Going live via phone

With all the new demands on TV reporters these days, who would have thought that going live over the phone would be a challenge? Turns out that it is, at least for Marissa Pendergrass, a reporter at WHBF in Rock Island, Illinois, who started work there about six months ago. Writing on the RTDNA Rookie Reporter blog, Pendergrass says she wasn’t taught anything about doing live hits on the phone either in school at Emerson University or in her job training.

I’ve found a live phoner can feel even more unnatural that standing in front of a camera.  I usually try to think about the techniques I’ve heard cable news reporters use when they’re live from some remote place but in the end I’m never quite sure how I sound.

Perhaps because I started out in radio, I always found going live on the phone much easier than talking to a camera. For one thing, you can look at your notes without worrying about breaking eye contact. For another, talking on the phone is something most of us do all the time so it felt more natural to me than facing a camera, not less.

But since radio isn’t taught in many journalism programs any more, I suspect Pendergrass isn’t alone. So how do you get comfortable doing live phoners? Just like anything else–practice.

Try this: Call your own phone or a friend’s and record “live shots” on your days off. Start by telling where you are and why you’re there.  Get used to providing a little more description than you might on TV, when the pictures can help tell the story. Practice in lots of different situations–indoors and out. Take notes, organize them, and “go live” or just describe what you see. And don’t forget to listen to the recordings later and critique your work.

Another suggestion comes from commenter Larry Degala on the RTDNA blog:

I felt audio books were only for the visually impaired, but I find them to be a good research and practice aid for delivering information with audio only. Also, listening to sports on radio rather than watching on television will give you solid clues of describing events strictly through unscripted reporting.

If you have other ideas, feel free to chime in!