Friday, December 3, 2010

Show-and-tell homework

There was a great line in the show "Burn Notice" the other day. (A terrific show, by the way. Very well written.) The lead character, a spy named Michael Westen, says, after something blows up, "I prefer show over tell."

In other words, telling his enemies he'll blow something up isn't nearly as effective as showing them what he can do.

So it puzzles me that I keep seeing package after package from markets of all sizes that might as well be broadcast on the radio. Because the video never seems to match the copy. Or the video doesn't even exist.

One of the very first things you learn in this business is "write to the video." But if you never bother to shoot the video, you won't be able to write to it. You'll be stuck with all "tell" and no "show."

This is fourth grade stuff. You brought something to class to show it off. You didn't stand up there at the blackboard and talk about something without showing it.

So here's a little exercise you can do this weekend. Take the topics I'm going to list and come up with five visuals that will show rather than tell. I'll give you an example:

It's cold.

So, rather than do a package on the frigid weather and just talk about it, how might we show it? Some examples:

-frozen lake
-person walking outside all bundled up
-seeing someone's breath as they stand outside
-scraping ice from a windshield
-time and temperature clock at a business
-visible exhaust from a car

Got the idea? You could edit all those shots together, and if the audio on your station suddenly went out the viewer would still know it is cold outside. Take that concept and apply it to every story. Learn to think visually, and your packages will go to another level.

Take some of these topics and write as many visuals for them as you can think of. Some of these might not seem visual, but trust me, every story has possibilities. And while you're at it, make a list of nat sound possibilities as well.

-School bus safety
-Property tax hike
-Health care bill
-Mailing gifts for Christmas
-Crackdown on drunk drivers
-Home construction prices

Remember, you need to let your video carry the story. Any reporter can tell a story, but a good reporter has mastered the art of show-and-tell.

There's a reason a great piece of video is called a "money shot." And it has nothing to do with your written copy.


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