Saturday, June 25, 2011

Great example of a "show and tell" live shot

Watch Friday's broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight and check out the live shot of the guy doing the flooding story in North Dakota.

Simple but incredibly effective use of show and tell. This is what I've been talking about forever. Something that takes two seconds can speak volumes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Reporter's checklist

A whole bunch of you need this:

Putting as many elements as possible into your package can make it more interesting and move it along at a faster clip. It’s important to think about all the possibilities as you arrive at your location. (Better yet, think about this stuff before you leave the station.)

This is a checklist to help you see the elements that are possible:

-Are you covering both sides of the story, and interviewing more than one person?

-Have you looked for a third side of the story to show another point of view? With that in mind, what are other points of view that you can think of... and who might you talk with to illustrate them?

-What are the natural sound opportunities for this story?

-What video would best illustrate the story?

-Do you have a compelling opening shot or piece of nat sound to begin the package?

-Do you have an interesting clip that would make a good tease for the producer?

-Does the story have a lot of numbers, and should you use a graphic to make it easier to understand?

-What standup would illustrate the story best, and “show” what is going on?

-Are you “showing” the viewer what’s going on rather than just “telling” the story?

-Is your b-roll interesting, or just static shots of inanimate objects?

-Can you shoot everything at one location, or would going to more locations make my story more interesting?

-Have you written to the video, the natural sound, and the sound bites?

-Have you written an anchor intro that is different than the first line of your package?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The monster we have created

There's a local anchor here known as "Miss Dramatic." Every story is the end of the world, every tease talks of the most spellbinding tale you've ever heard. But she really goes over the top when death is involved. I swear the woman actually gets turned on when there's tragedy involved.

Which brings us to the Casey Anthony trial. Have you seen the whack jobs outside the courtroom actually fighting to get seats? These people act like they're waiting for the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie or camping out for tickets to a concert.

And yes, it's our fault.

We have turned newscasts into a reality show.

Tragedy is now sexy, death is so commonplace that young people are desensitized to it. Local stations run Internet videos of convenience store crimes, kids fighting on school buses, people brawling in restaurants.

It's all about getting on television.

This is more than Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame thing. This is something else. It's a culture shift that is disturbing, and one that is being fed by some news organizations insatiable thirst for tragedy. It's Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry" to the tenth power.

The Florida trial is about a little girl who was murdered, yet it is now about being part of the media circus. The judge should clear the courtroom and let the trial proceed without anyone in the gallery.

This is what happens when you base your daily newscast on tragedy.

Think about that next time you're producing your show, or covering a story like this.

If you're a News Director, and there's a tragedy in your market, think about not covering it at all and letting those affected mourn in peace.

And if you're one of those anchors or reporters who gets turned on by tragedy, you might just take a long look in the mirror.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Planning ahead can cut down your stress level

One of the best things about this business is that you wake up knowing you're going to be doing something different today.

One of the worst things is not knowing what you'll be doing.

Nothing is worse that hitting the morning meeting with no ideas and being told to "find a story." The newsroom clock seems to go into overdrive as you frantically hit all your contacts in hope of finding something.

Then it's ten o'clock. Then eleven. Still no story.

All of this could be avoided with a little planning. Imagine a stress free morning, sipping coffee and noshing on a bagel, knowing exactly what you're going to be doing. Interview set up, ideas for b-roll in your head, possible standups.

And all you have to do is to set up stories in advance.

Granted, this doesn't work for breaking news and in shops that chase the scanner. But for just about any enterprise story, it works. Instead of trying to get people set up for interviews right now, you can plan out your day, schedule your interviews, etc. Trust me, the Assignment Editor will love you for it. One less headache for the desk... and for you.


Monday, June 20, 2011

While waiting for that first job, read

That recent study which showed American kids know little about history wasn't surprising.

Other than Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, young people don't spend much time reading. They spend more time texting.

So this is for those of you just out of school, waiting for the phone to ring. It might be awhile, as you're part of the glut of resume tapes that hit the postal service in May and June.

Many of you will be surprised to find out you'll have to take a current events test on your job interview. Oh, the horror! You'll actually have to know what's going on in the world.

As a manager, I was constantly amazed at the answers people wrote down on my own current events test. (The best: "What is Hillary Clinton's job?" Answer: "Mayor of Buffalo, New York.")

And it's not only current events, but history.

I've gotten in the habit lately of thanking vets for their service, and I did so when I went to the post office on June 7th. The clerk wore his ID badge on a lanyard with a US Military logo. I asked him if he'd served, and he nodded.

"Wonder how many people know what yesterday was?" I said.

"Funny you should say that," he said. "Yesterday I asked people if they knew what June 6th was, and hardly anyone could tell me."

Do you know the significance of June 6th? It marks one of the biggest days in American history. (And if you don't know, look it up.)

So, while sitting by the phone and in between trips to the post office, read as much as you can. Hundreds of newspapers are at your fingertips via the Internet, as is the complete history of the planet. Go to the library and pick up some books. You might grab a few by famous journalists, who often have wonderful stories of major events.

If you're watching TV to pass the time, skip the reality garbage and watch a history program.

The learning doesn't stop just because you're out of the classroom.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

The annual beginning of hurricane season memo to reporters who think they're bullet proof

(The weather is really hot, so time to re-post this one)

Eventually, it is going to happen.

A reporter or photographer is going to die covering a hurricane.

Then, and only then, will managers rethink the policy of covering storms by putting crews in the line of fire. Until then, they'll push the envelope, just like they did with helicopters in Arizona until someone died. Until then, we'll continue to see reporters doing live shots standing out in the wind and torrential rain, trying to prove their, uh, "bravery" in the storm.

When we were children, our mothers told us there were people too stupid to come in out of the rain.

And now we get to watch those people on television.

For those who have never witnessed the power of a hurricane, let me tell you that it will literally make your jaw drop. After Katrina we were doing a story in Mississippi about a school that had sat on the waterfront. When we arrived at the location I looked around and didn't see anything but a few bricks. I asked the superintendent where the school was.

"You're standing on it," she said.

Imagine, wind and water trump brick.

Then we drove down the road to Biloxi. The storm had picked up an entire casino, one of the biggest in the area, and deposited it across the street.

I later saw a railroad car five miles from the nearest tracks and a house washed up under a gas station canopy.

Imagine what that kind of force could do to a human being.

Yes, hurricanes demand coverage, but you can do a good job and still be safe. We always looked for windbreaks and cover, so that you can still do an impressive live shot without putting yourself in harm's way. One of the biggest dangers in covering a hurricane is from flying debris. Imagine how nice a two-by-four would feel whacking you in the head at a hundred miles per hour.

When you're young, you're bulletproof. You drive too fast, take too many chances, and always think "those things" happen to other people. I was the same way. Trust me, there's no force field around your body to protect you.

There's no reason to prove your bravery by standing out in a storm and getting your hair wet and having your face pelted by rain. You can show and tell without using your body for the "show" part. Photogs have zoom lenses so they can get the shots they need from a safe distance.

And if you think a resume tape with a standup showing you standing out in a storm is going to blow away some News Director, think again. We've seen that a million times.

Have a healthy respect for Mother Nature, and live to report another day.