Critiquing a TV news story

sidewalkladyMultimedia journalism is a lot like baseball, the way the Tom Hanks character describes it in the movie A League of Our Own. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.”

But with practice and coaching, you can improve your baseball skills. The same goes for multimedia journalism.

I’m often asked to offer feedback on stories, which I’m happy to do as time permits, but it’s occurred to me that it might be more productive to share those critiques so others can apply the suggestions to their own work, if they find them useful.

Along came Kevin Torres, who’s just accepted a new job as a backpack journalist at KUSA-TV in Denver. He asked for feedback on this story he shot for WSYR-TV in Syracuse, NY:

After I sent Kevin my comments, he agreed to serve as a guinea pig and let me share them. So here goes:

You structured the story well, kept it moving and revealed some surprises. Well done. She’s a fabulous character, and I’m glad you let her speak her mind in the story without feeling the need to sanitize her salty language. The nat sound is really nice and so is your framing.

I think your delivery is just a tad too fast. I had to listen to the story a couple of times to make sure I caught it all, and I’m watching it in a quiet office without any distractions. My advice would be to slow it down. If you’re speeding to keep the story within a time limit, cut something instead of reading faster.

When you introduce a character by name, I like to see the person’s face. Boyd Huppert calls it “a handshake shot.” You’re asking me to meet someone, so I’d like to see what they look like. In this story, we don’t see her face in today video until 30 seconds in. Too long to wait, I think.

The still photo of the woman isn’t up long enough for me to see the injury. Or perhaps, since it’s the first time we’ve seen her face, we have nothing to compare it to. Either way, she doesn’t look that bad.

Not sure about the “body swelled to the size of her medical bill” line. I know what you’re trying to do but I think it overreaches.

I like the standup idea. Using the ruler tied it in to the rest of the story. Maybe it would have worked better with a few additional words: “one hundred miles, one foot at a time.”

That last shot left something to be desired. I know she’s back in the shadows, but all I saw the first time was the leaves. I’d have preferred to see her more clearly there.

Kevin has been in the TV news business for almost five years and he’s obviously doing very good work as a solo journalist. I wouldn’t have nit-picked his story quite so much if he’d just been starting out. Hats off to him for putting himself out there for this public review.

Oh, and one more thing. If you ask someone to critique your work for free, be sure to thank them even if you don’t like what you hear. It’s just plain rude not to.

This post adapted from NewsLab