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Learning from Bad Choices

Learning From Bad Choices

How nice it would be meet your reporting deadlines as quickly as possible, and with as little stress as possible. Maybe in your next lifetime! In the meantime, it might be tempting to cut corners rather than do what you presumably know to be the right thing. Or let’s hope you do!   Here are 3 perceived challenges that are surmountable with a bit of creativity, know-how and flexibility.

Problem 1: No B-roll here!

You have a quick story turnaround and not enough B-roll! Yes, it’s sometimes tough to shoot or find the video that’s cogent to your story. But on the flipside, archives too often come across as emergency patches slapped onto your package. Two examples:  

  • Covering a neighborhood that would like to implement a local Neighborhood Watch program? “Ha! Here’s B-roll that should work! Hmm… are all these signs same?”  
  • So sad! Puppy mills are being supported by your local pet shop. “Wow! That B-roll is horrifying.” Do you know where this was shot? Are those poor doggies the same breeds as the ones being sold in your town?

Solution: Don’t try giving us a quick peek at potentially misleading video. Rather, leave it up for a few seconds, and in your VO tell us that folks are hoping to see a Neighborhood Watch sign “like this one,” or that your investigation reveals that these puppies sold in the local pet store were purchased from puppy mills “like this one.” Be transparent when you’re using archived video.

Problem 2: Providing context to your facts.

“Residents tell me off-camera that this onslaught of neighborhood crimes has them on edge in their homes and while walking on their local streets as well. According to Wildwood County’s 2018 police logs- during the past 6 months there have been 20 residential break-ins, 12 home invasions with the owners present, and 5 robberies in which on-site homeowners were threatened with guns or other weapons.”

 This is awful news, but I don’t know what to do with these statistics. Are these worse than last year? Perhaps better, given the horrendous crime problems last year?

Are one or several of these numbers more significant for a reason? Are the home invasions part of the break-in statistics? Are the robberies considered part of the home invasion statistics?  

Solution: Don’t think that throwing facts at us equates to good reporting. If you’ve accessed stats online, there’s a decent chance you’ll want to speak to someone to fully understand the specifics of their nomenclature. You’ll also want to learn about some law enforcement activities in resulting from these problems. And please bear in mind that the more stats the better doesn’t impress anyone. There may be one that jumps out to you. That might become the focus of your story.

Problem 3:  Last minute change! You need to introduce your story from inside the newsroom.  

 It’s been a long day. You’ve completed your story. Yay! But as your newscast approaches, you’ve learned even more. Now your full package won’t run and you’ll do a newsroom intro and outro instead. The anchor introduces your story, does a toss, and the focus is first on you. Cool! There you are, cleaned up and in good lighting! Time to be flexible. You will need to share your new, breaking news, and you need to write a fresh segue into your story since it is now ‘old,’ even by minutes.  

Solution: Forget about going backwards in time and starting on camera with the original concept of the story: “Firefighters were working since 2p today to put out….”  

 Remember your breaking news and lead line principles and start with your freshest information: “Law enforcement has made an arrest in conjunction with this 4 alarm fire, charging local store owner John Smith with arson. Mr. Smith’s Good Stuff Deli is 2 blocks south of the fire, on Main Street. Earlier this afternoon …”

 Your original package will run as a donut and your standup close will now be executed in the newsroom; you’ll tell us where the situation now stands and what we might expect moving forward. Yes! It’s a great opportunity for us to imagine what you’d be like anchoring in the newsroom, or this might even be your first live hit!  

Either way, hold onto your journalistic sensibilities and don’t bury the lead. Your mindset and contribution is as a reporter (not as an anchor), providing breaking news! You’re on top of it, and we appreciate it.  

Your hard work and dedication to our profession of journalism matters, wherever you may be. Local news is critical to our daily lives. It is fresh, timely and truly valued by thousands or hundreds of thousands of folks you will never meet. Question your decisions, and keep true to what you know is right. Your personal criteria for excellence will remain a constant guide throughout your career- regardless of market size.

This blog was originally published March 29, 2018 on RTDNA. To view all of Joanne's RTDNA blogs click here:

News consultant Joanne Stevens has written extensively about broadcast writing, reporting and anchoring, including columns in the former print version of RTDNA's Communicator Magazine, and earlier versions of the RTDNA website. She has taught at Columbia and New York University and serves as a news award judge for the New York Press Club. She has returned to to offer a new series of News Coach columns with tips, best practices and more. - Click on the RTDNA logo below to learn more.


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