Bob Dotson’s elements of great TV news stories

NBC’s Bob Dotson says he sent out 525 resumes when he was first looking for a job.

“I got three responses and two of them were no,” says Dotson.

In the decades that followed, Dotson has produced thousands of stories and won dozens of awards.  He’s also learned quite a few things about storytelling.

“Start every story as if no cares,” says Dotson.  “Then structure the story to make them care.”

At the Broadcast Education Association Convention in Las Vegas, he built on that concept and shared his four elements of great stories.

1.  Start with a scene setter — Dotson says you have to tell people where you are — where the story begins.

2.  Include foreshadowing — Make sure your audience knows something is going to happen in the story.

3.  Develop characters — Introduce us to and build characters throughout the story.  TV news often does this through illustrating conflict.

4.  Provide a resolution — Take us someplace in the story; think about where you will end the piece.

“If you know where to get off, you know how to get there,” says Dotson.

And when it comes to ending stories, Dotson says, don’t rely on sound bites.  He wants to hear a line of narration instead.

“You become a surrogate for your audience,” Dotson says.  “Just react to [the sound bite] if you don’t think you can top it.

Dotson’s American Story airs on NBC’s Today Show and his pieces are linked on the segment’s Facebook page.