Mass Shootings: How to determine what to cover and how much?

Honing Skills, Survival Kit, Writing Help Comments Off on Mass Shootings: How to determine what to cover and how much?
Nov 072017

Unfortunately covering mass shootings keeps happening. I might even argue that journalism schools should seriously consider offering courses or at least workshops on the ethical challenges of covering these types of events. Journalists need guidelines. The coverage of these events can truly make or break our credibility with the audience long term. The subject matter is getting harder and harder to take as an audience. They are all too happy to be done with you and your coverage.

In my current role, I am finding myself having to train producers and managers on how to cover these events not only as they happen, but in the days after. RTDNA came out with an excellent article that everyone should book mark with solid ways to check the ethics of your content. But this Survive article is going to focus on different types of litmus tests that you need to start implementing.

RTDNA article mentions that stations should have breaking news coverage plans and guidelines. I whole heartedly agree. BUT I worked for several companies over the years that REFUSED to make these types of plans because they feared someone would not follow the plans. A mistake, when there was a guideline or perceived guideline, could make the company more liable. Yes you did read that right. Nothing in writing. Just whispers among managers.

And there is another big issue we have to consider: These shootings often happen when managers are not in the station and are hardest to reach. You know the middle of the night and the weekend. Guidelines would be fantastic. But for those of you stuck in the same world I lived in, you likely will go through the beginning part of this coverage basically alone. Most staffs on the weekend are simply a producer, a reporter, hopefully a photojournalist and the assignment desk person (If you don’t have to double duty and answer the phones while you produce.) doing the best they can. The anchors come later. So this article is geared more toward that bare bones team. It also is geared toward when the story hits and its not in your DMA but you have to put it on the air. This is the kind of training that just doesn’t happen much. You do the best you can and hope you don’t screw up.

The biggest things to consider as a TV journalist when these stories hit are as follows:

What does the scene look like (as in can I show anything)?
How reliable is the information I am getting?
Could this situation keep changing?
Is this too hard to take as a viewer?
When do we stop covering the story?

Now this list looks weird and I will fully admit on the surface is nowhere near as ethically clear a set of questions as the RTDNA article I referenced above. Remember, have that handily bookmarked ok?

This is the list though that any producer in any size market is IMMEDIATELY faced with solving. Remember, I am writing this article as though it is not happening in your DMA. I mentioned the other players in the newsroom because they will become your co-gut checkers throughout this list as you design coverage. This will make more sense when you read some previous articles on gut checking.

TV news is visual. You have to consider the scene images IMMEDIATELY. I have this idea listed first for a very important reason. Most often we lose credibility with the viewer over HOW we show the story. Yes. SHOW. That is even more impactful than what we say. Why? Because of how people take in information fundamentally as they learn. Look at this interesting set of facts about visual learning which sites many sources. Common thought is 65 percent of people are VISUAL learners. So they are watching that video and teaching themselves about it as they watch. Just stop and really think about that for a moment. Survive has long preached the “show it explain it” idea of writing to video. This is why. People turn on the TV to SEE what is happening. So you have to first and foremost think about how that looks to them. I am going to take the Las Vegas shooting video as an example. Hearing the rapid fire and seeing the people running and ducking for cover was INTENSE. It was hard to take. We can all agree on that. It was very important to show. But it was hard to take. And you had to immediately ask, “How often do I want to play this in my newscast?” “What do we say as we show this?” This is where your co-journalists come in handy. Ask them to scan your rundown (since hopefully everyone is mobile enough to take a peek). Ask them to watch the video. How many times would they want to hear those gunshots an hour? Is that interview just too hard to watch? Gut check each other.

Now because you are focusing on video first, it can be easier to sniff out information that just does not make sense. Too often you look at the breaking alerts and run with the information, then tell the editor to just slam down whatever video is available. This is one of the areas that causes not only fact errors, but also shows a detachment to the coverage of the story that viewers sense and find annoying. I cannot tell you how many times I hear anchors say one thing, and the images seem to show either nothing even close to that description or the opposite. You have to consider images first if they exist. And nowadays the wait time for images is usually short. You cannot take video at face value for sure, but images partnered with fact checking will help you root through information that doesn’t match up. It just sets up your brain to be more discerning from the beginning. Also remember if something you read or hear just seems weird to you, trust your gut, double and triple check.

