The “local” in local TV news matters more than ever

A Pew Center study of local news in three different U.S. cities determined one clear winner in the competition for top local news provider — TV.  The three cities studied include Denver, Macon, Georgia and Sioux City, Iowa.  What’s particularly notable is that TV is such a dominant source for news in a large market like Denver, which has 143 local news providers, according to Pew.


These findings bode well for TV newsrooms, but the study is also a reminder of why focusing on local content vs. network feeds and franchise material is so important.

According to the study “nearly nine-in-ten residents follow local news closely—and about half do so very closely.”

The Pew report also offers interesting details on the topics of news people pay attention to — a fifth or more of people in all three cities studied say they closely track news about weather, crime, schools and education, as well as government and politics.

In a world where celebrity news and sensational stories are available across a myriad of channels, this study seems to be a reminder of where local stations should continue to focus their news coverage to better serve their communities and maintain their audiences.


How to put together a TV news package

Courtesy:  University of MontanaOne of the strongest broadcast journalism programs in the country is located at the University of Montana, and Professor Denise Dowling is one of the best instructors in the school.

She gets students started on video storytelling by following a simple formula.

“Begin and end every story with natural sound,” says Dowling, “include a nat pop in or out of every sound bite.”

Did you get that?

  • Begin and end every story with natural sound.  Natural sounds are those that occur naturally within your shooting environment.  This works best in stories that are rich with natural sound, i.e. a kid’s soccer game or a house fire with firefighters working hard at the scene.  However, at times, even traffic noise or people talking can be used as a natural sound break.  The trick is to be sure that you gather good natural sounds when you’re in the field, so you have them to use in editing.
  • Include a natural sound break or “pop” before or after sound bites.  Of course, the natural sound has to be relevant to what the interview is discussing.  Natural sound for it’s own sake is seldom compelling.

Dowling has also created a mantra to guide her students when they’re out shooting video.

“Wide, medium, tight, super tight, action, reaction,” says Dowling.  “The goal is to capture the moment.”

When people are new to video storytelling, they often do a great job of getting lots of wide and medium shots, but it’s the close-ups and extreme close-ups that draw the audience in.  A good rule of thumb is that 50 percent of the video you shoot should be made up of tight and super tight shots.

The reaction shots can be used to tell the audience what the story means.  For example, the face of a man shaking his head in disgust after the city council passes a new ordinance is likely to be a useful shot for telling part of that story.

To reinforce these concepts, Dowling asks students to produce packages that focus on something locally produced; the best of their “Made in Montana” pieces air on the local PBS affiliate.

Of course, folks who’ve been producing packages for years will probably frown at the idea of using a formula to tell stories, but for those who are just starting out, you could do much worse than following this path for your first TV packages.

This post was previously published on


More tips for writing TV news

writingonlineThe single most popular post here at Advancing the Story offers tips on writing TV news. They’re just as useful now as they were when we first shared them in 2008, but the Canadian journalism site where we found them has just been updated and the original post has vanished.

Not to worry! Here’s a recap, plus some bonus tips for good measure.

Don’t write more than you have pictures for. Obvious, right? But even experienced TV reporters sometimes write themselves into a corner because they fail to thoroughly screen their video and they have less to work with than they think. The result, too often, is lip flap or words-on-a-screen graphics. Ick. Know what you have and write tight.

Don’t fight your pictures. Pictures really do speak louder than words. Make sure your images and words are telling the same story. If you show two officials smiling and shaking hands, the viewer will get the impression they get along well even if your track says they’re suing each other. If you say it, make sure the video proves it.

Write to the corners of the pictures. The old admonition, “See dog, say dog,” is totally wrongheaded. Don’t tell viewers what they can already see. Use words to add detail, context and meaning to what they’re looking at. Don’t say traffic is bad when that’s what your pictures show; tell how much longer than usual it’s going to take drivers to get downtown.

