Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Local News

Room Enough?

Okay, just when I thought pandemic time was turning from a bizarre episode to a marker of everyday life, there was an unexpected change, and it had nothing to do with the things I was looking forward to: seeing grandchildren again, eating at a restaurant without thinking about masks, and yes, standing in line at the checkout counter and not calculating six feet.

What had changed was something I had not ever considered.

I turned on PBS nightly news with Judy Woodruff, as I do every weekday evening, to find a significant change, not to my life but to hers. After a year of seeing her from her own study with bookshelves lining the walls, she was back in the television studio.

She looked happy; I felt cheated. Seeing her at home had been a peek behind the curtain, a chance to have a sense, however brief, of how these television people actually lived.

There were so many questions seeing those commentators at home had prompted. Why had the reporters chosen to paint rooms in those colors, if indeed it was their choice? Who were in the people in the family pictures lining the shelves? What books were on the bookshelves?

Had Judy Woodruff really read the biography of Ulysses Grant lying horizontally on her bookcase? Did PBS correspondent Lisa Desjardin’s cat always curl up on an ottoman in the background? And what about that bookcase, that empty bookcase, not a book in sight, that New York Times correspondent and MSNBC contributor Mike Schmidt sits in front of?

And then the most enduring question of all: Why does former Missouri senator and now MSNBC commentator Caire McCaskell often do her TV appearances at her kitchen counter?

I enjoyed seeing correspondents in situ, so to speak, in their real-life surroundings. It reminded me of a long-ago African photo safari where I saw lions, elephants, and giraffes in their natural habitat. In pandemic times, I had a chance to see the talking heads that bring us televised news in their own environments, not in the ones the set designers had created.

Clearly, I am not the only one interested because there is an ongoing Twitter feed called Room Rater that takes critical looks at the real-life backgrounds that, for the last year, have formed the scenery for talking heads. Their reviews can be enthusiastic but they can also range from nit-picking to scathing.

New York Times correspondent and frequent television commentator Peter Baker’s living room was given a low rating for having unused picture hooks on the wall. The room in shot of Ted Cruz’s talking perch was rated as a one on a scale of one to 10 and labeled “atrocious.”

But now it will all be going away. Judy Woodruff is back in the studio. No more correspondents’ bookcases, no more family pictures, no more checking out the paintings on the wall. Once again, the people on television live in the black box and we live in the real world.

I am, make no mistake, delighted that vaccinations are bringing isolation to an end. I want to see family, eat in restaurants, go to movies and live life as once I knew it.

But I will miss those room shots. Maybe we should have one week a year when broadcasters work from home so we could catch up on changes to their interior decorating, their vacation pictures, the new books on their shelves. And then, for a brief period, they would make the leap from screen images to real life people once again.

Rita Christopher is the Senior Correspondent for Zip06. Email Rita at news@shorepublishing.com.

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