Television is a visual medium, but young reporters often get preoccupied with talking heads. They sometimes focus so much on getting the perfect sound bite that they miss the obvious in the b-roll that's been shot.
If you've been taught to think of b-roll as nothing more than cover video, think again. B-roll can often contain the most import elements of the story.
It all depends on how you use it. Think of b-roll as a spice rack. You've got a dozen spices to throw into your recipe, but you don't know what you're doing, so you throw equal amounts of each spice into the mix. But a pinch of cayenne pepper is a lot stronger than an entire jar of parsley. The great chef knows this, and uses the spices accordingly.
Some pieces of b-roll are much stronger than others. And the strongest ones are the ones you can play with to make your packages stronger and more interesting.
Example: Let's say you've been sent to the airport since there's a winter storm on the way and flights are about to get disrupted. While you're shooting b-roll a gate agent picks up the microphone and says, "Flight 112 has been cancelled due to weather." This is followed by an audible groan from the passengers.
The average reporter simply keeps the audio low and voices over this piece of b-roll. The reporter who knows how to use b-roll sees this as an opening sound bite, and follows it with this: "That scene was a common occurrence today, as mother nature played havoc with airline schedules." In this case the b-roll was more effective than talking to a ticked off passenger who is now stuck in the airport. You're also "writing out" of your b-roll, making your script flow naturally with the video that the viewer has just seen. You could also "write in" to your b-roll, like this: "This is not what you want to hear while waiting to board a flight." Then follow that with your b-roll.
Another example: You're covering a political rally and figure you need a few soundbites from the speech. While shooting the candidate heading up the stairs to the podium, your microphone catches him whispering to a supporter, "We just got some serious dirt on our opponent. Tell you later."
But you didn't hear this, which is why it is crucial that you review your video when you get back to the station before you write your story. Now, all of a sudden, you've got something the other stations don't have. Instead of the typical pre-packaged sound bites, you've got some actual news. Now you have to follow up, get more info. But you've got a great sound bite and a money shot to start your package... or your newscast. All because you reviewed your b-roll before writing your package.
Everyone shoots b-roll. What makes reporters different is how they use it. The best ones find the hidden gems in the b-roll and run with them.
And remember, not every package requires a sound bite. Sometimes the b-roll gives you all you need.