Monday, March 7, 2011


When I was in college my dad had a crazy idea to rent a beach concession for the summer, and wanted me to run it. I figured hot dogs and the shore would be a nice break from being cooped up in the deli all day, so I was happy with the deal.

Before we opened on Memorial Day the soda man came in to set up the dispenser. He showed me how to connect the CO2 and the syrup, etc. Then he looks me in the eye and says, (picture this with a wicked New York accent) "Kid. C'mere. I wanna show you sumptin'."

He leads me to the ice machine and points at it. "The ice machine is your best friend."

"Okay...." I said.

He takes an empty cup, dips it into the ice machine until it's full, then walks to the soda dispenser. He fills it with Dr. Pepper and shows it to me. "Watch and learn," he says. He takes another cup, filters the soda through his fingers so the ice doesn't escape the first cup, and shows me how much soda is in the second cup. It isn't much. "Da more ice you put inna cup, the less soda you use." He pats my cheek gently with a hand the size of an oven mitt. "Capiche?"

And that day I learned the concept of "filler."

While that old soda trick is still used by restaurants everywhere, the concept of filler has sadly become a staple of the local newscast.

The problem, in a nutshell, is how reporters and producers look at a newscast. I've heard producers say, "I've got a newscast to fill" many times. I've heard reporters complain that they don't have enough information to fill a minute-thirty package.

And if you're giving the viewers filler, you're doing the same thing the soda man did with Dr. Pepper. Not giving the customer, or the viewer, his money's worth.

If you're a producer and you're simply choosing stories based on their length, you're wasting the viewer's time. If you've got a twenty second hole and there's a thirty second story that's the most interesting thing you've got, either edit it or cut something else to make it fit. But don't grab the boring twenty second story because it's the square peg that fits in the square hole.

If you're a reporter and you've got a video poor story, don't just fill your story with meaningless b-roll. Every shot should count. If you only have 75 or 90 seconds to fill, every one of those seconds should mean something. If you don't have video, use your imagination. Have a graphic made, make those good nat breaks a little longer or add more of them. But don't just throw in some boring static shots because you have a black hole to cover and can't think of anything to cover it with.

Viewers get bored quickly, and there are 200 other channels they can watch. They don't need stories that are simply time killers. Make sure every second and every shot is meaningful.


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