Thursday, June 25, 2009

This Was Once Me

And it could be you! Back in 2006, I answered an ad similar to this one on craigslist* and later became the fill-in traffic reporter at WTSP-TV. The station gets its traffic information, as well as the person who delivers it on the air, from NAVTEQ Traffic subject to the approval of the station's news director.
Reply to:
Date: 2009-06-25, 1:13PM EDT

Job Opening: On-Air TV Traffic Reporter – Part-Time
Location: Tampa

NAVTEQ Traffic is the leading provider of personalized real-time traffic information for drivers across the U.S. Currently we are seeking ambitious, intelligent TV professionals who want to join our winning team. The TV Traffic Reporters serve as an information provider and personality for local News Programming in top markets across the country.

Traffic or Weather experience is preferred, but a great personality and previous on-air experience can go a long way.


•On-Camera Reporting
•Preparation of traffic reports
•Assistance with traffic info gathering
•Develop understanding of local highways and traffic patterns
•Other related duties as required

DESIRED QUALIFICATIONS: Candidates should be comfortable in front of a camera, have good communication skills, experience with computers, ability to multitask, ability to learn quickly, and work in a deadline driven environment.

Interested candidates should respond with a traffic demo and resume ASAP.

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY: NAVTEQ/ is an Equal Opportunity Employer. M/F/D/V.

WFLA-TV also gets its traffic from the same company. I don't know for which station the lucky contestant would ply his or her trade. Right now, both WTSP and WFLA use voice-over only talent as fill-ins when their on-camera traffic reporters are absent.

WTVT (Fox 13) does the same thing and that's what WFTS did before it hired me to back-up Meredyth Censullo. I filled in for a second time today, again without calamity, and I have a few days scheduled in July.

It's difficult getting into any rhythm when I'm on so rarely but what I lack in practice I make up with focus. When you're on every day and multiple times each one you can get sloppy. It's not intentional; you just don't pay as close attention to everything as you should. When it could be weeks, months, or — in one case at WTSP — nearly a full year before your next appearance, you tend to value the opportunity more.

Plus, you don't want to go a year replaying a blooper-reel moment in your head.

*I buried the lead. An apparently legitimate ad appearing on craigslist!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Most Editors Are Failed Writers

So are most writers.

- T.S. Eliot

This Makes Four

I survived my first day of fill-in work at WFTS-TV without producing any material for the station's blooper reel. That, as always, is the primary goal. The job was substituting for traffic anchor Meredyth Censullo on the station's morning show. Long-time blog readers will think, "Hey! Didn't you fill in for her when she was on WTSP's morning news show?"

Yes, I did. And when it became official that I was going to follow her from there to WFTS, I asked her not to get a job in another city because I don't want to move.

I awoke at 3:12 this morning — twelve minutes before the time I set on the alarm and three hours after I had finally drifted off to sleep. I wasn't worried about fatigue. Adrenaline and fear, I knew, would power me through the morning.

It's always strange working with a new set of people in a different studio. Adding to the oddity is that WFTS's building resembles the one in which I worked in Cincinnati. Scripps-Howard owns both stations. That eeriness will hang over me for a while, I suspect, especially since this gig will be only a once-in-a-while job.

You always face the wondering by your new, if only occasional, colleagues. "Where did this guy come from and what are we in for?" The station had tried a weather person already on staff as a traffic fill-in. That lasted exactly one apparently disastrous day.

While I wasn't brilliant, it had to become clear to people at the station that they wouldn't have to hold their breath hoping that any traffic mishaps would happen only on the roads and not in the studio. The computer mostly behaved and I mostly knew how to operate it properly.

If you're keeping count, WFTS is the fourth station in Tampa Bay on which I've appeared (WFLA 1997-99, WTTA 2004-05, WTSP 2006-09 and now WFTS) reporting or anchoring either news, sports or traffic. It's my fourth station even if you're not keeping count. I've also done field producing and writing for WEDU-TV, Tampa's PBS affiliate and some fill-in sports talk radio hosting at WDAE-AM.

This list obviously stands as testament to my versatile skill set, immense talent and apparent inability to hold a job.

I'm scheduled to work again Thursday and then several days in July. I probably won't detail a lot of my experiences so that they don't cause me trouble like discussions of my work at WTSP did. I'm trying to work on the "inability to hold a job" bit.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

More Times Video

Another decent video effort by the St. Petersburg Times in conjunction with its special report on Scientology. The narration is weak, especially considering it was not read by either of the reporters who collaborated to write the print version or by the woman who produced the video. (Need professional narration? I know a guy.) But it held my attention for its nearly seven minute duration.

