Our rule is: don't shoot them and you won't be tempted to use them. But where do you draw the line? Is it wrong to direct anyone to do anything they wouldn't normally be doing - prune the roses, type at a computer - so we can get some shots of them? We have at least one cameraman who believes that and insists on only shooting things that are occurring naturally.
And isn't that the real point of this debate? Viewers demand and expect that what they see in news and current affairs reports is a true representation of what is happening through what they know is an artificial medium. And after that they expect a natural and undistracting viewing experience. If the outcome of this debate is that viewers end up being distracted because they can see all the joins, then we will surely have shot ourselves in the foot.