Back to Top

Prompter Changes in D. C.

From the Washington Post (Abridged)...

The day's news may soon rest in the hands -- and quite possibly on the feet -- of newscasters at WTTG, Channel 5, in Washington.

In a bid to save money, the station is planning to reassign the technicians who operate the electronic prompters that feed scripted news copy to the anchors while they're on the air. Instead, the station wants its anchors to do the job themselves.

WTTG, known as Fox5, intends to train its newscasters to operate prompters using a series of hand levers and foot pedals, all while they're reading the news as it scrolls by.

Some at the station worry that such a roll-your-own system could increase the potential for on-camera blunders, as anchors fumble for the right spot in their scripts. They also say that viewers may notice some awkward cranking and pumping beneath the anchor desk.

Fox5 News Director Phil Metlin briefly described what the station had in mind in an internal memo last week. Metlin said reassignment of the prompter operators' work was part of a "corporate directive" (Fox5 is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.). Wrote Metlin to his staff: "We have purchased new equipment including foot pedals and hand controls. In the coming weeks, we will begin placing this equipment throughout our studios and we will begin a vigorous training program. Our goal is to use this equipment flawlessly."

WTTG General Manager Duffy Dyer said Tuesday that his station hasn't decided when it will implement the new system. But he said the anchor-controlled prompters tested well at Fox's station in Austin. "Some anchors and news talent prefer to operate it themselves because they can be in complete control of the speed and the pauses."

TV stations in small cities often require news people to crank their own prompters, but the practice is largely unknown in major markets. Larger stations -- such as Fox5 -- often have fast-moving newscasts that contain a variety of live and taped elements, as well as live remote reports. As elements are added and subtracted throughout a broadcast, the prompter technician plays a pivotal if unseen role, moving the electronic script to the appropriate story.