Unconventional Show = Creative Workflow: Vice News Tonight

TVNewsCheck speaks with Lucy Paynter, real-time art director for Vice News Tonight about how she draws on her traditional TV background to choose the elements and experiences that will best contribute to the workflow that’s needed for a newscast with an avant garde flair.

Originally published by TVNewsCheck

Vice News Tonight began airing on HBO in October 2016 with a creative and editorial mission to recreate the nightly news.

With an emphasis on freshness — not only in the news covered, but also in the way it’s presented — viewers will immediately notice this isn’t a typical evening newscast. For one thing, there are no anchors. Another difference is a certain fearlessness that allows the Vice team to experiment with how text and graphics are used and to embrace a bit of humor when necessary to help tell a news story.

Lucy Paynter, real-time art director for Vice News Tonight, has the responsibility of evolving the on-air workflow of the newscast as the nitty-gritty necessities of producing an unconventional daily news program evolve.

Paynter has a 15-year history in traditional TV, where she worked as a real-time artist — with an emphasis on using Vizrt tools. Before joining Vice, Paynter worked on projects like creating graphics for use on the augmented displays that were part of the 2012 NBC Democracy Plaza and the Today Show Concert Series.

In her new role at Vice, she draws on that traditional TV background to choose the elements and experiences that will best contribute to the workflow that’s needed for a newscast with an avant garde flair.

In this interview with TVNewsCheck tech editor Phil Kurz, Paynter discusses how text is used to help transition between stories in lieu of an anchor’s intro, how Vice journalists with a documentarian’s eye are acclimating to the workflow to put a nightly newscast on air, and the approach Vice is taking with its nightly storytelling to win over a younger audience.

An edited transcript:

The executive producer of Vice News Tonight is quoted in a Daily Beast article on the new newscast as asking: “If you were to start fresh, how would you do it?” when it comes to nightly news. That’s what your organization has set out to discover and deliver. What’s the answer for TV graphics?

One of the things that's so different about working for Vice News is that creating inspired and interesting visuals is equally as important as quality editorial content. Not only are we aiming to deliver the news with a particular perspective, but the goal is to do so in a way that's memorable and engaging.

Our supportive graphics are bold and big and punctuative and some of our longer, illustrative pieces are really beautiful digital art. We'd all like to think that we have our viewers' full attention at all times, but I think at some point you have to accept that you might be on in the background. And in either of these cases, the use of clear and sometimes minimalist graphic treatments does wonders to help to define the exact editorial point you're trying to make.

When I've watched your nightly news, I can't help but feel like the typographic treatment has more in common with print design (magazine, for instance) than traditional TV text treatments. Is that so?

Print and web have influences on our typographic design, yes. We have a very talented group of graphic artists, illustrators and animators who come from a multitude of different backgrounds. And I think that helps in breaking the mold in a sense of what's expected in TV graphics. If the goal is to surprise and engage the viewer, your chances are only going to be helped by bringing some non-TV-traditional minds into the mix.

Text and white space do some heavy lifting on your newscast, helping to transition from one story to the next rather than relying on an anchor. Can you discuss this approach and tell me a little about how you came to it?

From the moment I came onboard at Vice News Tonight, this concept of an "anchorless" news show was presented as one of our greatest challenges and much of what we've ultimately developed is in support of it.

Obviously in the moments between stories and especially in the instances of drastic topic changes, some device is necessary to orient the viewer and help them follow the arc of the show. In the absence of a host, we've experimented with a few ways to accomplish this.

Sometimes it involves finding a common thread and using words or phrases to create a link; other times it's a matter of ending on a poignant note, letting the piece "breathe" in white space and then picking up the next story with audio cues. Some of these techniques have been more effective than others. It's still something that we're experimenting with every day.

You’ve mentioned in a previous conversation that a lot of the journalists working on the show are coming at this from a post-production-oriented point of view. First, can you elaborate on that a bit by reviewing the workflow?

I think it's less about the origins of our editorial staff as much as it is the origins of this particular news program and in Vice itself, which has always excelled in documentary filmmaking. There's an aesthetic there that comes from a particular workflow that is based in post-production.

By comparison, 24-hour live news networks don't always have the opportunity to post-produce, thus the importance of real-time graphics. And what we're attempting on Vice News Tonight lies somewhere in the middle. So the approach needs to be very different both editorially and technically. Once again — given the fact we've only been on air since October — it's a process that we're working to finetune every day.

Second, how are you working with them to get in the groove of a workflow needed to sustain a nightly news production? And how have they responded?

We launched with a workflow that, while definitely unconventional, integrates very smoothly in a post-production environment.

As each day passes, however, it's becoming clearer where some of the more time-consuming and redundant processes can be helped by the control room and through real-time graphic technology. But it will never replace some of the processes that make this show what it is.

It really is about striking the balance between speed and style, and as each member of the team understands what the others are bringing to the table, we get closer and closer to figuring out the formula.

There recently was a news story on Exxon-Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson, who President-elect Trump has nominated for secretary of state. The entire report was presented as a 2D cartoon — not just of Tillerson, but also of the main Vice reporter doing the story, another Vice reporter, an anonymous print reporter who was interviewed by one of your reporters but wished not to be identified. How long does it take to produce a report like this? How often do you use this sort of treatment?

Depending on the number of artists who are working on the piece, its length, the style, sound design, etc., it really does vary.  It could take anywhere from a few days to a week or even two. Most often, these are not so much representations of breaking news as they are long-lead pieces that are either telling a story or providing an in-depth explanation. So when the show calls for that particular type of tool, it's a great opportunity to flex the artistic muscle.

Does this sort of thing help appeal to millennials and other younger-minded viewers who have been shunning traditional evening newscast?

Honestly, I don't really know if it's possible to play to this specific audience in the traditional sense. The way that we consume media now is so different than it's been in previous decades. And for the younger audiences, not only do they know no other form of consumption, but they're very adept at spotting attempts to win their favor. Personally, I can't imagine anything less appealing.

From our perspective, I think we're just making the kind of TV we would want to watch and hope that those that agree with us find us and stay with us.

And, I noticed that you pixelated the cartoon face of the reporter who didn't wish to be identified. I laughed out loud when I saw that because your animator could have done anything with the cartoon's face — like making it a talking duck or pine cone or whatever. But the animator chose to stay with the TV news treatment. Was that meant to be lighthearted, and if so, how does humor fit in with what you’re doing?

Humor is a big part of the voice of our show because it's a big part of the voice of the people who make the show. Since we have no host, the show really is a reflection of our team, which is one of the things that I love most about it. So we're glad that you laughed out loud. We'll take it as a personal compliment.

Vice News Tonight rolled out in October. Where is it from a graphics and workflow perspective today compared with where you wish it to be, and what are the next step we can expect to get it where you want it?

I'm actually really proud of what we have on-air today. It's leaps and bounds from where we were even three or four months ago, and it's getting better and better. We've got tons of ideas about where we're headed artistically that I won't share with you here, but we're excited to show you in the near future.

From a real-time standpoint, it's unlike anything else I've built, and we're only planning on expanding the integration further. All of these things that you've mentioned — anchorless transitions, custom animations, a post-production workflow, etc. mean that the opportunities for graphic templating are not where I would normally find them.

This has forced me to really think outside the box, and I've had a lot of fun learning new techniques and technologies that I think are going to really benefit the show and allow our very talented people to do what they do best.

Read the original interview on TVNewsCheck.com