Could this situation keep changing is something you need to constantly ask yourself. This will help you design the coverage in a way that allows you to change things up more easily. Whether it is determining how often to show a piece of video, or to hold off a bit on that sheriff soundbite or witness testimony. Are you expecting more sound in 15 minutes? It also helps you look at your chyrons with a more critical eye. Remember, visuals imprint on people’s memories more than words. When you super how many dead, knowing there is a good chance the situation could change, it is harder for the viewer to discern this is fluid information.I t doesn’t matter if there is a breaking news banner. Viewers tune graphic packaging like live bugs and breaking news banners out way more than journalists often realize. In their eyes, you could be putting up an error, and keeping it on the screen. When you are trying to understand something of the magnitude of a mass shooting, the simpler the better all around: Your graphics treatment, what chyron says, your full screens lines and images. Everything. Keep it simple and clear. Asking will this change will help remind you to look closely at what you are writing right then. Will it stand up to the test of time or are you assuming things?

 

You will not get all the facts right likely because these situations are fluid. But too many newsrooms accept “oh well it was breaking” as an excuse not to be critical over every element and look ahead for possible discrepancies, changes and frankly facts that seem a little off. You have to question everything you see and hear. Do not just assume it was fact checked. Asking “could this change“ helps you see possible holes in the story as it develops.

The next question delves into designing a newscast that viewers can emotionally handle. When something intense like this happens it is hard for you to emotionally detach from all you are seeing and hearing. Many feel an INTENSE need to cram every little element in and really play up the emotion of it all because you are saturated by it yourseld. Frankly it can become very all consuming. Now let me say, I am not encouraging you to downplay anything, but keeping it simple, sticking to what you really need to know about what’s happening right now, helps you decide what to include and what to leave out. A lot of coverage now is getting preachy.  If we can agree to focus on showing what is going on and letting the events play out without adding additional commentary, it will greatly help you put a newscast on the air that the viewer can emotionally handle. When we insert our own emotions heavily into the copy, or add a lot of adjectives and adverbs it can actually make the viewer detach from the intense reality of this. 9/11 coverage was very impactful because there was very little of the anchors and reporters talking about their feelings on air. They let the people in the middle of the events talk. They literally opened a window for us to experience what was happening. You could keep watching or turn away when needed. The commentary came later. With such an emotionally charged nation right now, its really important that journalists focus on the 5 w’s first. Your emotions are important as a person. But let viewers have a window into the event that is not clouded by your opinion of the events. This is where those gut checks with coworkers is super important. And this is where you try and wake up your manager in the middle of the night to ask, “Is this enough coverage or too much?” If they do not respond, just ask these questions repeatedly of yourself and do the best you can.

The final question to ask when designing coverage is when do we stop covering the story? The answer is really almost too simple. When you run out of new information to share. Not a new video or soundbite that is similar to the last 10 you ran. New information. When you run out of the facts, and have allowed viewers to witness some of the event with good use of video and sound, then recap and move on for a bit. Viewers appreciate you not droning on and on. They understand this is a big deal. Frankly all of us sometimes need to “turn off” the event for a few minutes to let it sink in. Droning on and on with nothing new actually causes people to emotionally detach and lose interest. Again, I think we can all agree these events are too large scale to risk alienating the audience. Remember, this article is focused on when the event is not in your DMA. When to stop covering an event gets more complicated when it is in your DMA. Do not fear waking up your bosses to ask if this is enough coverage as well. Especially if there’s no guidelines to go by. If you cannot get a call back, focusing on not repeating information over and over, will help you make this key decision.

I sincerely hope this article helps you be able to discern what to show, what to report and when to take a break from coverage. These events are not as clear cut as most breaking news, so you have to remember question everything especially hard. Really look at your sources. And lean on fellow journalists to do the best you can to give the most accurate information. Once coverage ends, write down what worked and didn’t. Over time you will have a more established outline for coverage of mass shootings to go by as a frame of reference.

