Why You Should Always Have Extra Stories In Your Rundown

One of the most challenging parts of producing is making your meter points.
Some stations even penalize if you go over or under time by as little as 15 to 20 seconds, per block. Even if your station is not that picky, you have to make time at the end of your newscast.

The problem is, between chat, reporters turning in packages late or providing the wrong TRT and adding live shots and breaking news, it can be hard to time. That’s why you need escape routes for each meter point/news block.

So here’s a secret veteran producers know, that helps make sure they hit those key times, every time, no matter what. It all begins with putting extra stories in your rundown. You ideally want to put in 2 or 3 vo’s, some vo/sots and even a pkg just in case. Different producers do this different ways. But, I find, the easiest is to put them at the bottom of the rundown with the times zeroed out in your timing program. Then make sure they are edited right along with the rest of the newscast and ready to go.

Before you say “that’s just extra work and I do enough already” consider this. I did not say NEW stories. These can be alternate versions of stories in the newscast. Just make sure there is at least one “go to” option per block to add or shorten time. Veteran producers often add a line or two or a sidebar type story that gives depth to at least one story per block for showcasing opportunities. If you get heavy, that can go. Some write a vo/sot version of a vo in a block, so they can just sub out the longer version if they are suddenly really short during their newscast. Frankly, you are already going over the material, so writing a second version is fast and pretty painless.

These can also be stories from earlier newscasts that you flirted with putting in the newscast, but ran out of time or decided something else was more relevant. Every producer has those stories you initially will run, that get pushed out for something else. Just keep them at the bottom of the newscast, and zero the time out. Sometimes these don’t even mean more editing. They can be real life savers.

In terms of a backup package, this is something on the feeds that makes sense to put in your rundown lower down or at the end of a block. This precaution is great if you suddenly cannot get a live shot or a big breaker falls through. Always have vos and vo/sots first. This is a good last resort option if you are really light. But it can save you on and off and is worth striving for daily.

Just remember, time block-by-block. Have backups for each block to shorten or lengthen the segment. A little extra work, creating different versions of a few stories is totally worth it. Hitting meter points and timing your newscast correctly is expected and highly doable, you just need to do a little pre-planning.

“Technical Difficulties”: A Sideways Live Shot Survival Guide

Recently a reporter emailed “Survive” for advice on how to learn to ad lib while in the field. The main concern, how to get around technical problems.  So I asked a veteran reporter for advice.  Here goes…

History is filled with quotes about the importance of preparation from very brilliant, very famous people. One of my favorites comes from a B or maybe even C-level actor named Richard Kline. (Best known as “Larry” the neighbor on “Three’s Company”) Kline says, “Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control.” I like this one because it is perfect for live shots. If you are prepared, you should and will be confident. If there is one constant in live shots (as in much of life) it’s that something will inevitably get sideways at the worst possible moment. That moment is simply beyond your control so don’t sweat it. Just be as prepared as possible and chances are pretty good you will be able to get through it when something goes squirrelly.

In order to learn to tap dance your way through a sideways live shot, you first have to have the basics of doing a live shot down pat. I still remember the first time I knew I was going to do a live shot at my first real reporting job. I went to an experienced friend in the newsroom and asked for some advice. The advice they gave me was very basic and perfect! Best advice I’ve ever been given in my career actually. Do not script your live shot word-for-word. Let me say that again: Do NOT script out your live shots. If you script your live shot you will have to memorize it. This is a recipe for disaster! Ask anyone who’s done any acting what happens when you miss just one word in your lines. The answer: It generally throws everything off from that point on. Additionally, when you memorize a bunch of lines they are just that: A bunch of lines. You do not have near as much comprehension of what they mean. It’s just a bunch of words floating around in your brain waiting to come streaming out. Once they are out, so are the meanings behind them. More on retaining meaning in a moment.

First, here’s the key to basic live shots. Rather than memorizing a script, write bullet points. Each one should have a word or three for each key thought you’re going to present. Each of those bullet points acts as a memory trigger for the information you are imparting in your shot. You can then glance down at each bullet point and be easily guided through. You will also find that your comprehension of the subject matter increases too. You will not only have smoother live shots but also retain the meaning more.

Start trying the bullet point trick today. Do it every time you are out live. It will quickly become a natural way to do your shots. Eventually, you will depend on those bullet points less and less. Your live shots will also get smoother and smoother.

