Further Adventures with TV News Fonts

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Say you’re a news anchor–someone who’s paid handsomely to look good while reading the news competently and with enough dramatic flair to let the folks at home know that what you’re saying is really important. Question: Does it matter to you when your head appears on the screen next to something that makes you and the rest of the newscast look kind of dumb? (Picture is from a KTVU “10 O’Clock News” broadcast earlier this week, and the handsome head belongs to anchor Frank Somerville.)

(There are extenuating circumstances in this case. This was a newscast item on a high-school science competition sponsored by biopharmaceutical firm Amgen, the 2013 Bay Area BioGENEius Challenge. Whoever came up with the screen title didn’t consider that BioGENEius might not translate well to all-caps.).

Year of the Snake


In TV parlance, the term “font” is often used to describe the on-screen titles that accompany graphics during a newscast. In my relatively brief stint in TV news, there’d by someone in the control room assigned to put the titles together, usually following a producer’s or writer’s instructions. It’s kind of an important job, because mistakes show up prominently on viewers’ screens and tend to leave the impression that the people putting together the newscast are rushed, careless, or incompetent. Above is a recent example from what I still habitually call our best local TV news show.

My understanding is that the job of doing the fonts has been handed to the writers, who are also asked to do other stuff–like video editing–that they didn’t used to do. It’s not that mistakes didn’t happen when more people were working on the shows; errors are part and parcel of trying to put out a pile of information on a tight deadline with fallible humans involved in the process. But in the era of smaller staffs and “working smarter, not harder,” the mistakes seem to happen more frequently. And if that’s the case–my observations are purely impressionistic, not backed up by any statistics–you have to think that as long as the shows pull their weight in the ratings and the ads are all sold, the people ultimately responsible for “Chinses New Year Parade” don’t really care too much about what shows up on the screen.

A Round Thing Out There in Space


KTVU (“There’s Only One 2”) News is very excited about NASA’s upcoming landing attempt on Mars. It did a little item on the Curiosity mission a couple nights ago. The graphic accompanying the piece was attention-getting. Never has the Red Planet looked so … moon-like. That’s because instead of using an image of Mars, whoever produced the graphic used a picture of Earth’s moon during an eclipse. Hey–it’s a round thing out there in space, and it looks red. Isn’t that close enough? (See this image for a comparison to the one in the graphic. Below is a 2001 Hubble Space Telescope picture of Mars, one of thousands of Mars images available from NASA. And yes–you’re allowed to ask whether I don’t have anything better to do with my time.)


Berkeley Rockin’-Chair Eve

A quiet TV New Year’s Eve with our friends Jill and Piero. Let’s see: the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, playing some Bernstein and Gershwin. Then “Portandia,” Coldplay on “Austin City Limits” (most frequently heard comments: “what are they singing about” and “all those songs sound the same”) and, God bless us, “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve (with Ryan Seacrest).” Has anybody tried to get Dick Clark together with Lenin on Red Square to see who has more pizzazz? Maybe someone can get Kim Jong-Il to join the party.

We’re back home now, and quiet prevails. Not even a lot of fireworks tonight. Happy New Year to all–have a great 366 days of 2012.

Weathermen of Yesteryear

I grew up in Chicago, meaning I grew up on Chicago TV. In our house, the local news was a staple, and I’m inclined to believe it wasn’t bad though maybe it was also not as good as I sometimes tell myself it was. Anchor and reporter names I recall include Floyd Kalber, Frank Reynolds, Fahey Flynn, Bill Kurtis, Jane Pauley, Barbara Simpson, and Walter Jacobsen. Some of them went on to work with the national networks, for what that’s worth.

And then there were the weathermen. (Yes, they were all guys.) I think of them not because they were great, although I again lean toward the view they weren’t bad. I suppose there’s a book or at least a long essay on how we have come to see and think of the weather in the electronic meda age compared to earlier eras going back to the time when we guessed at the day’s conditions by looking to the horizon and sniffing the wind.