 

Can you really tell the difference in news philosophies during daily coverage?

Survival Kit, Writing Help Comments Off on Can you really tell the difference in news philosophies during daily coverage?
May 092017

When I talk to journalists, one of the first questions I always ask is what is your news philosophy? It is pretty surprising how few can actually give me a defined answer besides, “I love breaking news” or “We do new, now, next” at our station. Some even go on to say, “Does it really matter if I have one? “

You can work at places with different news philosophies. I did. But I stuck to stations that had the same basic core beliefs in what journalism means. The one time I did not stick to that, I was so miserable I literally hated work. You need a news philosophy to help guide your writing style, and how you look at content. It also needs to align with your own moral compass.

Which gets to the title of this article. Can you really tell the difference in news philosophies during daily coverage? Yes you can. This is important because news philosophies are supposed to help prevent bias from playing into your coverage. At least that’s how “Big J”ers see it. That’s what you should be learning in journalism school. But the reality is this: News philosophies dictate the spin you give your audience to try and disseminate facts. They just do. And there are spins more often than not in coverage.

I am going to take the GOP healthcare bill coverage from last week as an example. The links I am providing are from news organizations that operate with a news philosophy centered in advocacy; giving people the information they need to know about issues that directly impact their lives. So the GOP healthcare bill is the perfect litmus test. First browse these articles all aimed at explaining what the bill entails:
CNN http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/04/politics/health-care-vote/
NBC http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/here-s-what-you-need-know-about-health-care-bill-n754611
FOX http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/05/04/republican-health-care-bill-whats-in-it.html
ABC http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/house-republican-health-care-bill-47197063
NPR http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/05/04/526887531/heres-whats-in-the-house-approved-health-care-bill?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=politics&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170504
Politico http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/04/gop-health-care-bill-details-explained-237987?lo=ap_e2

Even if you just scan these articles you can see, they are using largely the same sources. Yet all are a little different. Each has some sort of spin.

If you are a journalist you need to remind yourself that your biases come out. And your bosses spins do too. That is going to become more prevalent than ever before with the way recent mergers are playing out. Determining your news philosophy is no longer a folly. If you go work somewhere that has a spin you hate, you can really negatively impact your career as a journalist. If you cannot identify news philosophies quickly, you could end up in a place where you are miserable. The industry is about to get so small that burning bridges will be a very costly mistake, more so than ever before.

So look hard at the links provided. Really define what you think a journalist is and stick to newsrooms that largely agree. Spins are becoming more and more accepted in journalism. So you need to be ready to personally live with the type of stories you do and the stations you align with as an employee. Its a survival technique I never anticipated writing about when I got into the biz. But it is a way of life now.

Is TV news actually social media savvy?

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Apr 212017

I promise “Survive” is going to remain a website primarily focused on practical advice articles to help you get through your work day more easily. But occasionally, we feel the need to post an article meant to get the industry to stop, think and hopefully openly talk about important issues in newsrooms today. After all, that’s crucial to survive in TV news as well.

Over the last 5 years, “Survive” has watched as TV stations grappled with how to connect with viewers now more focused on digital news than TV. And after 5 years of watching, talking to key decision makers and digital users, a very important question needs to be asked: “Is TV news actually social media savvy?” Such a simple question, but a very complex answer.

I’m going to make the argument that TV News is not very social media savvy. Here’s why. It’s not truly understanding the nuances of why people use social media. We all know that social media is a connector. It helps people express themselves and find others who agree and disagree with what they say and do. But here’s the rub. Even though it seems like social media focuses on superficial things like the actual color of a dress, whether you’ve been to a new restaurant yet, makeup tips and GIFs, this is really scratching the surface. Trending topics and video going viral, while exciting and EASY to capitalize on, are just a small part of the power of the digital world. At its core, internet surfing and social media interaction have basic human desires behind them. Finding information. Understanding why.