You'll notice that it uses music in ways you don't typically hear it in broadcast journalism. You could debate that using music to create moods in a news story introduces an editorial slant.

Another difference between this piece and television stories is the credits at the end that list the contributors as well as the sources of video and photographs. On TV news magazine programs such as "60 Minutes" or NBC's "Dateline," the story's producer, who does most of its research and writing, is sometimes credited with a graphic superimposed over the story for a few seconds but there aren't end credits for each piece.

An end credit is something you can do for an individual web story when you don't have to worry about the pace and flow of a show that needs to keep an audience around for the next segment or, more importantly, the commercial messages that follow.

Backyard Bear in Cleveland

How do you do a TV story about a woman spotting a black bear in her backyard where there is no bear there to be spotted when you are? If you're WJW Fox8 in Cleveland, you do this:

(If the video is disabled, you can see the story on the Fox8 website.)

Call it the Colbertization of news.

Or, as Stephen would say it, the Col-bear-ization.

If you're a station desperately behind in the ratings, I can see taking this attitude toward the news. The danger is that you wind up being the joke rather than telling it. This is hard to do well; you're far more likely to wind up with viewers laughing at you than with you. Another challenge is getting people to agree to do interviews with you once word of what you're going to do to them gets around. Even Colbert is amazed that people will still sit for interviews with him.

Reporters risk their careers if they go in this direction. If they don't make it to the Daily Show, it would be awfully hard to land a job at a traditional station with this stuff on a resume tape. It's less dangerous for photographers who could write in their cover letters, "Please watch the video but ignore the 'journalism.' Wanting to work at a station like yours where they do the news the right way is why I sent you this tape."

You could argue that a bear in the wood behind someone's house is not news at all.

And I could not argue against you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Future of TV News

The future of TV news might not be on TV. Well, duh. Here's the new part: It might not be on TV station websites, either. Go to any TV station website and it's obvious that they haven't figured out what they want their sites to be so they've made it a little bit of everything.

Are they promoting their network programming? Trying to promote their newscasts? Trying to present news on their sites? Trying to monetize them with ads?

They're trying to do all of them. And the results are a mess.

I've long thought that if a TV station was serious about becoming a must-see destination for news and information, it would cut all the clutter and focus on the one thing that's already their specialty: video.

I've done that with my personal and business sites. My niche is telling stories with video. So it makes sense that on most of the pages feature a large video window. You don't have to search to find it, you don't have to scroll to reach it. Go to the site and, right on the homepage, there's a video.

Same with Half the main content space of every page on the site is a video player.

If showing's what your selling, show them, don't tell them.

One media outlet has beaten TV stations to the punch. And it's a newspaper! The publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, Greenspun Media, has built a video news site called

Notice that the first thing you notice is the video window. It's not buried somewhere down the page. Where are the ads? Why they're embedded in the videos.

A half-hour version of the webcast will air on a local TV station co-owned by the publisher. "The television version of 702.TV is reverse engineered from our Web site," Greenspun Media President and Executive Editor Rob Curley told TV Newsday.

The show may run so-called advertorials or commercial tie-ins but the station expects most of its revenue to come from traditional 30-second commercials, according to the article.

While this is not a hard-news site, it's clearly a model that someone either already in the business of producing video news reports or even one that some enterprising reporters (in more than one sense) with the right equipment and know-how could use to launch a real news site to rival those of local TV stations.

Hmm. As someone once said, stay tuned.

Credit to Mark Joyella's blog, where I first learned of

WPVI's Papa Dies

An icon of Philadelphia television has died. Gary Papa had been at WPVI-TV since 1981 and its Sports Director since 1990. I watched him when I was growing up in Audubon, Pa. He died after a four year fight with prostate cancer.

Sometimes you watch people on TV in big markets and wonder how they got there. Whose butt got kissed by whom to complete this transaction? Not with Gary Papa. Even when he was only on weekends, you could see his commanding camera presence, hear is mellifluous voice and see the comfort and ease he had talking to the camera. His renowned work ethic didn't hurt his cause.

And the one time I met him in person, outside the Dean Smith Center where UNC was set to play #1 ranked Temple in 1988, he was a decent guy.

Anchor Jim Gardner broke into programming to announce the news yesterday:

When Papa broke the news of his illness to the station's general manager, the boss replied, "We're all renting. No one's buying."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

That's Why There's Always a Co-Pilot

A pilot of a trans-Atlantic flight died halfway through the trip.