Connect names with faces. When you introduce a character by name, make sure viewers can clearly see the person you’re referring to. Reporter Boyd Huppert looks for what he calls a “handshake shot”–a head-on medium shot. “There’s no reason to introduce a character without looking him in the eye,” he says. “I don’t want to see the side of the head or back of the head or the person in a shot with other characters so I don’t know who I’m supposed to be looking at.”

Preserve surprises. Don’t use your narration to announce what’s coming up. Let the viewer experience it through video and sound. Instead of writing, “Just as the show was starting, the tent collapsed.” Try something like this: “What happened next wasn’t on the program.” Show, don’t tell.

Parallel park. Use pauses productively. Instead of cutting a sound bite to remove a pause and covering the edit with a cutaway, let the video roll and insert a short line of narration during the pause. Parallel parking your track makes for a seamless story.

These tips should help you write stronger, more coherent stories. If they work for you, please let us know!



6 ideas for better newscasts from a Murrow Award winner

WBIRLisa Leko is a producer at WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Last year, the station won an Edward R. Murrow Award for best newscast among stations in small markets.  Leko recently took part in an RTDNA-sponsored webinar on what makes a newscast worthy of a Murrow, and we think you’ll find that her six pieces of advice are quite sound.

1.  Ditch the checklist.  Yes, yes and yes!  We get it, many newscasts are formatted to force producers to put specific content, like health news or national news, for example, in specific blocks, but Leko says that can be a mistake.

“Just because you have a template, doesn’t mean you have to stick with it.”  Instead, she recommends putting in the most newsworthy stories of the day and suggests that both the audience and the boss will forgive you if the content is good.

2.  Anchors off the desk.  Leko moves her anchors around in the studio and even puts them outside when its warranted.  She says shaking things up a bit can add energy to the presentation and interest for the audience.

3.  Let anchors ask Q&A of live reporters.  This practice goes in and out of fashion, probably because it has to be done well to work, but Leko says she thinks it helps build anchor credibility.

4. People love lists.  Hey,  if you’re reading this, it may be true.  She says putting content like, “5 Things You Need to Know about Flu” into your newscast makes information memorable and shareable on social media.

5.  Improve your graphics.  Leko actually simply suggested that you add more graphics because she finds readers “boring.”  She goes on to suggest that producers work harder at producing better graphics, and that’s where I think she’s absolutely right.

6.  Don’t be afraid to use still images.  Leko offered a beautiful example of how a mix of stills and video can drive a story, which you can view it within the presentation linked above.  She says the station will routinely use still images on breaking stories, for example, when video may be hard to come by.

Thanks, Lisa Leko!



Great video editing tips

A good editor can make something out of almost nothing. Boring video? Pick up the pace in the edit and the viewer may not even notice how dull the shots are. A bad editor, on the other hand, can ruin even the best video.

I remember–not fondly–the experience of working with an editor who always cut in on the first frame of any shot and often missed the action entirely. I used to think the guy was lazy but I now believe he just had no idea what he was doing. He’d learned how to push the buttons but had never really been trained in the finer points of editing. What a shame Edit Foundry didn’t exist back then.

Edit Foundry is a blog is written by Shawn Montano of Thunderbird Media, a three-time winner of the NPPA’s Editor of the Year award. [I wrote about him in 2008 when he was let go from a Denver station just after winning his second EOY.] Obviously, he knows his stuff. For more than five years, he’s been sharing what he knows, both online and in the classroom at local community and technical colleges. And it’s not just for beginners.

For example, I wish that editor I worked with could have read the post titled “Movement in every edit (well almost every edit).” Montano writes:

I often base my edit decisions on movement. If I’m choosing between two shots, I’ll choose motion over a better composed shot with no action happening in the shot.

That seems clear enough, but it’s even clearer when you watch this story Montano edited:

Now read his explanation of what he did and why. Isn’t this a great teaching tool?

