Mar 27, 2011

How to do a television story

It has been quite an exciting week! On Monday I tried television news for the first time. From now on I'll be working for both radio and television, because we are an integrated newsroom and the goal is for everyone to be able to flip between both mediums.

None of the basic principles change, but there were lots of new things to try. Firstly, since I've always flown solo on everything I've covered, it was a new experience to have a partner. I worked with two different cameramen/video producers for the story (not at the same time. We shot the piece over two days).

Now, I've voiced plenty of radio pieces, so I didn't see any problems with doing the same for television. But I was a little anxious about getting the on camera part right. That's the part where I walk towards the camera and talk directly to the viewers. At that point we shot my standup, I hadn't written a script yet and I was wondering what to say. To me, it felt like we were doing things out of order.

Steve, the cameraman I was working with at the time, stopped before opening the door to take the camera and tripod out of the van, thinking about how to explain this to me.

"You already pretty much know your story before you go out," he said. "You're just getting people to tell it to you."

In the dust on the van's side window, he drew two circles. Those are the pieces of the story, he explained. He drew two curvy arrows connecting the two circles.

"That's your on-camera. You fill in the blanks," he said. You sum up what's been said. You help people understand.

Then he drew a triangle in front of the two circles. "And you would lead with your most exciting thing. That could be something that you say, or something that somebody else says, or interesting pictures."

You've got to grab people's attention with television. Actually, you have to do that with any medium, but with television there seem to be some new tricks in the eye-catching bag.

Recently one of the reporters had to talk about a certain number of people, so he went to the Saint Mary's football stadium to do his standup. When he said, "This will affect enough people to fill this football stadium," the camera zoomed out so that the viewers could see exactly how many people he was talking about.

Nancy Waugh, the executive producer of news, discussed this with me after my TV debut (a story about buses, shot mostly at a bus stop). The piece was fine but we talked about how to draw the viewers in further. It's not wrong to get involved in the story.

"If you had got on the bus, that would have taken it to a whole other level," she suggested. There aren't a lot of set-in-stone rules when it comes to TV, Nancy said, and it's a good thing to think about how to push those boundaries.

One thing to note is that if you don't shoot it, you can't use it. To a certain extent you are limited by what pictures you have (that's a problem I remember grappling with when I was at Journeyman Film). On the flip side, I was watching this video about journalism and data visualization (highly recommend you watch it, because it's fascinating even if you're not a journalist), and was blown away by this fact: half of our brain is hardwired for vision. More than any of the other senses, we are programmed to understand the world by seeing it. Pictures matter - better learn to use them.

P.S. I was mildly surprised this week to find out that other people in the newsroom are reading my blog. I always figured only a fairly limited group of people would care to follow the ins and outs of my life. But of course I'm pleased, because if there's something here that interests you, that's great. Maybe you have feedback for me. So hello, new readers! Feel free to leave a comment...or you could always come find me in person.

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