Really stop and think about what you do on the internet. It helps me that I have super curious kids. Here are the last three searches my family did: Why is Easter Island called Easter Island? Why do you need fractions? Why are some metals harder to melt than others? Typical kid questions right? Now think about your latest searches. Some topics might be: Why is my insurance going up? Why did I pay more in taxes this year? What does (insert word) mean? And of course, a list of symptoms to see what illness you might have. You search up doctors to see if they get good reviews. You search to see if your home values stayed the same year to year. You check your bank balance. You check when your favorite band is coming to town. What’s on sale this week at the grocery store? And you also shop. All of that in addition to hitting your favorite news sites.

When you go on social media you want to see how your friends are doing and wait for it… what is happening in the world. I venture to guess that many of you look at what’s trending, get a chuckle out of some of it, then start looking for information other ways. Notice I used the word information. That’s intentional. Social media savvy viewers like INFORMATION.

I think the TV industry is marginalizing younger audiences. Yes, that’s a bold statement and I mean it. They think the average 20-to-38 year old just wants to watch crazy videos about the rat carrying pizza and near escapes. They only want to see selfies. What if that’s only a small fraction of what this mysterious new audience is looking at? What if they are also searching up all kinds of INFORMATION, looking to understand why things are happening the way they are? I get asked all the time by younger journalists, “Why does my boss think I only care about selfies?” “Why can’t they see that social media helps uncover what people really want to know about and cannot figure out the answer to?” I have viewers say to me all the time, “Why does TV news think I am stupid?” “Where can I get actual information about what’s happening?”

Now I can hear the nay sayers pointing out that hyper local news sites do ok for awhile then fizzle. I am going to counter with this. Maybe they weren’t actually listening to what people want to know, instead they were telling them what they should want to know. I recently started using the Nextdoor app. I can easily pitch 2 stories a week out of those discussion boards, that could hit broader audiences. And that’s by casually glancing. Some of the stories are obvious, but some of the discussions are a little surprising. And great topics for debate. Social media loves a good debate. You get to exchange INFORMATION. You get to try and discredit information too. Critical thinking.

What if digital tie-ins looked more like what happens on a typical tablet while watching TV. By TV I mean more than news. You’re watching a show. “Wait that actress looks familiar.” With a quick google search you find out who it is while still watching the show. Think of the shows with the pop-up facts. This scene actually took 10 takes to get right. I actually had the flu when we climbed this mountain. Extra INFORMATION.

The most digitally savvy journalist I personally know, attempts to add social media elements that contain tangible information to big stories. Factoids that make you want to delve even deeper into the topic, most often the why. Why did it get this way? Why is that the next step? Why did that happen? Then this journalist adds elements that are connectors. (Remember the other big reason why people get on FB each night.) Not cheesy “do you agree” throwaway pitches. Actual exchanges between people on social media.

I just have to say that simply deciding that you will look at the stories trending and make them the lead is not digitally savvy. It is an easy way out. Like the rip and read days. It will fail. It makes you look superficial and like you think the viewer is stupid. Do not under estimate the viewer who frankly is going digital to get information you are not providing. Do not give up on them either. Provide more information, in more accessible ways. Delve into the why in your digital elements. Give them a reason to want to connect to the story both on their tablets and on their big screens with great visuals and character development. These are just a few suggestions. But whatever you do, start with this thought: How can we give them more information? Not how can we manipulate them into watching? If you are into trending topics, you already saw it. That’s not NEWs. And frankly the audience hopes you are clued in enough to know it’s there. You do not have to prove you get them. Give them more of what they want:  Information and ways to connect the dots. Many are way more analytical than you are giving them credit for being. For far too long, editorial meetings have been centered around what a group of people think the audience should know, based of those decision makers own personal interests and biases. Now you have powerful tools to see what they actually want to know, and what they are struggling to find out. Serve that. Then TV news might prove itself digitally savvy after all.

How to break down a lot of information.

Survival Kit, The Latest, Writing Help Comments Off on How to break down a lot of information.
Mar 302016

Lately this question has come up a lot in my coaching role. The journalist has complicated stories that seem like they should make air. But it is so hard to boil the stories down, they try to avoid the content. This is a natural phase in learning to be a journalist. Let’s talk about some basic guidelines to help you put that story in the newscast, without lunch bagging it with too much information to understand the point. First let’s talk package techniques.