The blog is a rich resource, full of tips and examples on everything from the importance of tight shots to the logic of natural sound. I may not always agree with some of the choices Montano makes in the edit room but I’m a huge fan of the site. And you can get more editing tips by following @ShawnMontano on Twitter and watching for his #VETOTD (video editing tip of the day). How I wish I could have made these suggestions to that editor who used to drive me nuts!

This post is updated from the original, which was sourced from: NewsLab


TV news directors reveal their resume-watching secrets

With December graduations complete and the holidays over, 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.

As we reported in a post last year, 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 more generous with his time.  When hiring 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.


How to write a mobile news story

According to research from the Nielsen Norman Group, it may be nearly twice as hard to comprehend information you consume on a smartphone-sized mobile device. The limited amount of information displayed on the screen requires users to remember more as they move from screen to screen.

In addition, the act of scrolling is a distraction, and you have to do it more often on a smaller device. It’s important to keep this background in mind when you are creating content that you know will be consumed on mobile devices. Fortunately, many of the same rules for good Web writing apply to mobile as well.

  • The screen is smaller; write even tighter. Broadcast journalists are quite familiar with the need to eliminate unnecessary words and cut the fat from a story. Your mobile reader will appreciate the effort even more.
  • Front-load your stories. Not everyone will read your entire piece, so everything they really need to know to understand what the story is about should be near the top.
  • Break it up. Subheads and bullets are useful in making content easier to consume. On a small-screen mobile device, those techniques will also make it easier for someone scrolling through content to figure out where something is, if he or she tries to go back to look for something on the page again.

Whether you love or hate BuzzFeed’s “listicles,” there’s a reason why they get so much mobile traffic — the act of breaking content into bite-sized chunks of information in easily consumable lists has lots of appeal.

MATSWeb-MobileBBCany news organizations rely on their Web producers and editors to make decisions that affect the news outlets’ mobile content. Some, like the BBC, have mobile editors whose jobs involve selecting stories and sometimes rewriting them to make them more mobile-friendly.

This image includes the first screen of information displayed for a story on an iPhone. Note the summary blurb at the top, which gives the mobile user the most important details.  It’s possible that someone may stop right after that one sentence, having consumed all the information he or she wants on the topic at that point, and that’s OK if the summary satisfies.

In addition, it’s also important to remember the rules on writing strong online headlines. Forget cute and clever, be direct and to the point.  Tell your mobile reader exactly what the story is about — don’t try to trick them into clicking — that practice gets old very fast.

And, of course, the best way to get someone to read what you’ve written for a mobile device is to write well.

This post is an excerpt from the 3rd edition of our book, Advancing the Story:  Journalism in a Multimedia World.



Earning respect on the job

shutterstock_141019639You’re hired! Now what?

That first full-time job in a newsroom can be an intimidating experience. There’s so much to learn, and most of the veterans are way too busy doing or protecting their own jobs to help a newbie out. But it’s critically important to make a good impression; the reputation you earn early on will follow you for years.

Jennifer Nicole Sullivan, who remembers her first job at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, shared some terrific tips for new journalists in a recent edition of Quill, the SPJ magazine. (If you’re an SPJ member, you can read them all here.) Among the best:

Dress professionally. Always a good idea, but especially when you’re just starting out. It never ceases to amaze me that some young journalists show up for work looking like they’re headed to a cocktail party or the beach. Look at what your colleagues are wearing for guidance. Think “business casual,” at a minimum, Sullivan advises. “If you look younger than you are, dressing like a professional adds credibility,” she says. If you’re not sure what business casual looks like, you are apparently not alone. Here’s a guide from Business Insider.

Meet deadlines. That seems obvious, right? Perhaps just as important, come in on time and be ready to work. The early reporter gets the story, and it could be the one that makes your career.

Maintain excellent manners. Yes, many newsrooms are cesspools of bad language and rudeness. Don’t join in. And stay off your smartphone during meetings, unless you’re searching for the address of your next interview.

