5 easy ways to better produce an online story

writingonlineIt’s a rare TV newsroom that does not require its journalists to write a Web version of their stories.  Lynn Walsh, who produces multimedia for the Scripps National Digital Desk has done more than her fair share.

She offers some excellent tips for making sure those stories are viewed and enjoyed by more audience.  We’ve captured what we think is her best advice and supplemented it to create our Top 5.

1.  Think visuals

Don’t come back from the field without at least one good still shot from the scene.  You might take it with your smartphone or convert a video frame to a jpeg, but a story that includes a photo is going to look more attractive to the online viewer.

If your station embeds the video version of the story as part of the website template, that’s great.  However, if that’s not going to get posted for hours — consider shooting a little b-roll or an interview from the scene on your smartphone, so you can get that uploaded immediately with the first text.

2.  Love those links

The more relevant, bona fide links you have in your story, the more boost that piece will get in the search engines.  As Walsh says, “Always link back to original source documents, previous coverage and related stories. This is only going to help your SEO opportunities and create greater transparency for your users.”

In addition, you’ll want to give some time and attention to the story’s headline.  What keywords will people use to search Google for this story?  Use your best judgment and put those words in your headline.

3.  Invite the viewers

Let’s hope this post does a good job of incorporating online writing best practices.  We’ve created more white space by breaking the information down into a bulleted list.  We’ve kept our paragraphs relatively short — 1-2 sentences long, for the most part.

By making the text look accessible, we’ve made it easier for someone scanning for content, a common online reading practice.

4.  Add data and details

Most of the time, you’re going to uncover a lot more information about your story than you can ever use in the TV version, so make your online story richer by reporting more.  From the list of all the teachers getting awards to the specific crime stats for the neighborhood you’re covering, you can tell more of the story online, and you should make the time to do it.

5.  Get interactive

Now we’re getting greedy, but if you want to make that story the best it can be, consider making it more interactive.  If your story involves multiple locations, would a Google Map help the reader keep things straight?

If a timeline is the answer, a free and open source tool like TimelineJS is an option.  And if you want to make that data you’ve uncovered about the delays involved in building the new stadium easier to understand, Infogr.am is an amazing free and easy tool for creating interactive graphics.

It’s like your grandma always said, “There’s no sense doing a job, unless you’re going to do it right!”  So, improve those posts and start tracking your stats — then compare them to the last five stories you did before you began to optimize for online.  We’d love to hear what happens!  And thanks, Lynn Walsh, for getting us thinking about these issues.

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TV news directors reveal their resume-watching secrets

With thousands of broadcast journalists graduating from college and flooding the job market in just a few weeks, news directors all around the country will be watching a lot of resume reels, but not for very long.

News director Lee Thompson oversees KTVZ/KFXO in Bend, Oregon.  He says he gives job candidates all of :10 before he decides whether they’re worth looking at longer.  If not, he puts the them in the “Good luck with your career” file.

At WPMI in Mobile/Pensacola, Bob Noonan says he watches a resume reel for :30, but only after he’s read the “paper” resume.  On that resume, he says he’s looking for evidence of internships and for where the candidate went to school in case he knows one of the professors who teaches in the program.

News director Dave Beech is the most generous with his time.  When making hires for WTVA in Tupelo, Mississippi, he might watch a reel for as long as :90, unless he gets bored first.

Beech says the reel should include 2-3 stand-ups and 2-3 stories—no more.  He’s also OK with candidates including a little anchoring at the end.

(Reporter Aubry Killion works at 5News in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  This is the reel he used to get a job right out of school.)

Noonan says his last hire’s resume reel began with a few stand-ups in which she moved and was creative.  Thompson says he met his last hire at News Director Day at NAB.  He found her engaging, and within 24 hours she had made contact again with him.  She included links to her resume and video work within the email.

Thompson’s advice to job seekers is to meet as many people in the business as possible, and give them your card and resume.

Just make sure your reel is dynamite right off the top.

Thanks to Dr. Nancy Dupont at the University of Mississippi for her contributions to this post.

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Finding new online storytelling forms

The Internet is really still in its infancy, and according to USC’s Koci Hernandez, that means journalists still have time to help mold it as a storytelling platform.

“We have small opportunity while the Internet is still a baby to change the way things are done, presented or seen on this new creative platform,” says Hernandez.  “It’s not a single canvas anymore.  It’s not about the desktop, not about mobile – it’s about all these devices at once.  It’s not a single canvas, and we have to stop thinking about it like that.”

Instead, Hernandez urges journalists to check out sites like Pitchfork and The Verge, where people like Jonathan Harris are creating masterpieces of visual journalism.

“Find inspiration in places where you wouldn’t normally look; we have to avoid copying ourselves,” Hernandez says.

National Geographic’s project on the Serengeti lion is another must view, according to Hernandez – it combines images and word together in a way that he says may help reinvent the future.

“My charge is that we must experiment.  What can story be?  This is what I’m most inspired by; the Johnny Cash Project could not have been told without the Web.”

CashProjectThe website devoted to Johnny Cash invites users to take a single image of Cash and using a custom drawing tool, they create “personal portraits,” which are then incorporated into a video of a Cash performance – the community votes images up and down and the song itself is constantly changing as more people add their views.