Simplifying Package Information
Think Set Up
Package focuses on impact and video support
Substantive tag of key facts you need to report, but that don’t work well in package

Unfortunately, many news managers need to read this section as well. They often insist on lunch bagging all the information into the reporter package. Then, they get ticked when the package is long, repeats video and seems hard to understand once it airs. So let’s really walk through these steps and the key reasons each step exists so all can see the benefits.

First, you have to start at the beginning. (I know that sounds ridiculous, but if I had a dollar for all the times this hasn’t happened, I would be rich.) The beginning means two things, today peg, and key background as to why this today peg matters. For example, state lawmakers decide to allow guns on college campuses. The house voted yes, now the senate has too. So you start the coverage of this story with a historic vote today in the state senate. Lawmakers voted to allow guns on college campuses. The senate just passed the measure by a vote of… and last week the house voted in a similar plan. If the governor signs it… this would mean people on college campuses could carry a gun with a permit. This sets up the story, it may or may not have video that usually is boring, and it gets the viewer thinking of questions about impact. You can use video as a set up, or graphics or a combo of both. The point is to lay out why the viewer should watch the upcoming package.

You will then pick one or two key elements describing impact for the package focus. The reporter does not need to tell the viewer that the house voted and the senate voted now because the set up took care of that. The package needs to center on what will this mean when it goes into effect. Is law enforcement ready for this change? Will campuses put in metal detectors? Are professors signing up for classes to learn how to use a gun and get a permit? Pick one of these ideas and package it.

The tag then needs to have key facts to sum it all up or move it forward. When will this go into effect? How long does it take to get a permit? Think really useful information you can quickly summarize.

Now let’s look at how to breakdown a very complicated story as a producer. Sometimes you have to update a complicated court case for example, and it needs to be short and sweet. Many producers just write a 50 second vo and hope that’s ok. This is a key area where you can segment a story out, so it has nice flow and you keep things simple. Think 1 main point per vo. Today Joe Smith will be sentenced for the murder of Sue Smith. Smith was murdered by her husband three years ago. WIPE VO You might remember this case because the kids spoke out that Joe Smith abused their mom for years. (kids crying) Their testimony set off discussions nationwide about domestic abuse. WIPE VO The murder happened as the couple’s oldest child called 911. The 911 operator could hear the shooting.
ON CAM TAG Now the kids are being cared for by relatives. The Smith children will not be in court today, relatives fear seeing their dad again will cause too much pain. This kind of story can really bog down a producer. You don’t want to leave out the emotional pull of the story with the kids and the 911 operator. But you are told to keep stories short and sweet. By sectioning each part out, it feels like several stories in terms of pacing, increases the writer’s chances of keeping each part short and sweet and gets all the information in the newscast in a more compelling way.

You can apply this principle to all kinds of complicated stories like tax reforms, school testing results, updates on cold cases and economic stories. Think 1 idea per element you are using. You do not always have to wipe among vo’s. With on-set video monitors so prevalent now, sometimes the first element references a wall image or vo, then you take the next element full etc. The bottom line is think visual pacing, it will help you really boil down the elements and get to what matters.

The other big takeaway to remember when boiling down a complicated story, is no matter what format avoid lunch bagging all the facts. You have to give some sort of visual cue, for each main point you make. Complicated stories have multiple main points you feel you must cover. So think of the story as several mini stories in one, so you can make sense of the most important information and clearly present the facts to the viewer.

TV Survival Skills. The 10 Things You Need To Do To Be Successful In The Modern Newsroom

Anchoring, Reporting, The Latest Comments Off on TV Survival Skills. The 10 Things You Need To Do To Be Successful In The Modern Newsroom
Feb 252016

1.  CAN YOU FIND EXCLUSIVE STORIES? No really…can you find the story that makes politicians and PIO’s lose sleep?? Better yet, can you do this even with news of the day? Do you have fast attack investigative skills? You better! Everyone can get PIO info and sound. You have to be able to separate from your competition to get paid. How do you do that?? Know the process and procedures of paperwork- school districts, police and sheriff- what documents exist and when do they become available? Time is quickly wasted, opportunity and credibility forever lost by not knowing procedures. Can you get a great tip confirmed? Most reporters cannot. You are only as valuable as the contact list in your phone.

