success if only for those who are willing to take risks….
Television is expensive to make.
Books are cheap.
To create a television ‘product’ you now have to have an idea, hire a cameraman, a soundman, director, lighting tech, editor, edit suite, rent gear… on and on leading one to believe, and properly so that making television is a complicated, intensive, time-consuming and costly proposition.
Or at least it used to be.
To write a book, you have to have an idea… and a pencil and paper.
The ‘technology’ of writing is both cheap and inexpensive.
The ‘complicated’ nature of television production has, since the medium’s inception, inculcated us all with a sense that before we embarked in the actual act of ‘making tv’, we had better have a good plan of what the final product would be, what it would cost, how we would get there and so on. Hence, the world of ‘production management’.
This ‘complicated and costly’ mentality toward television production permeates every aspect of the business, from feature films to local news.
Before we dispatch a crew, we want to be damned sure there is going to be an airable product at the end of the day. So we have ‘assigment desks’ that sit next to scanners and monitors to tracke very auto accident and then rush a crew out to shoot it. In truth, auto accidents are not much of a story (except for the poor basterd in the car), but they are easy to get ‘sure things’. The same goes for press conferences. Nothing could be more ‘non news’ than a press conference (essentially just a PR stunt designed for TV), but it guarangees success.
The absolute biggest disaster you can imagine is to send out a crew and have them come back with …nothing. (you know, we got there, but frankly, journalistically ,we didn’t think there was much of a story there, so we came back). That is the quick route to unemployment. Good jouranlistic judgement perhaps, but unemployment nevertheless.
“For our next piece, we are running 1:20 of black because the idiot we sent out to bring back the story does not understand the news business”.
We like to say, “just bring back something”.
When I was at CBS News we used to call the place ‘cubicles of fear’. The fear was that what you brought back would be found to be ‘unacceptable’, so ‘experimentation’ of any kind was a massive no-no. Television became imitative, not creative. Make it look the way it looked last night, last week, last year and you will be fine. Look at 60-Minutes. Has not changed in 30 years. Tick.. tick…tick….
It was this cost:product ratio that made TV so risk averse. That is why all television news desks, anchors, weather, hair styles and pieces all look pretty much the same whether you are watching KABC or WCBS or KBC (Kenya Broadcasting Corporation). They all look exactly the same. Cookie cutter… piece after piece, night after night.
Print is different because print is cheap.
Anyone can try it.
All JK Rowling had to do to write Harry Potter was start writing.
And one can safely assume that she did not write it perfectly from page 1 to the end. I am sure there were lots of drafts and redrafts and mistakes and torn up pages. That is fine, because paper costs nothing. So anyone is free to try and try again and try again, until they get it right… or at least better.
Creativity, real creativity, requires the ability to take risks.
Real creativity means that you have to be prepared to fail a lot of times before you start to get it right.
Tear up the paper and start again….
Now, if every sheet of paper cost $1000, and you had to hire a ‘typerwriter operator’ to type the letters out for you, and every ‘typerwiter room’ charged you $2500 a week or more, novels might read a bit differently. Everyone would be really fearful each time they set out to write something. And we would probably all repeat tried and true formulas that worked. Every book sold would probably start ‘It was a dark and rainy night”… and maybe, maybe some highly creative person would try “it was a dark and windy night”… maybe. And we would only publish books by well known authors like Katie and Matt because we would be sure they would sell.
We would have some pretty crap books.
Like we have some pretty crap TV news.
Creativity, and great journalism by the way, require a built-in freedom to fail.
That is, the ability to try and fail and try again and fail until you get it right.
Television news is institutionally averse to failure. We are an extremely risk-averse business.
But if we really want to explore greatness in the medium, then we have to change our thinking. We have to embrace failure… embrace it as a good thing.
This is incredibly hard to to. It goes directly against 60 years of real life experience.
But the rules are different now.
If you have a laptop and a camera and the requisite skill sets, then you could become the JK Rowling of TV. She had a paper and pencil and an idea. You have a camera, laptop and idea. Start making things. Bad things. Messy things. Anything. Then tear it up and start again. And again.
Only by trial and error and risk and failure will we every take the medium to where it could go.
Go ahead… take a risk….