No matter how smooth you become on your basic live shots, at some point something will go wrong that you cannot control. A package will not run correctly; the wrong package will run; the video server will crash. If it can happen, it will. So how do you “prepare” for this? Try making some extra bullet points that sum up the package. Keep it on the next page in your reporter’s notebook after your life shot bullet points. Don’t try to quote the sound bites in the package though. Use your bullet points to help you paraphrase one or two of those bites. Do this and then if something goes wrong you have somewhere to go. Just pause briefly then look up at the camera and cooly say something like: “We’re having a little trouble with that story. But here’s what you need to know.” Then run through a few of those bullet points, sig out and toss back to your anchors. Don’t make it overly complicated. Keep it simple and smooth. Better to keep it short and clean than try to get everything in that was in your package and muck it up. Most of the time when something like this happens, viewers know something went wrong technically. They do understand and will forgive as long as you don’t compound the problem by stammering on and looking unprepared.

One quick aside. When something goes wrong do not refer to your story as a “package” or a “VO/SOT” or talk about “sound bites.” These are the terms WE use in the industry. Viewers do not talk like this and do not know what these terms mean. It will confuse them and then you have lost the battle.

Legendary writer Ernest Hemingway once said: “Courage is grace under pressure.” Use these tips to sharpen your basic live shot skills, then when the pressure is really on, you will come off looking courageous indeed!

For more advice on how to ad-lib read “Art of Ad-lib” written by veteran anchor, Cameron Harper.

How To Define Your News Philosophy

When journalists contact me, one of the first questions I ask is “What is your news philosophy?”  Most cannot tell me clearly.  I end up having to ask a series of questions, then define it for them.  (This, by the way, includes many news managers who call me looking for employees.)

Now I know some people are already rolling their eyes at me mentioning news philosophy.  The naysayers response:  “Your philosophy is the boss’s philosophy.”  My counter.  Exactly.  If you do not know what type of news you love to do, and you do not define your own mission statement to serve the community, you cannot connect with a manager who thinks the same way.  Want to know why so many journalists burn out in the first 5 years?  This is a big reason.  You and the boss don’t think alike.  The job is simply too intense, too all encompassing not to believe in the message.  Journalism is a vocation in many ways.  You do it because you just don’t know what else you can do.  It is simply a part of you, so you need to define it for yourself.  Personal fulfillment often replaces the great paycheck in those first key years.

O.K., lecture over. Now let’s talk about how to define your philosophy.  It requires exploring a few questions and truthfully answering them instead of saying what you think others want to hear.

What types of stories make you proud to be a journalist?

What issues do you read about in your spare time?

How do you visualize stories?

What news do you love to watch and steal ideas from?

How do you serve the community in your reports/newscast?

Really think about these questions. They are a great guide to helping you define news philosophy for yourself.  Also try and throw away stereotypes. (See article “What is Hard News”) You need to define your philosophy in clear terms a viewer could relate to, not a fellow newsy.  For example, the “New, Now, Next Philosophy” has different meanings depending on what broadcast entity is executing it.  So just telling a prospective boss, I am a “new, now, next broadcast journalist” is only a small part of the picture.  You need to have more detailed discussions.  How will you do this with graphics?  Standups?  When deciding what stories are live?  Do you like a lot of 20 second vo’s or do you like to really delve into an issue and pick apart what’s new, now and next?  Make sense?

Let’s get back to news as vocation for a minute.  Sometimes journalists need to be reminded that the news they put on the air, and over the internet, actually impacts people’s lives.  You have incredible influence over issues, sometimes arguably too much influence.  You owe it to yourself and those you serve to know why you dedicated your life to doing the news.  If you cannot do this, you need to go into PR.  It’s a simple truth.  Call me an idealist, a purist, a fool.  But news philosophy is crucial to excel at this vocation you have chosen.  Don’t shortchange yourself.

 

Beating Reporter Deadlines With Your Own EOC

One of the toughest learning curves for young reporters can be hitting your deadlines. You know how it goes—you knock out a noon live shot and as soon as you’re done, the EP or Assignment Desk is calling, to say you’re now on a completely different story for 5pm… and you’re live in another town… and don’t miss slot!

