Friday, April 25, 2008

Jeremiah Wright and Dangers of Soundbite Journalism

I've just finished watching the much-talked-about interview with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the now retired pastor of United Church of Christ in Chicago.

For those who don't know him, Rev. Wright was Sen. Barack Obama's pastor before he retired. His controversial sermons prompted Obama to make a major speech

Not only did I learn that this renown minister is a fellow Howard University graduate, but that he also spent some time in my hometown of Richmond, Va. at Virginia Union University.

These connections aside, what the story involving Rev. Wright shows us is the dangers of using soundbites to tell a story.

As a television producer, I've written thousands of news stories (VO-SOTS of PACKAGES for those of you who know the TV news jargon) where snippets or soundbites were used to extend what was conveyed in the news copy.

Whenever we excerpt an interview or a speech with a soundbite, we always have to be concerned about what part is being left out.

Tonight, Bill Moyers provided the context needed for viewers to understand the Rev. Wright soundbites that have been circulated over and over and over via video Web sites such as YouTube and played on cable and broadcast news.

While the Web site even minutes after the hourlong broadcast ended already has dozens of comments from viewers, millions more didn't watch tonight's broadcast and will only judge Rev. Wright by those soundbites, either from his sermon or from news broadcasts that reported on his interview.

During the interview Rev. Wright addressed the motives of those who selected the sound bites that have been played this spring:

“When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they wanna do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a "wackadoodle".

It will be interesting to see what news reporters who write stories about Moyers' interview tonight decide to use as "quotes" in their reports.

We shall see. For now, there's a big lesson to be learned about soundbites in our journalism.

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