2.  WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER-Do your research, demand from management a specific beat- geographic or content based. GA stands for going anywhere-owning nothing! Develop sources that work for you. Build relationships before asking for stories. Go left when other go right. Stand out by standing apart. If someone pitches you a story- make them do the document digging, and initial research- then they can come back and pitch you a partially vetted legitimate story. You just have to confirm documents and details- not spend hours chasing empty leads.

3.  Shoot in sequences, write in sequences, edit in sequences- this saves hours! The best MMJ’s are the most creative while being the most efficient!

4.  Your professional Facebook likes/Twitter followers/LinkedIn profile will make or break a hiring decision. These are your personal brand. They directly reflect your audience appeal, your marketing savvy, and your ability to tease a story! Do you understand news and how to promote yourself as well as your coverage? Social media answers all these questions.

5.  Have a career plan- It is a simple question with horrific consequences- What is your TV career goal?? Most TV folks stumble on this simple question. Your answer will be used against you in a hiring decision. This is a weeding out technique and is a loyalty test for current employees being considered for promotion.

6.  Out work your teammates- first in, last out, first to call-in to cover breaking news, first to ask to travel, this effort gets you choice assignments, management trust, and promoted to the anchor desk.

7.  Hot mess- if you are one and want to anchor or jump to a big market you will go nowhere. You must apply appearance feedback at every level and every turn. Everyone that looks at your tape or consults you should be heard and further feedback solicited. One consultant or ND could be a bit eccentric, 2-5 people saying you appear less than polished is problematic.

8.  Your cover letter is killing you! It is costing you a look at your tape- which is the whole goal! Don’t try to tell me you know someone I used to work with 3 stations ago or we are from the same town! What are you going to do to make my newsroom better today? Why do I have to hire you versus the 50 people that look and sound like you??? This is the written interview that gets you the tape review and phone interview- Be consistent in your message, your strengths, and what makes you a difference maker. How do you fit in with my news style and newsroom needs?

9.  Never send a glossy 8X10 head shot- instant rejection- are you a model/ actor/ or journalist?? Send me a resume tape with exclusive banners on every story- that’s a beautiful picture!!

10.  Is your cellphone number, Facebook and Twitter handles on your business card? Personal cellphone? You are fully available to your audience and sources or not. No problem, I call your competition with my exclusive story.

There are a hundred things a journalist has to excel at to be successful in the modern newsroom. These are ten of the most critical to master to avoid a career setback. Our next blog will answer” Why your resume tape is killing your job search”.

Now go be memorable!

Greg Turchetta is President, www.Brutallyhonestcritique.com and a former News Director
He’s now a life coach to reporters and anchors nationwide!

Was that tease worth the wait?

Survival Kit, Tease Writing Comments Off on Was that tease worth the wait?
Feb 182016

The teases section on Survive is consistently the most read section. Frankly tease writing is not as natural for journalists. It involves different skill sets and we go in depth on those. But there is a basic teasing question that you must ask yourself every time, to make sure you’re living up to your main purpose: providing accurate information that benefits your viewers. This is especially true for stories you tease. They tend to be more emotional in nature or have a clear WIFM. They also tend to be stories tease writers oversell in an attempt to make sure the viewer stays.

So you must ask yourself, was that tease worth the wait? You must ask this when writing the tease, when watching the tease air and when watching the story you teased. You must do this in each scenario to learn when you overtease, how you do it and how often. Because, frankly, the majority of tease writers exaggerate. They say, “Well I have to get the viewer to watch.” But if you play with the viewer and set them up for a let down you are not winning loyalty long term. Exaggerating is a lazy tease tactic. It is wishful thinking and most of the time it is unnecessary.

If the answer is yes, the tease is worth the wait, then you are on track to become a great tease writer and a great asset to your newsroom. You want that pay off. It gives you more job longevity and credibility. So be bold and ask yourself the question. Each tease, each time, always.

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