Thursday, December 30, 2010

A resolution suggestion for 2011: find a new angle

I spent a good part of the summer covering the oil spill. It started with oily beaches and fishermen, and gradually moved on to the trickle down effect of the disaster.

When you cover the same thing every day for weeks, eventually you have to start looking for new angles. You can only show oily beach b-roll so many times. You can only talk to out of work shrimpers so many times. And that oil covered pelican was on so many newscasts it should have been paid royalties.

By the end of the summer we'd run the gamut of sidebar stories, everything from dolphin rescues to beach weddings that had been canceled. But every day we strove to come up with something new and interesting.

The problem with local news is that I keep seeing the same stories told the same way over and over and over. I can almost predict what stories will be in a newscast and how they'll be covered. A few examples to illustrate the point:

-Hurricane preps: Live shot from Home Depot or Lowes, generator sales, stocking up on food. B-roll of boarding up homes, evacuating, cleaning out supermarket shelves.

-Murder: Live shot from scene, interviews with tearful family members and police official. B-roll of police lights, yellow crime scene tape, and a mug shot.

-Government meeting: Live shot at night outside closed City Hall, interviews with city officials. B-roll of angry people at meeting.

-Tornado aftermath: Live shot with devastation in background. Interviews with people who lost their homes. B-roll of chain saws cutting fallen trees, cleanup crews, and shots of childrens toys in the rubble.

And you wonder why people aren't watching? You're basically giving viewers what the entertainment division provides during the holiday season: reruns.

The sameness throughout the local news industry is staggering. Reporters do the same stories, talk to the same people, take the same approach. Sure, you get the facts and the basics, but the story you're telling is the same.

The industry has gone on auto-pilot. Insert tearful sound bite here, edit compelling b-roll there, throw in standard nat sound, add a standup for good measure.

So how do you switch back to manual from automatic?

You have to put yourself in the shoes of the viewer. What questions does the viewer want asked? What does the viewer want to see? But you have to take things a lot farther. What is the angle of the story no one has considered? What would make this story unique and interesting?

You consider different angles by putting yourself in different pairs of shoes. That hurricane is coming, but it affects everyone differently. It affects an adult differently than a child. It affects a construction worker differently than someone who works at a zoo. It's an ill wind that will blow a lot of bad and someone some good.

The more shoes you try on, the more viewpoints you'll see.

This year, take the time to consider viewpoints other than your own. You may be obsessed with technology while old people couldn't care less. You may like rap music while the majority of adults find it grating. You may think health care is the most important issue in our country while others think it is the economy.

View the world through the eyes of others, and you'll find more angles.

The more eyes, the more angles.

Find the interesting ones, and run with them.


No comments: