Friday, October 15, 2010

Reporter checklist

People often send me links to packages and ask me to give them a quick look. I often find myself saying stuff like, "You forgot a standup," or, "You forgot to add the nat sound," or "You forgot to use some tight shots." The key word is often "forgot."

With that in mind, I've put together a little checklist that reporters should have whenever you're heading out to do a package. Veterans have this system on auto-pilot, but if you're new, it always helps to double-check the things you need before heading back to the station. Some of this stuff is obvious, some not.


-Do you have a clear picture of what your story will be about? If not, talk with management before you leave.

-Do you understand the story you have been assigned? If not, do research before setting it up.

-Have you discussed the story with the photog and gotten his ideas on how to approach it before you start making calls?

-Do you have good directions and contact numbers? Don't trust the GPS or Internet mapping services.

-Do you have a pre-conceived notion about the story? If so, check it at the door.

-Got your makeup and IFB? You might have to do a live shot and not get a chance to come back to the station. In fact, always assume you might not come back and take everything you might possibly need.


-Have you gotten both sides of the story?

-Have you looked for a third side, or point of view, that will make your story different from those done by your competitors?

-If you can only get one side of the story, can viewers see you trying to get the other side, or are you just going to tell them you couldn't get in touch with someone?

-Have you done a standup that both shows and tells? Or shown some reporter involvement?

-Got a money shot? Got a great opening shot?

-Did you use a tripod (and lights, if necessary?)

-Does your story show and tell, or just tell?

-Does your story have natural sound that adds to the story?

-Are you being objective in your questions?

-Do you have enough b-roll to cover your story? (If you're a one man band, do you have a variety of wide, medium and tight shots?)

-Did you thank the people who took time to give you an interview?


-Did you watch all of your video before writing your script?

-Did you write the anchor Intro before writing your package?

-Are you writing to the video you've got? Are you writing into and out of any sound bites or pieces of nat sound?

-Do you have several pieces of nat sound in your story?

-Did you watch your story completely after you're done to make sure there are no bad edits, flash frames or jump cuts?


-Have you thanked your photog? (If you're a one man band, look in the mirror at the end of the day and say, "Helluva job, kid.")

-Have you left gas in the news car? Nothing is more frustrating for the next person to jump in a car for breaking news only to lose precious time having to stop at a gas station.

-Have you left garbage in the news car? If you want to get on a photog's bad side, leave some fast food bags in the car to fester overnight.

-Have you watched the competition to compare stories, and have you noticed anything you might have done differently?

-Have you asked for feedback from the ND or a veteran on staff?

-Finally, if your story turned out really good, did you make a copy and take it home?

Any more suggestions, fire away. I'm sure I've missed a few.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Enough with the jump cuts already!

Lucky for me I received my first editing lesson from a CBS producer in New York. He told me there was a lot of latitude when it came to editing, but there were a few rules you never broke.

The big taboo was called a "jump cut."

Most of you know the term, but for those who do not, let me explain. A jump cut is something that cannot physically happen. For instance, if you go from from a shot of Senator Jones at his desk and cut directly to him shaking hands on the campaign trail, that is a jump cut. In effect, he has "jumped" from the desk to the campaign.

Jump cuts don't have to be that drastic to qualify. You might go from a shot of the Senator on the phone and cut directly to one of him with his hands folded. His hand has jumped from the phone to his other hand.

Hence the creation of "cutaways." The CBS guy taught me the importance of having shots to "cut away" from your subject; something to put between shots to avoid a jump cut.

The only other way to get around this was a dissolve, which implies a time change, and back then it took an act of congress and a friendly director to get a dissolve made. It was too much time and trouble, so we simply shot enough cutaways to deal with jump cuts.

Why the rule against jump cuts? Well, they're jarring to the viewer. And since we want to make our product flow seamlessly, we avoid anything that's jarring.

So it puzzle me that I'm seeing so many jump cuts on resume tapes these days. I have to assume that half of you don't know about them, and the other half don't take the time to throw in a dissolve. Which, in these days of non-linear editing, takes about ten seconds.

If you've ever seen a great sequence in which all the shots match up and it looks like it was shot with two cameras, that's the result of a photog painstakingly trying to avoid a jump cut. He might tell the Senator on the phone to freeze while he changes the angle and gets him hanging up the phone. That's a small sequence, which is another way to avoid a jump cut.

Some NDs don't care about this, but many do. You can impress an old school ND who values production values by keeping the jump cuts out of your stories. It's so easy to avoid, there's really no excuse.


Monday, October 11, 2010

A ND needs to know your contract status


I'm in the second year of my first job. I still have nine months left on my contract but really want to start looking. I have a list of stations targeted that I want to send tapes/resumes too but I'm very concerned about my contract status. Should I include a note on my resume saying *Under contract until (date)? I'm afraid this will scare anyone off from responding but I'm also concerned about turning any interest into frustration if I don't include my contract status. Any suggestions?

Excellent question. First, I'm glad you're starting to look this far out because as most of you have discovered, decisions aren't made quickly in this business. You should all start your searches at least six months out from the end of your contract.

As for your question, it is very important to let a ND know what your contract status is for several reasons. First and foremost, he's going to find out anyway if he's interested, so you might as well tell him up front. If you can't move for ten months, say so, because you don't want to frustrate a ND who has an immediate opening, makes a call, and then discovers you're not available right now.

That said, it doesn't "scare" any ND to know your contract status. It actually does the opposite and helps him plan for the future.

Suppose your tape wanders in and the ND really likes it. After watching the tape he reads your cover letter and discovers you're going to be available next June. He knows that he has two reporters whose contracts are also ending in June. Perhaps one is really talented and he knows that person will leave, while the other is someone he doesn't want to renew. So now he has a tape he really likes and someone with contract timing that matches his needs. (And timing is often everything in this business.)

I've run into people over the years who have tried to "hide" their contract status or flat out lie about not having a contract. Both scenarios cause problems.

The best thing to do is to be totally up front about everything. And put it in your cover letter; don't bury this little piece of information in your resume. The only thing that scares a News Director is dishonesty.