Thursday, July 15, 2010

Can we please have some live shots that don't state the obvious?

One of the bad habits I had to break in my first reporting job was my tendency to forget the intro. My package would be done and the anchor would have to track me down as ask me to write an intro to my story. Finally, I realized the intro was the actual beginning to my story... it wasn't the first few seconds of the package. When you write a package and then write an intro as sort of an afterthought, you end up with one of two problems: you have a story in which the intro sounds like the first line in your package, or you've burned all your info in the package and can't do anything more than state the obvious in your intro.

Nowhere is that more apparent in live shots. Since stations have become as obsessed with live shots as Lindsay Lohan is with partying, we're ended up with a bunch of young people thrown into the deep end of the pool. You put together your story, then realize you need an intro and a roll cue.

And you end up with anchor tosses like this: (the responses I'd love to hear are in italics)

Anchor: "Joe Goodhair is standing by live at the scene of the murder. Joe, are the people in this gated community shocked by this crime?"

No, people on this cul-de-sac barely looked up from their tiramisu at dinner.

Anchor: "Barbie DarkRoots has been covering the oil spill today... how did the locals react when the tar balls showed up this morning?"

Well, they danced the macarena and shot off fireworks.

Anchor: "Big layoffs at the car plant today...what's the reaction among those who were laid off?"

Most were thrilled that they could now stay home and watch the Price is Right and soap operas during the day.

Get the picture? It seems that many live shot tosses from the anchor and intros from the reporter are just thrown together without any thought. Stating the obvious doesn't just make you look silly, it makes the viewers roll their eyes and wonder if you're a totally clueless news organization.

So let's take our examples and see how changing just a few words makes the stories stronger and no longer laughable...

Anchor: "Joe Goodhair is standing by live at the scene of the murder, which occurred in one of the safest neighborhoods in the city."

Reporter: "That's right, there hasn't been a serious crime in this community since 2005.'

Anchor: "Barbie DarkRoots has been covering the oil spill today...where locals took immediate action when tar balls washed up for the first time."

Reporter: "Residents here didn't wait for government help, as they formed a clean-up crew on their own."

Anchor: "Big layoffs at the car plant today... where might these people who lost their jobs be able to market their skills?"

Reporter: "Well, according to the local employment office, there are plenty of manual labor jobs available in the area."

Basically, we've stolen some info that would have gone in the package and put it in the anchor toss and intro, making the beginning of the stories a lot stronger.

So when writing a story, start at the beginning. The beginning starts with the first words from the anchor, so make sure the lead to your story is as strong as the first piece of video.

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