The plane landed safely.

Newspaper Video

Maybe it's an aberration. Or maybe the St. Petersburg Times is starting to grasp multi-media, specifically that having video on your website is not enough by itself. It actually has to offer some reward for people who click on it and sit through the embedded ad that runs before the story.

As traditional media race to the Internet, multi-media has become the buzzword. Giving people a story in different forms so that they can experience it either by reading, watching or listening to it since you can do all of this on the web now.

This is why TV stations often don't run job ads for "reporters" any more. They want "multi-media journalists," who -- by themselves -- can deliver content on air, online and in print.

This is the kind of work I did for -- shooting, writing, narrating and editing a video story then writing a print-style story to accompany it.

You'd think TV stations would have a built-in advantage in this convergence because between audio and video they have most of the multi in multi-media covered. The hindrance for TV stations is that people don't think of TV news as real journalism.

Newspapers have the opposite problem. People think they're more complete, if not more credible, sources of news but they're late getting into the audio/video game. To catch up some have lured people from TV stations to run their video departments.

The results for all have been mixed. Text versions of TV stories typically don't provide any more information that you would have gotten from watching the broadcast story. We'll forget for the moment that many TV news stories don't translate well to TV broadcasts let alone the web.

Some newspapers have adapted to video better than others. The Washington Post and New York Times have done excellent work, including The Lourdes of Twang, a Times piece about the Martin Guitar Company factory in Nazareth, Pa. It features still photographs with recorded ambient sound from the factory with audio interviews and narration. Interestingly, the Times had a different reporter write the print version of the story.

Both the Post and the Times have avoided the mistake of trying to do television stories. TV stations are already doing those. If newspapers' video reporting is going to differentiate them, they're going to have to offer the detail and depth not found in most TV reporting.

That's why the St. Petersburg Times efforts have been so disappointing. Most of its videos are poorly shot and edited and, if narrated at all, reported at a college level. (The Tampa Tribune, or what's left of it, gets video from its fellow Media General-owned WFLA-TV.) What's funny about this is the disdain most newspaper types have for their television counterparts.

But, today, a glimmer of hope. A simple story from the Times used amateur video shot by the story subject augmented by steady, well-framed professional-looking video of the scene as well as an interview. It also had a separate reporter write the print version of the story.

Monday, June 15, 2009

People in the Pound

ZooToo has just posted my final story. This one I actually shot back in February but was delayed because the story's subject, the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, was a contender for ZooToo's million-dollar makeover.

Executive Director Joanne Schoch and other volunteers spent a week living in the shelter's animal cages to raise awareness and money for the shelter.

I hope my pronouncement that this was my "final story" for ZooToo is premature. It suspended news production back in April. I was told that it may be temporary, which would be great because I enjoyed doing the stories. ZooToo been slowly releasing stories already produced to keep the website fresh since then.

You can read the story on ZooToo's website or watch the video version below.

Tweet Tweet

Because the world does not have enough inane chatter on the Internet, I am now on Twitter @JohnMcQuiston.

That means I now have a Facebook page ( and a Twitter page ( in addition to this blog (right here) to neglect!

Inside a Book

I borrowed a library book whose previous reader left a bookmark inside. It's a torn piece of paper that reads in large font,

Being Polite is
for the estranged

The book was This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes. Just so you know, it won't save your life. The title is fiction just like the story inside.

I probably should return the bookmark with the book. Right now it's marking a spot inside the Chicago Manual of Style, which I checked out with the Homes book. I've seen job ads for copy editors that request familiarity with it.

I don't want to be a copy editor but who doesn't want to have more style? I've visited Chicago only once and don't remember it to be particularly stylish — at least no more stylish than other cities I've seen — but the book was free to borrow so why not look.

It is a labor to carry. Who knew style could have so much substance?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Full Disclosure

In light of talk about a local TV meteorologist who may once have been an actress whose credits include a film called "Assault of the Killer Bimbos," I should divulge that a thorough search of my name will turn up a John McQuiston with acting credits as well.

According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), John McQuiston has appeared in episodes of such television shows such "Rebus," "Still Game" and "Taggart."

Alas, I must also confess that, much as I would like to boast that I once played "Man in Pub" in an episode of "Rebus" (not to be confused with "Reba," though I would be equally proud to have played a man in pub there), I cannot take credit for these credits. This John McQuiston is an actor in the UK, where I have never, sorry to say, set foot.