So how can you do good work and at the same time keep management off your back so you’re not “the problem child” on the reporting staff?

Well, it starts, and ends, with 3 keys—think of this as your own personal EOC (Emergency Operations Center … for reporters).

Efficiency

The old saying goes: “Get off your ass, get out of the building!” And it’s true. You can save a lot of time by simply being efficient with your time. Let’s say you’re assigned a story in the morning meeting. Depending on how your newsroom works, maybe you don’t have to sit through the remaining 45 minutes of that meeting. Get your story and ask if you can take off. Grab your photog and go. You’ll be thankful for those 45 minutes as you hit crunch time before the newscast.

You can make lots of calls, but remember: it’s easier for someone to blow you off by phone than in person. So if may be more efficient to just show up at that police PIO’s office and ask for a quick interview or a copy of that arrest report than making 6 calls throughout the day.

Plan out your stops to save time— so you’ll go talk with the mayor first because he’s available now. You’ll call the city council member on your way to the mayor’s office (saves time vs. you staying in the newsroom and making calls from your desk) to see if you can interview her right after the mayor. Then you can head to the next stop for B-roll and other material.  Then you’ll end up at your live location.

Quickly research story background and contacts,  and remember you can do that in the car from your phone if your photog is driving.

Make notes as you record your interview so you don’t waste time when logging and getting ready to write.

If you have a photog (won’t work if you’re an solo MMJ), you log and write while he or she sets up the live shot.  Better yet, you write your basic script while the photog is driving to the next location.

If you know you need help from the Assignment Desk, be efficient there too Let them know early if you need something researched or a call made. Assignment editors are insanely busy people and the last thing they need is a last-minute call from you asking for 3 calls to be made on your story.

Efficiency also can mean not biting off more than you can chew.  If you’re assigned to breaking news just before airtime, don’t stress too much over whether it’s a pkg. Viewers don’t care about the format, and a good management team won’t either, as long as you do a solid, compelling breaking news live shot. So be confident, get on scene and let your newsroom know what you can provide: “I’ll have a live VO at the top of the show… possibly a live interview if I can track someone down.”

Organization

Keep a list of key contacts from your previous news stories. That way, you’re not re-researching potential interviewees every time you do a story.

Make sure you have the addresses you need and GPS your route so you’re not wasting time getting lost.

Don’t overshoot your stories. No need to shoot an hour of material for a basic pkg on a crash or fire or school board meeting. Make sure you have enough, but the more organized you are with shooting, the less you have to log for your script.

Don’t try to re-invent the wheel every time. Here’s a good example—

I worked with a veteran reporter in Tampa who was a master of working fast and efficiently.  Knowing that reporters tend to cover many of the same types of stories over and over (fires, crashes, protests, budget meetings, elections), he basically had templates of these stories in his computer and in his head. If he was assigned a story about an election campaign stop by a candidate, he’d do some quick research on the race/candidate, then sketch out his script even before leaving the station. Why? Because he knew where the story was likely to go when he got there. So all he had to do is get his sounds bites and fill in the blanks. Now, the obvious danger in that plan is: what happens if the story takes a different turn? Well, then he’d just change it as needed. But the point is, he didn’t wait until the 4pm event ended and then scrambled to write the story for 5pm. He pre-wrote a skeleton script and then plugged in the holes.

Clear Communication

Be in touch with your Producer, EP and Desk frequently (at least every few hours or whenever you change locations). Be clear about what elements you have and what else you need. That avoids the dreaded angry EP conversation because she thought you were dong angle X for your story and you have angle Y.

Get script approval as early as possible.  When I was a news manager, I can’t tell you the number of times 3 reporters called me at virtually the same time… an hour before the show… for script approval.  That gives me very little time to concentrate on your script, make suggestions and have you change it for the better. Write it as early as possible and get it approved. Your managers will love you for it and so will your photog/editor, since they’ll have more time to make it look great.

So keep in mind your EOC to hit your deadlines—be efficient, be organized, and clearly communicate with your newsroom. Since far too many reporters DON’T do these, if you do, you’ll be a hero.  Believe me.

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Steve Kraycik is the Director of Student Television and Online Operations at Penn State University. He has more than 27 years of experience in television news, much of that as a manager.   He also is an agent with MediaStars.  You can reach him at steve@mediastars.tv and @TV_Agent_Steve.