This combination of knowledge, information and technology is what Hernandez hopes will lead to new narrative forms.  Though he admits that the journalism business is facing some real challenges, he says it boils down to one decision for individual journalists.

“Are you in or out?  I know I’m in.  I know I’m going to be doing this until the day I die,” says Hernandez.  “It’s not that I don’t worry about [the challenges]; it’s not that I’m not being entrepreneurial enough; there’s just no room for negativity to prevent me from doing what I want to do.  Right now, we have an opportunity to change, experiment and to play.”

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TV anchoring tips from a pro

WLKY anchor demonstrates use of "TV Hands."

WLKY anchor demonstrates use of “TV Hands.”

KRON4 anchor Marty Gonzalez calls them “TV Hands” — that’s when an anchor keeps the elbows in, hands at waist level and then talks using natural gestures. Gonzalez also teaches broadcast journalism at San Francisco State University and says it’s hard to get inexperienced anchors to stop clasping their hands together in a death grip when they first get to the anchor desk.

“Nothing says rookie more than that,” laughs Gonzalez. In addition, has three more excellent pieces of advice for any kind of on-camera delivery:

1. Pacing. Gonzalez sums this up in two words — slow down! “Get a tattoo if you have to, but remember this,” says Gonzalez. “Cut your speed in half.” As he points out, you might as well have stayed at home if your reading is so rushed that no one understands it.

2. Emphasize important words.
Call this interpretation — Gonzalez says you should take a highlighter and identify at least one word in every sentence that should be emphasized for meaning. “You also want to build in pauses to sound conversational,” says Gonzalez. He recommends marking your scripts to remind yourself where a pause makes sense.

3. Vary your delivery. “Not all stories should be treated the same,” says Gonzalez. “You need to change your inflection or tone to match the topic.”

Gonzalez also says it’s critical that you understand the material you’re reading and that it’s essential to rehearse out loud.

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Better TV stand-ups in a box

Shooting compelling solo stand-ups is a challenge — especially if you are new to TV news. Joshua Davidsburg is a TV reporter himself, now teaching broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland.

He created a unique online video module with best practices for shooting stands-ups on your own. It takes less than 8 minutes to watch, but gives you great advice for how to deliver content directly to the camera.

Davidsburg is using wiremax.com — a video tagging tool that allows you to embed text, links and other multimedia into a video. He says he finds it much more flexible than YouTube Annotations.

Right now it appears that few news organizations are using the tool, but it could be a an interesting way to produce some explanatory journalism projects and it looks like a great teaching tool.

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App makes creating mobile video faster, easier for TV reporter

Reporting a story on social media as it happens is one more task that reporters like Beth Parker at Fox 5 DC have to work into their days. Parker recently covered the aftermath of a storm that brought a tree down on top of the home of a blind woman. Parker got to the scene and while the photojournalist she was working with started capturing video for the newscast, Parker pulled out her smartphone.

“I was able to take still photos and video on my phone and create a condensed version of my story to get the information out and tease ahead to the show,” Parker said.

ParkerVideoliciousParker says she uses the Videolicious app all day long to push out versions of her story.  Videolicious allows a journalist to record his or her own voice, shoot the necessary video clips that go along with the story and drag and drop them into place within seconds.  With another click, the video is edited and able to be shared.  Parker used the app to put a version of the storm story out on Twitter and Facebook, feeding the station’s significant mobile audience.

“I’m dealing constantly with our mobile folks.” says Parker. “I say, ‘This is why I think this would do really well on the Web;’ I constantly try to drive those numbers.”

Though Parker loves how easy it is to share content via mobile devices, she says the speed at which you can publish should make you more cautious than ever about accuracy.

“Every time I make a Vine, I’m representing Channel 5,” Parker said.  “When you’re at something that’s unfolding,  you feel pressure.  It can be nerve-racking to know you need to beat your competition, but you also have to make sure you’re right.”

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Got the interview? Now, get the journalism job

More than 90 percent of journalism and mass communications grads reported getting at least one in-person job interview soon after graduation.  Yet, a little less than 74 percent ended up getting a full or part-time job.  So, what went wrong?

News anchor and reporter Byron Brown from WJTV in Jackson, Miss. says there are a number of mistakes interviewees make.

“If you do get the interview, dress for success,” says Brown.  “As my father said, from your hairline to the shoe shine, make sure you are dressed for the interview.”

Byron says he’s also amazed at how many people forget that the interview continues outside the news director’s office.

“When you’re out in the newsroom just kind of milling around, that’s the second part of the process,” Brown says.  Though you might think the tough part is over, Brown maintains that what the rest of the staff says about you after you’ve let your hair down can affect whether or not you get hired.  He also urges preparation for the position.

“Know something about the company; know something about the managers you’ll be talking to,” says Brown.  He also suggests it’s very important to come in able to articulate your goals and to show you’ve learned something about the community where you’ll be reporting.

The job hunt for thousands of May grads is officially on — be sure you’re one of the success stories!

