Thursday, April 28, 2011

Covering severe weather: how to make your stories different

Being sent out to do a tornado or hurricane story is no fun. There's devastation, people without homes, loss of life. Some of the most depressing scenes imaginable.

And yet, probably 99 percent of all severe weather stories look the same.

This week you can't tell one tornado story from another. (And please, don't stick these on your resume tape.) Sure, you might have the video from the airport that got whacked, and a cell phone shot of a funnel cloud, but for the most part it's the same old story. Sound bites with people who lost their homes, shots of rubble (always including a child's toy), home video of the storm.

Big story, sure. But how can you handle it to make it different?

-Instead of just talking to someone who lost a home, follow that person to the insurance company if they have one. If not, to the Red Cross or other relief agency. Don't just interview people who are now homeless... tell the viewer what happens to them next. Viewers will wonder, "Well, these people lost their home... where did they go?"

-Spend some time with a utility worker who has to work 24/7 to restore power. Kind of a hazardous job with no sleep, don't ya think?

-Someone benefits from an ill wind. Maybe visit a construction company that now needs to hire more people. Sign companies make big bucks off storms. All that broken glass in business locations? Someone's gotta replace it, and quick.

-Profile someone who is volunteering at a shelter... or find someone who has taken in a family that finds itself homeless.

-No power? Gas pumps don't work. How do people get to work if they can't buy gas?

Get the picture? You can always set up your story with the basics, but then think outside the box and look for other points of view.

It's easy to state and show the obvious. Not so easy to make it interesting.


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