The other day I was in an airport, waiting for my flight. It was one of those airports where, unfortunately, there are TVs located at all of the gate areas, and the TV was tuned to CNN. On the screen was the standard shot of modern television journalism: a split-screen view of two people staring intently at the camera — one talking, the other listening.
Somewhere, somewhen, when it became clear that TV news would be filled with “coverage” that consists primarily of one person with a generic, blue news room background talking to another person with a generic blue news room background, some anonymous producer decided that the best way to present that “story” to the viewer would be to use the split-screen approach. The two faces are staring directly into the camera — that is, directly at us, the viewer — but are supposed to be talking to each other.
It would be interesting to know why this shot has become so ubiquitous. Why do we need to see the face of the interviewing reporter at all? Did somebody think that the reactions of the reporter would be part of the story — which is a little weird and contrary to the professed objectivism of the news, if you think about it — or do the networks just want to get the mugs of Anderson Cooper and their other high-priced “talent” on the air as much as possible? As a reluctant viewer, I find the effect off-putting. Who wants to have two people staring right at them? If an actual human being was sitting at the airport gate area, unblinkingly eyeballing you, it would be unnerving. The fact that the gapers are on TV doesn’t really lessen the intrusive impact all that much.
I also find myself feeling sorry for the reporters on the split-screen. They don’t get off-camera time, when they could consult their notes to figure out the next question or scratch their noses while the person being interviewed yammers on. Instead, they have to be on-screen, with a bland expression on their faces, trying to look attentive and thoughtful and mildly concerned at all times. It must be exhausting, but I guess that’s why they are high-priced talent in the first place.
If it were up to me, I’d nix the split-screen shot and eliminate forever that split-screen stare.