James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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The force isn’t with CNN’s ‘holograms’

Posted by James McPherson on November 9, 2008

Obviously no news organization should fake the news. I also have serious reservations about “re-creations” sometimes used–especially, it seems, to dramatize the murders of attractive young women–to demonstrate what happened (or may have happened), typically with shadowy, shaky camera work and mood-inspiring music added.

Use of technology to report the weather is somewhat different. In that case, graphics on a green screen enhance the viewer’s ability to understand what’s going on. Election maps and various charts and graphs can do the same thing for a news organization’s ability to explain the news.

And while election night is a time when the networks like to bring out the toys, CNN went too far with its use of “holograms” (actually “tomograms”) that “chatted” with Wolf Blitzer (who sometimes doesn’t seem quite real, himself, but that’s a separate issue) and Anderson Cooper. As the Poynter Institute’s Amy Gahran notes, “This particular tool added absolutely nothing to the substance of the coverage–and thus, it became a mere stunt that trivialized CNN’s coverage.” (italics and bold type in original)

The problem is that Blitzer and Cooper were talking to blank space, rather than to actual images of correspondent Jessica Yellin and rapper Will.I.Am. Why not just use a traditional video screen? As for Yellin, who referenced Princess Leia (Will.I.Am also made a “Star Wars” reference), according to a CNN article, “Now, in hindsight, Yellin only wishes she could have come up with a better ‘Star Wars’ joke.”

You can see clips of the CNN experiment below, followed by a clip that explains some of the technology:

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