The old inverted pyramid approach to storytelling — reporting the most important information first — is still a useful tool, especially in breaking news situations. But creative reporters like to change the approach to fit the content. Rachel Beech at WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, Mississippi says she has a favorite technique for writing feature stories.
“With the hourglass approach, I start off with something really interesting to pull my viewers in, narrow it down in the middle, and then at the end I have the explosion and deliver it,” said Beech. “Sometimes people in the business say put your most compelling video first, but I say put the most compelling video at the end because you want to keep those viewers waiting for that big conclusion.”
Research suggests that chronological stories — describing events in order of their occurrence — can also help viewers make sense of news reports, especially if they follow certain narrative rules.
The rules include: letting emotions speak; slowing down the story’s tempo; using silence; focusing on concrete words and images and matching audio and video.
But how do you all that on a deadline? Jeff Daley, a videographer and reporter for WDAM, says he begins to piece together the story in his head as he drives back to the station to help speed up the writing process.
“While I’m coming back with the story, I’m laying it out because I’ve listened,” said Daley. “When you’re at the scene, listen to your people and know what your sound bites are going to be. Once you pick the sound bites, write in your head what you want to come before that.”
Both reporters say one of the keys to turning stories quickly is to lay the groundwork with sources. Daley says having a good working relationship with sources has often helped him get the jump on stories, earning him more time to work on the writing.
“I know the State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. Whenever they go out and do a raid on any of these puppy mills or people being abusive to a large number of animals, I’m the first one in the state to get the call to go.”
Beech and Daley also say good writing means focusing on what really matters to the narrative.
“Avoid the fluff and remember it’s not all about you, it’s about the person and about the story,” said Beech. “A lot of broadcasters forget that it’s about the person and they want to put themselves on TV 24/7. There will be several instances where you’re not going to be in a single shot because the best way to tell a story is to focus on your source.”
Thanks to producer intern Pete Porter for his contributions to this story.