For better and worse, here are the weathermen who delivered the forecasts to my impressionable young mind:

P.J. Hoff, who cartooned the weather on the CBS affiliate, WBBM, Channel 2. He had a character named Mr. Yellencuss that I imagine he’d draw when bad weather was in the offing.

Harry Volkman, who worked on several Chicago channels and seemed to pride himself on (and was given credit for) the “professionalism” of his forecasting (he’s the first TV weather guy I recall displaying a seal from the American Meteorological Society during his broadcasts).

John Coleman, part of the first “happy-talk” Chicago news team on Channel 7, WBKB (later, WLS). In my book, his claim to fame, which was a pretty good one, was to forecast Chicago’s January 1967 blizzard (while he was doing weather on Milwaukee TV). According to his own account (in the comments to a post about Chicago’s Groundhog’s Eve Blizzard of 2011), Channel 7 hired him immediately after the storm, and I kind of remember him on Channel 7 by the time another storm hit two weeks or so after the first one). He went on to national TV and was a cofounder of The Weather Channel. And today, bless him, he’s a loud voice in contesting the case for climate change.

There were others, but they’ve faded from memory if in fact they ever made much of an impression. I ought to mention Tom Skilling as a great Chicago weather guy–the greatest, for my money–but he is very much of the present era.



Part Two of our late summer family/friend visits: We flew out of San Francisco yesterday for the New York area. We started by sweating through long check-in lines (United is merging with Continental: “Hey, we can be *twice* as slow!”) and a ridiculous wait at security (not enough staff on the checkpoint, and the guy reviewing IDs had a certain leisurely approach to his work). When we got on the plane, we sat on the runway for about an hour: weather in the East was causing delays. But then we were airborne, and the morning was beautiful. Above: Mount Diablo just under the wing at left. Below: Los Vaqueros reservoir in the Diablo range in eastern Contra Costa County (click for larger images).


Watched in Horror

KTVU’s increasingly loathsome (or maybe just pathetic and strange) “The Ten O’Clock News” offered these items back-to-back tonight:

“Take a look at this surveillance video, and you will understand why a motorcyclist is thankful to be alive. Twenty-five-year-old Zach Perez was rear-ended on a Dallas freeway last month, and he went flying, but managed to roll away from other cars despite being in intense pain. Perez broke two ribs, four vertebrae, and lost his spleen, but he is alive. “

Last month? You mean March? That’s news? Are you kidding me? Where’s his spleen? Well, it’s graphic video, and such an upbeat ending. Unlike our next story.

“A daredevil stunt at a county fair in England went wrong, and a man called ‘The Human Cannonball’ has died. Police in Kent say the 23-year-old man was fired out of the cannon 40 feet into the air, but the safety net failed to open properly and the man fell to earth as the crowd watched in horror. The stunt show has been canceled while authorities investigate.”

Me, too. Watched in horror. No need to investigate.

Uprising, Meet Moon Rising


Nothing helps you relax after a long, hard week in the newsroom quite like another newsroom’s misfortune. The above is from a live shot KTVU-Channel 2 was doing in San Francisco’s U.N. Plaza tonight after a rally by supporters of the Egyptian uprising. The reporter, Amber Lee, was just wrapping up after a tape report when a passer-by dropped trow. In the moments following this shot, her camera operator tried to move to get this full moon out of the frame. He/she couldn’t quite do it.

As KTVU News likes to say, “Only on 2.”

Update: My friend Pete points out in the comments that KTVU still has the video of the report online. Watch for the last five seconds or so.: http://www.ktvu.com/video/26842640/index.html

Infotainment Tonight


Screenshot from the January 13, 2011, “10 O’Clock News” (a.k.a, “The Used-to-Be Really Good Bay Area News Show”). By way of explanation, whoever was in charge of doing this graphic left the placeholder label in place for all the audience to see. How does stuff like this happen? Staff cuts, mostly. I’ve heard that many of the artists and producers who used to make and oversee graphics like this have been reassigned or let go and that writers have been given this job–in addition to continuing to write the news and find, pull, and edit videotape. The unfortunate on-air result notwithstanding, cutting these corners makes the station owner’s bottom line look great.