two minutes

When I recall what I learned about television news in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, one phrase sticks out in my mind: “Two minutes is an eternity.”

I don’t remember who first launched the phrase around Gaylord Hall. It could have been Dana Rosengard, the ultra-talented, ultra-intelligent and unforgettably flamboyant former adviser of OU Nightly who moonlights as a Miss America Pageant instructor. (He was the only person at Gaylord who cursed more than me in class, and he was the professor.)

Or it could have been any number of people. But the statement is true enough without specific attribution.

A typical local TV news broadcast runs 30 minutes, though the overachievers at KOKH show off and do a full hour. (Fox 25 reporter and weekend anchor Keaton Fox is a Rosengard disciple, and tonight he, Phil Cross and Mireya Garcia are actually scheduled to lead a half-hour special report on Oklahoma education issues.)

But let’s talk about typical local TV news broadcasts. In accounting for openings, closings, tosses, commercials, weather and sports, a general half-hour broadcast has about 10 to 12 minutes for actual news reporting. Hence, two minutes is an eternity. Many “stories” last 15 seconds, 30 seconds or just one minute. A story could be simple copy read by an anchor; a VO (voice over) with anchor copy; a VOSOT (voice over with sound on tape) that includes a soundbite from a source; or a full reporter package.

Packages comprise the most compelling and complete journalism on television, but local TV news packages rarely last three minutes. That means News 9’s Joleen Chaney had two minutes to report on the topic of mental illness last week. (That’s only 389 words in the online version, including promos for related stories).

Similarly, Channel 4’s Galen Culver gets about two minutes (374 words) to do segments for his “Great State” series. Channel 5’s Brian Shlonsky got about 60 seconds (97 words) for a story on a new data-sharing agreement between several metro-area police departments.

With their extended broadcast, Fox 25 gave Christine Vantimmeren nearly three minutes (427 words) to cover an interim study on prescription drug abuse and pills that can’t be crushed by a hammer. (I bet those are good on your stomach lining.)

So why am I explaining all of this?

Because the other day, I saw a pretty good story from KFSM 5 News in Fort Smith, Ark., that was nearly five minutes long. Five minutes! An eternity times two and a half. Not only is the piece about an infamous town in Oklahoma, but it was reported by the station’s chief meteorologist, Garrett Lewis.

Sure, you might have heard the toxic story of Picher before — and sure, Lewis should have interviewed at least two sources instead of just one — but you probably haven’t seen all these images of a sad and fascinating story right here in our own lead-filled backyard.

Well done, Mr. Lewis. I highly suspect the viewing public would like to see a few more long-form features on local TV news. Click to view Lewis’ report on Picher below, and perhaps tune in for Keaton Fox’s education special report tonight if you, too, are tired of bite-sized TV reporting.