This journalist is getting re-educated

Posted by John Kanelis on

My re-education is continuing.

I’ve long thought that one never knows all there is to know about one’s craft. I tried to live by those words while toiling in daily print journalism for well more than three decades. I’ve sought to ask questions while they presented themselves.

These days I’m asking a lot of questions about a new discipline I’m learning. It involves broadcast journalism. I’m getting my feet wet — no, absolutely soaked — in this new endeavor.

Panhandle PBS has asked me to take part in the production of a still-unscheduled documentary special on water. We’re working in conjunction with other public television affiliates around the state. The plan is to assemble this project into a large special to be broadcast statewide later this year. Panhandle PBS’s contribution is going to center on acquisition of water rights and the economics of water on agriculture in the High Plains region.

I’m proud to be a part of this project.

But when the TV folks tell you to “write tight,” well, they mean it.

I’ve been able to interview three subjects for this project: a corn producer who irrigates his crops with Ogallala Aquifer groundwater, a West Texas A&M University agriculture economics professor and a scientist working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All of them are interesting, intriguing and engaging individuals.

My task was to assemble their comments into sound bites, then write text around what they said, trying to set up the stories they are telling about their interest in protecting the depleting water resource.

What I’ve learned is that the TV reporter’s task is to fill in the details of the story we’re covering in an interesting — but quite brief — fashion. Then we let our interview subjects add the color and emotion needed to give life to the story.

I’ve tried to do something similar while working for newspapers in Texas and Oregon over the course of my long career. I’ve also understood that when my editors limit me to a set number of words, then it’s my job to meet their demands.

Writing for television, though, is an entirely different endeavor. It requires tremendous discipline and adherence to brevity.

My much more experienced colleagues at Panhandle PBS are working with me. They’re exhibiting extreme patience with this novice, which I appreciate more than they’ll ever know.

I’ve never thought I knew all there is to know about journalism. This foray into broadcast journalism really has informed me of that truth.

But, man, I am having the time of my life learning this new way of telling a story.

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