Quick, describe the wallpaper in any room in the house in which you grew up.
Can't do it, can you? That's because wallpaper fades into the background when you see it every day. And when you look at something every day, you don't really see it.
We've talked about wallpaper video before, that b-roll that shows up night after night and always looks the same.
Years ago I was working weekends and I asked the weekend anchor what the lead story was. "Middle East fighting," she said. "Does the video look any different from the other hundred stories we've run this year?" I asked. "Do you think if we ran last week's video anyone would notice?" She just laughed and shook her head.
There are important stories covered everyday, but if those ongoing stories all look the same they become wallpaper packages. When was the last time you saw a memorable package from Syria or Afghanistan? Anything stand out with all those wildfire stories in the West? Let's face it, they pretty much all look the same. Sure, they're big stories, but if you're doing the same story over and over, you're boring the viewer. And with a hurricane approaching, you can bet the wallpaper packages will start running shortly.
The key when covering an ongoing story, or a story that has happened before (like a hurricane) is to look for the different angle.
I always think back to a package a friend of mine did the day before a hurricane. He showed up at the local zoo and showed zookeepers loading up lions, tigers and bears to cart them away to safety. You can run all the Katrina stories you want, but that one sticks out in my mind as the most memorable.
Disaster video looks the same. All tornado damage looks the same. All hurricane footage looks the same. If you're doing a hurricane story this coming week, give me something new, something that makes me sit up and take notice. Don't give me any more shots from Home Depot with people buying plywood, don't give me any more boarding up of windows, don't interview the yahoo who is going to ride out the storm in his trailer, don't give me the tearful soundbite of someone who lost their house.
It. All. Looks. The. Same.
There are plenty of stories out there. Just imagine your News Director told you that you can't do the usual. That you have to find something unique. Think about stories that way and see what you come up with.
You might be surprised. Remember, you're a reporter, not a wallpaper hanger.