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Five tips for gathering better video and sound

By Bob Gould

I teach broadcast news at Michigan State and one day last year I decided to take the students out and shoot a story with the students watching me work. I figured it was much easier to SHOW them as opposed to just telling them. So, the story was about a contest for MSU students to win season tickets to the student basketball section (called, The Izzone, in honor of coach Tom Izzo–they are hard to get). All they had to do was make a halfcourt shot on a makeshift outdoor grass court and the season ticket was theirs.

Here’s the story.

There were several things the students took away from watching me.

1. They couldn’t believe how CLOSE I would get to people and how unfazed the subjects were when I did. They are horrified by getting close ups like this. It’s important to break the perimeter of the story and get fully inside. By doing this you have a better chance of bringing the story home. I use the phrase, “Take me There, Make me Care.” If you stay too far away, it will feel to the viewer as if we are watching from afar.

2. They also didn’t realize how important it was to just start asking questions on camera without first asking them if they would do “an interview.” You will see in the piece that I talk to students in their element and not pulling them aside. Doing this would ruin the heat of the moment.

3. It’s sometimes better to be lucky than good, but you need to know how to use the luck to your advantage and not screw it up. Coach Izzo showed up about halfway through our shoot. I didn’t know he was going to be there. He’s a charismatic guy that connects emotionally with everyone. The event lasted all day, but he happened to arrive during the hour we were there. I used it to my advantage. The students were upset with me, saying that they would never get that lucky.

4. A wireless mic is the best tool in your bag. I can’t stress it enough. I used it along with my shotgun mic to get good clean sound. The students were amazed at how I asked Izzo to put the mic on without hesitation. He asked what we were doing and I said this was a class. He was floored that a class would be doing this. He gladly put the mic on. I told the students that you have to be aggressive in asking people to put the mic on people like that. They are all afraid to ask and I said that the worst thing he would say is no. I got great sound with him with that wireless. I also used the wireless to get good clean nats throughout the shoot.

5. There are two different possible outcomes for this story. One of jubilation if they miss the shot and go away empty handed and one of disappointment when they don’t make it. It doesn’t necessarily matter which you get, because sometimes stories don’t have tidy endings and sometimes the story is better when they DON’T end happy.

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How to land a dream job

Bob Dotson youngNBC’s Bob Dotson has what many television reporters consider their dream job. He travels the country, finding and telling engaging stories about “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” In a new edition of his book, American Story, to be released tomorrow, Dotson shares his own story, explaining how he made that job what it is today.

Young people, longing for a more exciting job, always ask me how I got mine. They want to travel the country on someone else’s nickel, “looking for interesting people, taking all the time you need.”

This is what I tell them: Back when I started writing for the Today Show, my American Stories couldn’t run longer than a minute ten. They aired in a newscast and the length had to be short. So I spent a year doing 59-second stories. Never asked for more time. When everyone else begged for an additional ten seconds, I gave ten seconds back. Meanwhile, I searched for the tale worth more time.

A year later, I went to my boss and said, “Could I have a couple of minutes to do a special piece?” And he said, “You can have four minutes.” That’s blockbuster movie length in TV news, but I had earned a reputation for doing a good job without complaining, so my boss took a risk that I would use the extra time well. We all have to do the work someone hires us to do, but we can polish our skills until that work shines and the folks who sign paychecks see the best we can do.

Dotson’s back story reminds me of the advice I once heard from Lane Michaelsen, a former TV photographer who is now a news director. He’d tell young journalists that every time they exceed expectations–turning a story early, for example, or picking up an extra vo/sot–they get the equivalent of a penny in a jar. Over time, those pennies pile up. And one day, when you need more time to develop a story or to tell it, you get to cash in the pennies.

And then? You start earning pennies again.

Words from the wise.

 

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Mobile newsgathering works for covering winter storms

When ice covers the roads, it can be just as hard for news crews to get around as it is for the general public.  So, reporter Margaret Ann Morgan and some of her colleagues at Raycom-owned WDAM in Hattiesburg, Miss. got serious about newsgathering with their smartphones during their recent encounter with winter.

“Last week was the first time that 95 percent of what I did was all from my iPhone,” said Morgan.

With traveling into the station to get gear not a speedy enough option, Morgan says they had to get creative with how they would put together the newscast.

“I was scraping the ice off of my car Tuesday morning and realized, ‘Hey, this would be some great nat sound!’ So I pulled out my iPhone and started recording. I was able to put it into Oasis straight from my phone, and we — and other stations – used it for the newscasts that day.”


Once she got going, Morgan said it just made sense to continue.

“Everything I did, including whips, SOTs, etc., was done straight from my iPhone for three consecutive days.”

These days, mobile newsgathering is synonymous with social media sharing in many newsrooms.  Morgan says she was posting, sharing, retweeting and “just glued” to her phone for the duration of the story.

“This brought me more interaction with viewers via Twitter and Facebook than I’ve had since I started working here. They knew I was an up-to-second source for road closures, etc., so they began to tweet at me directly to ask info, and I was able to share it with them and the rest of the world.”

Morgan’s experience is a great example of the saying that, “Sometimes the best newsgathering tool is the one in your hand.”

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