‘Just dreadful’

Since I started shooting video clips of candidates early this year, the one who protested the most vociferously to being on camera was Karen Floyd, who is arguably the most telegenic candidate running for major office this year. I thought that sort of ironic. She finds being photographed at all — video or still — "just dreadful."

She has a point. The camera is intrusive, although I try to minimize that by using a very small camera sitting next to my notepad on the table. Some candidates don’t even notice it; others have trouble putting it out of their minds.

This makes me worry about polluting the process by making candidates too uncomfortable. But in some cases, I think the video clips can help readers understand a little better why we form some of the impressions we do in these interviews.

I remain torn about this, and my colleagues on the board remain leery of it. They sometimes find it distracting, too. At times in the past, I’ve talked about video-recording entire interviews — say, with gubernatorial and presidential candidates. But I’ve been talked out of it because those chats can be tense and difficult enough without people playing to a camera — we want the candidates’ undivided attention, and we want to give them ours.

It also makes going off the record — a far more useful tool to editorial writers than to reporters, since we don’t want quotes as much as we want to know what is really on people’s minds — rather awkward. When they are on camera, candidates are unlikely even to suggest going off the record, and we might never even know there was something else we could have learned.

Anyway, this is an experiment — sort of dipping our toe in the video waters — and we’re still evaluating its pros and cons. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.

13 thoughts on “‘Just dreadful’

  1. Doug

    This says a WHOLE lot more about you than it does about Floyd.
    So you were videotaping her but didn’t tell her that beforehand?
    And now that you know that your feeble attempts at making her election about your voucher phobia have failed miserably, you just happen to find the time to post this video? Sad. Unethical. Unprofessional.
    If I were her, I would never speak to The State again.
    And I have to ask again, do you have ANY video that shows Cindi Scoppe saying something coherent???

  2. mark g

    People act differently when they are being videotaped, so I think it probably compromises the editorial board meeting.
    You would probably have a better, more open and candid interview if you didn’t have the camera on.
    In my humble opinion, I’d suggest you leave it off for the board meeting, but then shoot one or two questions at the end for a “blog exclusive.”

  3. Ed

    I watched most of the debate between Floyd and Rex the other night. I don’t know why Ms. Floyd has a problem with the camera, I thought she did well. Mr. Rex, on the other hand, seemed too slick. He was able to spout all the buzz words and cliches, but I heard nothing new from him. I don’t believe his slick and refined camera persona helped him much. His message? If you like what you’ve been getting for your education tax dollars, vote for me, I’ll give it to you in spades. Ed

  4. Mike Frederick

    I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly with the previous post which described your video behavior as sad, unethical, and unprofessional. Even on an inter-personal level, it’s just plain creepy that you obviously had the camera activated before briefing Mrs. Floyd. Since this level of work belongs on MySpace, I can only guess that your irrational fear of any type of public education reform has clouded your judgement. I hope on Tuesday the voters send The State a clear message: that you folks are as out of touch as I think you are.
    Mike Frederick

  5. west_rhino

    Brad, this underscores the reason I tell candidates to carry their own recorder to press interviews, to allow the unexpurgated transcript to be available. With Youtube, perhaps I’ll up that to bringing a small videocamera along to record the context and tone of thd inverviewers…

  6. Brad Warthen

    This is kind of weird. Some of y’all think Karen Floyd was the only one who didn’t know she was being recorded. Hardly; in fact, she was probably one of the quickest to notice it.
    As I said, I tried to let the camera intrude as little as possible. When I shot a lot of the footage I have, I had no idea whether I’d be able to use it or not. Why get a candidate all self-conscious over something that might never leave my hard drive?
    Anyway, any interview with the press is assumed to be on the record — and that includes images — until someone says otherwise. And when they want to go off the record, one of the first things they tend to say is “turn that thing off” — whether it’s the camera or my audio recorder.

  7. Daniel

    Given that you are “torn” about it, and your colleagues are “leery” of it and find it “distracting,” I think it’s very interesting that you would post video of a candidate that your editorial board has been highly critical of during the election being very uncomfortable, just two days before the election.
    I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, and I realize that you have posted unflattering video of other candidates as well. But the timing, together with your expressed uneasiness about this is odd.

  8. Paul DeMarco

    One of the best parts of this blog is you letting us behind the scenes-into the editorial board conference room, into your thought process (except for the recent and very unfortunate “Time for a break” post). I also appreciate your willingness to discuss the tough calls you make and your misgivings about some of those choices (i.e. your endorsement of Weathers despite the appeal of DeFelice).
    I think Karen Floyd has a right to complain. I don’t think that any candidate could reasonably expect to be videotaped during a newspaper endorsement interview. So Karen and her colleagues were right to be chagrined to discover they were on camera after the camera was running.
    I think you have two choices
    1) Stop taping
    2) Get informed consent-ie ask the candidate in advance if you can tape them (preferably days in advance when they schedule the interview rather than popping the question as they sit down at the conference table).
    I do think the video clips are valuable. Watching a candidate in an unscripted, casual setting gives an important perspective.
    Although I study issues closely, many of my votes are made from the gut. A candidate’s eyes, body language, tone of voice, sense of humor, attention span, etc. all inform my vote.
    My vote in 2004 for Bush was on that basis. Each candidate had some issues I agreed with but Kerry was so wishy washy about Iraq and so generally tone deaf that I couldn’t support him.
    How about putting the camera in the corner of the room zoomed in on the candidate so it’s not a distraction? Just turn it on before the interview (if the candidate agrees) and let it roll. I suspect you will all forget it is there.

  9. Lee

    I have sat in on the editorial board meetings of two metropolitan newspapers, and I can see why editors wouldn’t want videotape of that process to be on the Internet.
    They were struggling to come up with ideas for articles, columns and editorials. Their first reflex was to see what the New York Times was doing and see if they could ape something.

  10. India

    You are truly UNBELIEVABLE, just as biased as the paper you work for. You clearly told her you were not planning on broadcasting this…not that it makes her look bad, but you sure try to every day. Blatant yellow journalism at it’s best.

  11. Brad Warthen Post author

    This is fascinating. I happened across this post from 11 years ago, and I read all these comments from people who think I was so beastly to Karen Floyd. Then, moments later, I ran across this passage from a column several months earlier in which I’m describing our interview with her during the primary:

    Folks had told Karen Floyd there was no way we would endorse her. Why? Because the governor has broken with convention to anoint her, over her four Republican rivals, for superintendent of education, and the governor has only one education “reform” plan — tax credits for private school tuition. But that’s just one of 68 ideas on Mrs. Floyd’s platform, so for more than two hours, she really put her heart into trying to win our support. She was smart, charming, energetic, sincere and sent ideas just chasing each other across the table. Ironically, a bigger problem than “choice” might be her lack of investment in the PACT and the Education Accountability Act, which together constitute the main theme of actual school reform in South Carolina. But she is suspicious of anything presented as a panacea. She prefers “crumbling the cookie piece by piece” to embracing any one, big approach. Because of that, there’s more to her than the two main issues. That makes this one complicated…

    I was really rough on her, huh? Sheesh…

    I guess whatever awful things I said to or about her were during the general campaign in the fall. Because here it seems to me like I was a perfect gentlemen. Which should surprise no one…


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