April 3, 2003

Embedded Reporters

Inside the Numbers

Live and Unedited Versus Taped Packages

In general, the embedded reports tended toward immediacy over reflection, though this depended on the day, and it differed by medium.

Embedded Reports: Live versus Taped
Live reports 49.1%
Live audio only 12.1
Combination 11.1
All tape 27.8
Total 100%

Overall, 61% of embedded reports were live and unedited.1

Only roughly a quarter of the embedded reports studied (28%) were traditional "taped packages," in which correspondents had written a script and video tape had been reviewed and edited to tell that story visually.

And one in ten embedded stories studied (11%) involved some combination of live and taped elements, such as a live account from a reporter, which then moves to a taped soundbite with a soldier, and then back to the reporter live.

This reliance on live differed depending on the medium. Networks were more likely to air a fully taped package from the field, 35% versus 20% for cable.

This bears out what some news executives have suggested is a conscious attempt to play to the natural strengths of the different programs and outlets. The Los Angeles Times paraphrased Bill Wheatley, the vice president of NBC News, as explaining that "the general rule has been to offer more tightly edited packages during the evening news and news magazines with extensive live reports on cable or within morning programs such as the Today Show." Wheatley was quoted directly as saying, "I don't want to get into the trap of just showing off the technology because the viewer will quickly tire of that. I do think we need to be careful of not over doing it if there is no point to it, but so far so good."

At least one prominent cable TV journalist is worried that her medium may be tilting too far in the direction of immediacy. "While the live [coverage] is exciting, it can't give you everything in a concise and broader context," Christiane Amanpour told the Los Angeles Times. "Our network has gotten away from taped packages. They think 'live' brings more spontaneity, 'keep it moving' is what they tell us."2

In their evening newscasts, broadcast networks tended more than others to weave embedded material into other reportage, not unlike what newspapers might do.

Take for example, ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings on Monday March 24. After Jennings went over the headlines, he turned to Pentagon correspondent John McWethy for a package on the war, which contained a number of video images from embedded camera people, and a pair of 10-second sound bites from embedded reporters Mike Cerre and John Berman. This was followed by a taped 25-second report from embedded reporter Bob Woodruff and a 55-second report from embedded reporter Ted Koppel.

Contrast that to how CNN's early evening newscast with Wolf Blitzer handled its embedded reports on that same night. The program used six reports from embeds that hour which averaged more than 100 seconds in length – and each report was separate and distinct, not part of a larger package.

The reliance on live also changed as time went by. On the 21st and 22nd, 57% of the embedded reports studied were live and unedited. By Monday March 24, however, live reports had dropped to less than half of all the embedded reporting studied, 47%.

Over time, the embedded reports also got shorter. More than a third of reports studied on the 21st and 22nd were 3 minutes or longer. But two days later, that had fallen to just 11% of stories.

Footnotes

1. Live and unedited is defined here as live reports, live audio with b-roll tape, live phone conversations without any video, or in three cases, live reports taped and played in their entirety later.

2. See Brian Lowry and Elizabeth Jensen, "The 'Gee Whiz' War," Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2003, page E1