You hear it all the time. Reporters and photographers say something to the effect of: “Storytelling is great and all, but I’ve got too much to do and I don’t have time for that stuff.” And while I understand where those comments come from, I don’t buy it. TV news today is filled with more deadlines and “side work” than ever before. Often your day starts with: “Welcome to work, now get out the door we have a story we need you live on at noon.” You knock that out and then it’s on to your “real” one or two stories for the evening shows. Then there are the standup teases, vo/sot’s and versions of your story(ies) for your station’s website. Most of us also, blog, tweet, and possibly take some still shots for the website. No doubt it’s a LOT of work! But I promise you, storytelling does not have to add extra work to that pile. It really is easy to pump out good storytelling “on a dime!” It’s just a matter of shifting your way of thinking.
Typically, the toughest stories to get your storytelling mindset right, are the so-called “boring newspaper” stories. These are the stories where you have to interview some sort of “official” and, because of deadline demands, no one else. So, how do you “tell a story” when all you have is an official and their boring “officialese?” First off, while the photog is setting up for the interview, talk with the interviewee about anything but the story you are covering. Take a look around the office if that’s where you are talking. Often, you can find some great tips into who this person really is in “real life.” When you find something, chat him/her up about it. I remember one recent interview where I thought I was dead in this respect. The guy was nice enough but not the most personable and clearly not comfortable about being interviewed on camera. Then I noticed a photo of him with one of the most well-known politicians of the last quarter century. It turns out that he once did security work at a very high level. I asked him about it and it eventually led to some common ground between us. That little nugget helped immensely. First, it loosened him up for the interview and allowed me to pull some bites out of him that had a little personality. Secondly, it gave me a way to make this “official” more of a “real person.” I started the piece by talking about how this man had once protected some of the powerful people in the country, but now helps offer a different kind of protection for this small town. His past really did not have squat to do with the story of the day, but it gave me a way to turn this guy into a “character” in our story. When you can do that, you give viewers a reason to see that person as more than just some “official.” You have them interested in watching. Remember, good stories have characters. Turn your subjects into characters, not just officials who give you sound bites.
Nat sound is another area where you CAN add to your story without a ton of extra effort. It comes down to this: Shoot (and use) just about anything that makes sound to give your stories some life. Seriously use just about anything. Nat sound that is integral and directly related to your story (the power saws in a story about construction or crackling flames in a spot news fire story) are always the best. But that kind of sound is not always there. If it’s not, look around and try to find something else. The idea behind nat sound is getting people engaged in your story. Read any study or talk to any consultant about what people are doing when the news is on their TV. They are normally doing everything but “watching.” In the morning they are making breakfast, getting dressed for work or getting the kids ready for school. The TV is on, but it may as well be video wallpaper. So, your job is to give them a reason to stop what they’re doing, turn around and watch. Nat sound is a way to do that. Say you’re on that story about construction. But, in the time you’ve been given to shoot it, the crew is on a lunch break. You are stuck right? Nope, you can overcome. Look around, are there people getting in and out of cars (car door sound)? Maybe there’s a fire truck or ambulance going by with a siren on. Sometimes using seemingly unrelated nat sound is just the trick. Think about it. You’re at home with the news on but aren’t sitting and watching. You know the reporter is talking about construction and all of a sudden you hear a siren! What the…? You are probably going to turn around to see why. This is why you shoot and try to use any nat sound you can get. You want to make viewers turn around and pay close attention. Again, it’s really not any extra work. But it will add immeasurably to the quality of your stories.
When it comes to writing, try to use a piece of that nat sound off the top. Failing that, make sure you start by establishing the character you’ve easily uncovered using the tips above. Fill in the middle with the meat of the story you’ve been assigned. Then end it with another tidbit that makes your subject a “real person.”
All stories have a few basic things in common. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. They also have characters. Shoot and write with these things in mind and you cannot go wrong. Turn these things into habits and suddenly your “reports” turn into “stories” and your work begins to stand out from all the “Just the facts, Jack!”, boring, information presenters. Quickly you will establish yourself as a “storyteller.” Your producers, EP’s and News Director will appreciate you more and your resume reel will become stronger and more marketable. Suddenly the next chapter in your personal, career story becomes much more interesting with minimal investment from a little storytelling on a dime!