Stay organized. A messy desk is not the sign of an efficient reporter, Sullivan says. Keep things where you can find them, and “don’t be the Pig-Pen of the newsroom.”

Other tips include showing enthusiasm for every assignment, submitting clean work, and accepting criticism gracefully. I’d say that’s excellent advice, no matter how long you’ve been on the job.


Photo via Shutterstock


Whatever happened to audio?

Figure 3.3-heistphotoIn television, sound is the other half of the picture. No matter how gorgeous your video is, its impact depends in part on the quality of the audio. Lousy sound can ruin even the strongest pictures. So if sound is so important, why aren’t more students being taught the basics of audio production?

The question comes from Pat Sanders, who teaches journalism at the University of North Alabama. In today’s curriculum, she writes in the SPJ magazine Quill, audio is “the forgotten one.” Like radio, she says, it’s been shunted aside and treated as an afterthought in most J-schools. But it’s never been more important for students to learn how to produce good audio, Sanders argues, because they need to know how to “do it all” in multimedia.

We agree, which is why our textbook puts audio first in the chapter on newsgathering for broadcast, and covers how to collect and use sound for TV, slideshows, podcasts and online video. To get really good at working with sound, it helps to spend some time focused only on audio. Forget the pictures and learn to tell a story with sound alone. If your audio isn’t clear, crisp, and cleanly-edited, your story won’t be worth much. Taking that sensibility into a video editing session will make your multimedia story shine.

If you want to practice, there are lots of free software options available for audio editing, including the one I use most often, Audacity. Learn how to use it by checking the tutorials Mindy McAdams of the University of Florida has posted online. And if that doesn’t work for you, Mashable has a handy list of free alternatives.

Perhaps the increasing popularity of podcasts like Serial from This American Life and Startup from Planet Money will put audio back on the front burner again. As a former radio-head myself, I certainly hope so.


Tips for finding story ideas

Photo by Flickr user PolandezeOne of the most basic skills every journalist needs is the ability to come up with stories worth reporting. It may be basic, but it’s not always easy.

Some reporters have lots of ideas but they fail the “so what” test. Just because something’s interesting to you doesn’t mean it’s going to interest your audience. Other reporters become dependent on scheduled events or breaking news to fill their days and hardly bother looking for stories. But journalists who train themselves to find and follow potential stories are treasured in every newsroom I’ve worked in, and they’re also the best equipped to succeed in today’s media world, which relies more and more on freelancers.

One way to find story ideas is to listen, really listen, to what people are talking about. Begin with people you know–your family and friends. What are their everyday concerns?

I’ll never forget telling a news director about a story I’d seen in another market on how the disappearance of full-service gas stations was affecting the elderly and people with disabilities. His reaction was priceless. He put his head in his hands. Turns out his own mother had been complaining for months that she had to drive miles out of her way to get a fill-up, but he’d never thought of her problem as a broader issue.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you feature your family or friends in your stories. That would raise obvious ethical concerns. But if someone you know has a problem, find out if it’s part of a trend. If it affects others in your community, you might have a story idea worth pursuing.

Next, broaden your circle to talk to people you don’t know and who aren’t a lot like you. I know it’s not easy to talk to strangers, but it’s part of a journalist’s job. Might as well start now. But how to begin?

Take a look at these excellent tips from freelancer Beth Winegarner, who says she was “painfully shy” as a child and had to psych herself up for just about every interview she did as a young journalist. Here’s one:

Many people — from random citizens to seasoned politicians — would rather get a root canal than talk to a reporter…So if you’re nervous about asking them questions, remember: you’re probably not the only one with butterflies in your stomach.

The key to finding story ideas in these conversations is to listen, really listen, to what people say, and to what they’re not saying. Be prepared with responses that will elicit more information: “Tell me more about this.” “What do you mean, exactly?” “Why do you think that is?” “What bothers you about that?”

Give it a try. Let us know what works for you. And stay tuned for more story-finding ideas!