Let’s face it, a lot of on-air talent became anchors and reporters because we love being clowns. We instinctually know exactly when a camera is pointed at us, and we know how to mug, how to pose, how to joke, and how to act. Yes, we know all about journalism and know it’s a serious business, but we also know how much fun it is to be on camera.
The best journalism and electronic media schools encourage this. At Gonzaga, the TV crews was required to take part in each type of broadcast, whether it was a news program or a comedy show. As a result, it encouraged people to loosen up, have fun, and find new and creative ways to tell stories. I wouldn’t be half the reporter I became if it weren’t for the comedy show. Believe it or not, my on-air presence as an anchor was better because of my time doing Christopher Walken impressions or acting like I was in a world controlled by the Monopoly man. To tell a good story, you need to know how to entertain.
It’s fun, it’s rewarding, but it comes with a catch: when you get a TV news job, that enthusiasm needs to come out in the right ways. There are good ways to make viewers laugh and feel comfortable, and there are bad ways. A false step in the name of a joke can land you in hot water.
We were taught early on that you are “always on camera.” In other words, any time you are on a set, or are wearing a microphone, or have a camera pointed at you, you should always assume that you are being broadcast live to thousands of people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a practice run, or if your live shot is 30 minutes away. When that camera is set up and the mic is in your hand, SHUT UP.
You never know when an inexperienced director could accidentally hit the wrong button and put your picture on the air, or if an intern starts recording you without your knowledge. Because of that, you need to act professionally.
(Warning: Videos contain language that is NSFW)
Hearing reporters use profanity, even in their off-time or on Twitter, is off-putting to me. First, it sounds juvenile, and I would expect a higher standard for people whose job it is to speak publicly. Second, it’s a hard habit to break. The more you swear casually, using “fuck” as a crutch for your conversations or when you’re frustrated, the more likely that is to pop up when you speak on the air.
And as we’ve seen, those mistakes can cost you big time.
It was A.J. Clemente’s first time on the air, and his last – his behavior in his first 15 seconds on the air led to him being fired immediately after the show.
Clemente’s situation frustrates me, because he went viral after the incident, went on Letterman, and tried to pass the blame off on not being told he was on-air. He didn’t know the show was starting, he claimed. But the camera was pointed right at him! The clock was counting down! The show starts at 5 p.m.! Your co-anchor was STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO YOU AND SPEAKING TO VIEWERS. Any profanity should be 10 miles away from that studio at that point. Clemente is a dunce.
During my time as a reporter, our station had a folder of videos called the “fun tape,” comprised of bloopers and antics behind the scenes. Some were typical, like when a live shot is interrupted by people yelling, and others were because of our willingness to clown around on camera. My improv side came out during long days of cut-ins for a holiday coat drive, and I would do celebrity impressions for the amusement of my photog and the production staff back at the studio. The staff would compile the impressions for the fun tape, and we would share copies of the tape at the end of the year party. Reporters and staffers had an understanding that anything on the fun tape would not be posted online, and reporters like me who did have fun behind the scenes knew that anything we did on camera should be harmless. No insults, no giving the finger, no swearing, and nothing that could reflect poorly on the station.
After all, it only takes one person to post it online before it spreads like wildfire, and then you get called into your boss’s office asking why you’re in a station-branded video swearing and mooning the camera.
And honestly, the same thing goes for when you’re out in public. As an on-air talent, you are a personality in the community. So if you are running your mouth at the bar or picking your nose while you drive, you can bet someone will notice. And believe me, they always call your station to tattle on you.
It’s a hard adjustment for people, especially if you have a big personality or enjoy making people laugh while in front of the camera. But in TV news, there’s a high standard. You can still find plenty of ways to have fun, and you can still joke with your audience and your crew and find ways to make people smile, but be smart about it. Make sure you protect yourself and your job while doing it.