But It's Not Google (BING)

Everybody calls it Coke but Pepsi still sells a lot of soda. Microsoft hopes that even if you use Google as a verb, you'll use Bing to do your Googling.

Microsoft's job will be harder than Pepsi's, which its reported $80-$100 advertising budget for Bing seems to acknowledge.

People don't do online searches; they Google. That would be like if the very act of drinking were called Coking or if wiping your runny nose were called Kleenexing. Google has more than 80% of the search engine market. Website developers work to get their sites to rank high not just on search engines but specifically on Google searches.

Click to enlarge

I was happy to see that a Bing search for "personal documentary" returned my own as the top result.

Bing's high-def homepage image contrasts with Google's mostly plain text layout. Looks great, sure. But Google's simplicity makes it a perfect test page if you're having trouble with your Internet connection. If any page is going to load it's Google. Loading Bing's page sent my laptop into mild hysterics. With its cooling fan on overdrive, the computer huffed and puffed as it worked to load the page.

Browsers don't help Bing's cause. Newer versions of both Firefox and Internet Explorer include search boxes. You can change the default searcher from Google but Bing is not one of the options.

Even if Microsoft makes Bing the only search option in future versions of IE, guess what? Firefox has overtaken IE as the most popular browser. That happened in part because Firefox was better and partly because it let people protest Microsoft's hegemony.

That leads to Bing's biggest hurdle in trying to topple the king of Internet search engines: Google works! Google has not given Microsoft the same kind of ammunition that Windows' faults gave Apple for its brilliant "I'm a Mac. And I'm a PC" ads. Google gives users what they want. For free.

Good luck getting people to Google on Bing.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Trivia That May Interest Only Me

In the DVD commentary for his movie Gosford Park, director Robert Altman says he deliberately added the F-word to the script several times to get the film an R rating.

"I didn't want 14-year-old boys coming off the street to see this film," he said. "Because they wouldn't like it."

Friday, June 05, 2009

Note to Self

Watch this video and learn how to use layers in Photoshop.

What Did I Say...

...about emperors hating their public nudity pointed out to them a couple of posts ago? A high school valedictorian in Spring Hill, Florida, has gotten an early lesson.

Jem Lugo's vision for her graduation speech was rejected by the school principal as too crude. It included pop culture references, slang and mildly off-color language.

Read her intended speech as well as the sanitized re-write here.

In a letter to the St. Petersburg Times Lugo writes, "Graduation is no longer about the students at all. It's about the school, proudly presenting another fine batch of perfectly acceptable programmed graduates to the rest of the community." The officially approved version of her speech, "is not me."

Lugo will attend Harvard.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Not a Pollyanna Post

I promise.

WUSF-FM honored its volunteers today. That included those for its Radio Reading Service, which included me. The Radio Reading Service broadcasts readings of newspapers, magazines and other literature to blind and otherwise disabled people. People request the special receivers needed to pick up the signal.

I haven't been active lately but I had accumulated more than 100 hours of service over a couple of stints and I got a certificate for that.* I've read everything from the Tampa Tribune and Esquire Magazine to TV Guide and the National Enquirer.

The Radio Reading Service gets a lot of its programming from syndicated services now. The Internet has replaced satellites as the means of receiving the off-site programs, which cuts its cost greatly.

Volunteers still go in early each weekday morning to read the St. Petersburg Times and what remains of the Tribune. A popular item now is the grocery store ads.

The reading service is the perfect outlet for someone who loves the sound of his own voice as much as I do. Even reading something like TV listings, which I know sounds as boring as counting blades of grass, is enjoyable because you know someone is hanging on every word you say. You're doing something every broadcast wants to do — giving people information really important to them.

They held the event at the University of South Florida's Alumni Center. (WUSF is located on the campus.) The building did not exist when during my first stretch living in Tampa in the late 1990s. A large banner hung on a set of double doors read "Doormet," which I first mistook as "Doormat." It was hanging on a door.

I learned later that Doormet was pronounced "dor-may" and that it's a south Tampa restaurant that catered the lunch. It was good, but I'm going to pay for that mega-chocolate chip cookie later. At least I ate only one.

Almost the entire WUSF staff was there, from the general manager on down, smiling and shaking hands. Name tags let us match the strange faces with familiar voices.

I particularly wanted to see the station's early afternoon host Bethany Cagle. I have never heard a voice like hers. Bright, elegant and delicate. It sounds like a smile. I'd happily sit in traffic listening to her read the phone book.

