Nothing bugs me more than news stories with music.
I know, I know, I’ve heard the argument: “The pros do it!” But the pros do a lot of things, like buy helicopters to follow high speed car chases, and dedicate valuable airtime to segments about Justin Bieber’s love life. Just because someone gets paid to put content on the air doesn’t make it right, or good, or something we should emulate.
So what’s a broadcast teacher or staff member to do? And is all music a bad idea in every circumstance?
First, think about your goals for the story, the mission of your publication, and the ethical guidelines of all journalists. Try to provide unbiased facts to the audience so that they can make up their mind about a topic or person or event. Music creates a bias because it comes from outside the situation and facts, and because it is placed into the story by the reporter, just like an opinion.
Ask yourself why you have music in the background in the first place. If you have placed music in a story to enhance drama or create a mood, then you’re using it solely to manipulate your audience, and you shouldn’t do it. A well written, shot and edited story will allow the inherent drama, humor or tragedy of the topic to come through, and doesn’t need the crutch of music to be powerful or effective.
Alternatives to canned music
Use natural sound (NATS) creatively. The sound of an event or location is like a form of music itself, and when mixed with soundbites, creates a rhythmic tapestry that gives the audience a sense of what it was like to be there.
Use music recorded at the event, which is part of the story anyway. Sporting events often have the band playing, drama performances have soundtracks.
It’s ok to use music when….
If you’re making a promo video, PSA, satirical piece or other non-news project, then it’s perfectly fine to use royalty-free music. Just don’t do it for news, features or even sports stories.
Ethics policies of other major news organizations regarding music and news can be viewed in this article from the Poynter Institute.
Michael Hernandez is an Apple Distinguished Educator who teaches film and broadcast journalism at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, CA. Follow him on Twitter: @cinehead