News managers keep looking for show doctors. They keep asking for producers who showcase in their newscasts. But what does that mean? Recently I asked that on the Survive Twitter line, and got interesting comments like “owning the lead”, “big treatment off the top with little treatments throughout the show”, and “eye catching informative way of telling the story in the first 100 seconds.”
All of these are accurate to a point. But my favorite description was “finding that little something- that makes the story more relatable to the viewer.” When managers ask for showcasing, that is what they really want. And you execute this in the ways listed above: Owning the lead, big treatments off the top with little treatments throughout the show and eye catching elements to tell the story.
When I teach a producer how to showcase, I often describe it as creating mini chapter books. There are several techniques used to showcase, but you need to have the mindset in play first. So let’s begin with this concept when constructing your lead. Chapter books have a table of contents, then each chapter has a title, and information that leads to a conclusion. The biggest thing I see producers forget to do at when showcasing, is spelling out why. That is when we begin to think about how we are making the story relatable to the viewer. So, when talking the government shutdown, or Syria or that standoff that lead to a crash, you have to come right out, with the table of contents, showing what the viewer will learn with your coverage.
Let’s take Syria as an example. You can create an extra element right out of the gate, with a split box showing video of people hugging and crying in Syria, side by side with American’s protesting. This sets up the hook of why you are covering the story. People need help, American’s worry it could cause pain and loss for fellow American’s as well. That is the message the video sends, boldly. The line: These are the images the President must look at while considering whether to take military action in Syria.
Then you set up your table of contents with some brief summary of the days events. This can be a graphic, or a few simple directly referenced video elements. But never forget to catch the viewer up on the basics, so they are ready to go in depth with you.
You say those brief lines, “Tonight inspectors looked for chemical weapons and your neighbors (assuming you had local protests) protested the idea of military action in Syria. Now the President has made an announcement about US involvement many expected, and a requirement most did not.” (Congressional approval)
Next you title each element with a super, over the shoulder, monitor graphic, double box for team coverage, or whatever your station uses to brand. As you go to each element, use some sort of graphic element to “label the title” of each chapter so the viewer understands each element has something new for them.
Once your coverage is done, you need a conclusion. Many consultants call this a “button up”. It can be a summary graphic with bullet points. It can be a what’s next graphic, it can be an image that sums up the day’s events. Many times it is simply a push to the station’s web page for more information. (Just offer a nugget of what kind of extras will be on the web page, just saying for the latest go to our webpage is throwaway. Twitter is an easier way to check for random information on a subject.)
So how does the mini chapter book idea relate to those “little treatments throughout the show”? Well, whether you are dedicating 10 minutes or 45 seconds to a story, if you are showcasing you still need to clearly define “that little something that makes the story more relatable to the viewer.” That means you are not going to just go into the story with the phrase “and now…” Say you take a court case, like Jodi Arias, and want to show how different she looked between the verdict and today’s sentencing phase. You can show a split screen image of her, but you must explain why. That is a table of contents. Then you break each part down, and have a conclusion line at the end of the vo/s or vo/vo/sot or however you cover the story. See the pattern? While condensed the chapter book idea still helps you clearly spell out each element so the showcasing makes sense.
This idea even works on memorable moments, which are a very important way to showcase, in a newscast that deserves a mention. Remember even with these moments, you are showcasing a “little something that makes the story more relatable to the viewer.” So you need to look for chances to have your anchor connect with the viewers. A fancy graphics package and use of sound, and several reporters covering the lead is great, but if the anchor comes off as just reading, and not involved the viewer will not accept your showcasing.
So when you look for things your anchor can expand on, think table of contents. Here’s an example using recent video of a snow skier that was coming down a mountain, crashed and was rescued by an avalanche rescue airbag. Have a still image of the skier in a monitor graphic next to the anchor. The anchor says, “We are about to show you how a skier escaped an avalanche burying him. Take a look, see anything special on him? Because something he is carrying will save his life.” Take video full. (In this case there was no nat sound only cheesy music) Have the anchor talk the viewer through each frame. Then when the skier is up on his feet again, say.. “did you see the special equipment? You may not because it is quite small.” Then show a graphic of some types of avalanche airbags. “Here’s what they look like, easy to carry and easy to find. These are all images from online stores that sell them.” Then 2 shot reaction for button up.. There is a set up, a chapter of information, then a conclusion. A mini book.
A final point, by showing you different times to use this concept for showcasing, the goal is to encourage you to think beyond the lead story to showcase. A true show doctor adds little extras throughout the newscast, so the viewer is constantly reeled back in with information he/she can relate to and talk about with others. Afterall, a compelling book always creates good conversation after you’ve finished it.