After the event I approached her. I just wanted to hear this voice as it came out of her mouth. I almost said that but thought it would sound dumber out loud than it did in my head. She looked at me expectantly. When I didn't speak she introduced herself.

"Nice to meet you," I told her. "You have a magical voice."

*100 hours is relatively little. Two people earned recognition for exceeding 600 hours of service! "Six hundred?" I said to the person next to me. "Did he get a DUI?" Kidding! Am I still allowed?

Naked Emperors Hate Me (or Why Blog?)

I have wavered about posting something I wrote the other day. I put it up, took it down, edited it, put it up again and finally took it down again. It had to do with a local TV news personality having the same name as someone who starred in a movie called "Assault of the Killer Bimbos" and the more than slight possibility that the two people were one and the same.

There was nothing defamatory or really damaging to the person involved. Or persons. Gotta acknowledge the umbrage a B-movie star might take if falsely accused of working in television news.

Don Henley's line from his song "Dirty Laundry" had it mostly right. "I coulda been an actor but I wound up here," he sang sarcastically. If the bubble-headed bleach blonde who comes on at five could have been an actor, she would not have wound up telling you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye.

I didn't write it trying to embarrass the person or the station. I thought it was interesting. And funny — a TV station trying to install someone as a beacon of credibility and expertise who may have resorted to TV news only after "Assault of the Killer Bimbos" didn't lead to anything better.

I'm not saying that's the case. I just lay stuff out. Remember the story "The Emperor's New Clothes"? I'm the kid who points out that the emperor is naked. I always have been. Guess what? Emperors HATE that. They always have.

The problem is that emperors are the ones who can hire me. Since I still sometimes work in TV news, I don't think I can do commentaries about things going on in local TV without incurring the emperor's wrath, as happened with WTSP, or making other emperors afraid that I'll point out their public nudity someday.

And we all know that emperors aren't going to stop acting like morons.

That leaves me wondering: What do I want to say here and, increasingly, what will cause me trouble if I say it? Do I become a Pollyanna who opines only about how wonderful everything is? Do I become one of those people who annoys you with the inane updates that fill Facebook pages? Just went to the store! (Or, worse, updates you WHILE driving to the store.)

If I were smart, I'd delete this whole thing and save myself the trouble before another unclad emperor comes along and I can't help myself.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

You Might Be Surprised...

You know what would surprise me? A TV news promo tease that didn't tell me how surprised I might be.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Is Tweeting Reporting?

When is a reporter's reporting not to be taken as as an actual report? You know — with facts and all? According to Rick Stroud of the St. Petersburg Times, it's when you're on Twitter.

Stroud covers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the Times. His articles appear in the printed and online versions of the paper. You can also follow him on Twitter @NFLSTROUD.

Friday afternoon he tweeted: "Hearing reports that Bucs might be interested in Marvin Harrison. Makes sense if they're looking at Plaxico...Need depth at WR..."

A website called saw it and repeated the information, including a link to Stroud's Twitter page, where the story, if 140 characters can constitute a "story," originally appeared.

Only problem? Twitter's 140 character limit apparently precluded Stroud from adding, "but don't quote me on that," before quoted him on that.

So word spread that The St. Petersburg Times was reporting that the Bucs had interest in Marvin Harrison. This is when the excrement hit the ventilating system. Perhaps Stroud's editor at the Times wondered why this scoop had not appeared in the paper that pays him to break such stories.

Perhaps it wasn't a scoop at all because it didn't come from a reliable source or one that could not be independently verified. You know — that pesky journalism crap like fact-checking to which newspapers (sometimes) still stubbornly cling.

Either way, Stroud tweeted a different tune the following morning: "People, if I tweet something bout Marvin Harrison it's agent-driven speculation. If there's news, I'll post it on K? Sheesh."

Putting aside the agent-driven speculation that Rick Stroud sounds like a royal a-hole, lemme see if I understand this. The stuff you report on Twitter doesn't count? Even though your Twitter page lists your name and your bio reads, "Busy covering Bucs/NFL for St. Petersburg Times and appearing on ESPN's First Take." It should be taken with a grain of salt? (Apparently as well two aspirin and several shots of tequila after trying to sort out what's real and what's not.)

Is tweeting reporting? Do the standards required for something to be printed in the paper or reported online apply to a news outlet's reporters when they're using Twitter? If not, what's the point? I wonder how many news organizations have considered the question and created policies to deal with it.

I doubt that a disclaimer dripping with condescension posted after the fact will suffice.