Saturday, March 3, 2012

Must all tornado stories look the same? My kingdom for a decent sidebar.

Being sent out to do a tornado 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, check.

Shots of rubble (always including a child's toy), check.

Home video of the storm, check.

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

The thing about covering disasters is that it's actually very easy. Everything is laid out for you. You can point a camera in any direction and get compelling video. You can find a victim every ten feet. Raw emotion is everywhere.

That's all fine for day one. But when the story stretches into day six, seven, and eight, you're gonna lose your audience if you do the same thing over and over.

And those are the stories I'm seeing from so many local reporters. The same devastation every day, insert new teary-eyed victim here.

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. Not everyone who lost a home is financially devastated. Here's a newsflash...most people have homeowners insurance. But I have yet to see a single story following an insurance adjuster. How long does it take someone to get an insurance check so they can get their lives back? 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?

-Show what the government is doing... or not doing. And by the way, how much do those FEMA trailers cost the taxpayer? You might be surprised to learn they cost a lot more than if you bought one off the lot. Government bureaucracy is always good for a story. Ever wonder who determines whether FEMA rolls on a disaster?

-Where does all the rubble go? They gotta put it somewhere.

-For those employed by businesses that were destroyed, what now? Do they have to move to take another job?

-Cleanup paid for by the government can provide a lot of jobs for people who have been out of work.

-What are the police doing to keep looters away?

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.

The story will move, and you need to move with it. Back up and look at the big picture.

These are terribly sad stories, but you don't have to tell them all the same way. Look for the sidebar, and keep the story moving forward.


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