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Walking for Peter Jennings

I have learned that the nightly news favors the pedestrian.

Peter Jennings first taught me this lesson. When ABC called to set up an interview about a book I'd written, my vanity scurried to fears about my hair, my clothes, my makeup. Yet when the ABC crew arrived at the US Naval Academy, where I teach, I discovered the frippery of my fears.

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The crew did not blink at my carefully chosen outfit or my professionally done hair and makeup. Nor did they immediately want to discuss the purpose of the interview: a book I'd written about the empty nest. Instead, the interviewer took one look at the white, marble foyer of the Academy's historic Mahan Hall and announced: "Perfect. Now, we just need you to walk down the hallway."

Confused, I asked him, "Why can't we do the interview over there in those great velvet chairs?"

"We may get there eventually. Right now, you walk down the hallway."

"But why? Where am I supposed to be walking to?" I persisted.

"Look, Professor, we want a shot of you walking down this hall. You're not going anywhere or doing anything. We just need you to walk."

Try walking with a lens trained on you. Squirming at every step, I suddenly understood why models adopt that blank, hip-swiveling gait on the runway. They're trying to avoid looking at the camera.

Since my ABC encounter, I've paid more attention to nightly news. I've seen many an interviewee forced into aimless wandering. A doctor was interviewed about a new drug, but first we had to see him walk the corridors of his hospital. A dynamo of a state representative was asked about her legislative initiatives, but only after she zipped down a hallway. A teenager discussed the dangers of teenage smoking, following a stroll outside the school cafeteria.

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I don't know what school of broadcast journalism teaches that walking is an effective visual technique, but the practice appears widespread. Here I was being interviewed for a feature about baby boomers and the empty nest, yet the sine qua non was putting one foot in front of the other.

When my children saw the finished clip of my interview, they were mortified that the story moved seamlessly from generic shots of Woodstock '69 to shots of me at the Naval Academy. "Mom," my son said, "they made it look like you were one of those stupid hippies who ran around topless and smoked pot."

Would that I were that free. Instead, I was merely an English professor whom Peter Jennings transfigured into a pedestrian.

*Anne Marie Drew is an English professor at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and author of 'Empty Nest, Full Life' (Abingdon Press, 1995).

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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