The chief correspondent for HDNet says HD “increases the sense of immediacy,” while regular TV sometimes shinks wars and natural disasters to fit a small box and makes them “less real.”
High-definition television is more than pretty pictures, says Dan Rather, who has emerged as an unofficial spokesman for the medium since signing on to produce investigative news reports for HDNet, an all-HD cable network.
“High definition increases the sense of immediacy,” the former CBS anchor said during and speech and Q&A at the HD World conference yesterday in New York.
“When used the right way, high definition has the potential to almost completely remove the so-called fourth wall separating the program from the viewer,” he said.
“This is exciting for any kind of programming, but I think it is important for news in particular because it mitigates the potential television has sometimes had in the past to take huge events such as wars and natural disasters and shrink them to images that seem neatly contained in a small box,” he said. “There is a certain removed quality to it.
“High definition takes that away,” he said. “It takes away that layer of removal that can lull us, at times, into thinking that the far away events we see on television are somehow less real.”
War coverage on regular TV sometimes looks like a “video game,” Rather said. “With high-definition television wedded to first class reporting and good writing, I think some of the reality of war may sink home in a way that it never has before.”
Rather cited one example of how he has used HD in an HDNet report on the hard life of Katrina evacuees still living in government trailer camps.
To help tell in the story, Rather and his producers decided to shoot a camp from a helicopter. “If you take a regular television high shot, it gives you some of the dimension of the trailer camp,” he said. “But if you take it in high definition, it just leaps off the screen at you of how crowded it is.”
Rather also repeated his criticism of American journalism, saying it has “lost its guts along the way” and that it needs “a spine transplant” and a recommitment to the idea that it is an “important and integral part of our system of checks and balances.”
“What’s important for people to know [is what] someone, somewhere—particularly in power—doesn’t want them to know,” Rather said. “That’s news. All the rest is just advertising.”
Rather attributed the problem in part to “tepid” public support of more aggressive journalism and the “nature of the ownership and operation of the larger news outlets.”
The bulk of Rather’s prepared speech was given to an analysis of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East and what he believes is the case in the potentially more volatile Pacific Rim.
“These are enormous challenges,” Rather said. “The new wind blowing in international relations includes wars and threats of wars that will severely test our traditional American optimism.”
Rather then wrapped up the speech by quoting Bob Dylan’s Paths to Victory, which caused him to choke up and tears to well up in his eyes: “Trails of troubles/Roads of battles/Paths of victory/I shall walk.”