By Joanne Stevens, RTDNA Contributor
My intention to write about standups feels a bit deja-vu-ish. I've written for RTDNA about standups and about liveshots in the past. We’ve addressed good and bad movement, and live reporting for those of you getting started. But I have some new advice to pass along:
Liveshots: Transition from memorizing sentences to using notes
I’ve shared that I believe working from verbatim sentences is NOT the way to go. For those of you who are reluctant to untether yourselves, here’s a means to the preferred and easier technique of using ‘just notes’: Determine and write your full sentences. Remember: short and tight, please. Then re-do them as a list of salient words and phrases, which you will transfer to another screen or page. Other than having to remember to a) Always share that first sentence completely to camera and b) ‘Start up/end up’ (eye contact) with each subsequent sentence, I promise you’ll find the ‘notes’ technique easier and better. Your ultimate goal would be to skip the full-sentence write-up, but it’s okay if you don’t. We’re all wired differently. It’s more important to understand that connecting with viewers while worrying about pre-ordained grammar and syntax is not the way to go.
Using smartphones in liveshots
Call me a curmudgeon, but good luck if you’re depending on an electronic device for your live hits. There are glare issues, dead zones and battery surprises. Plus I’ve been noticing that they can wreak havoc with your posture. If you’re holding them to the side and/or lower down as you refer to notes, there’s a tendency for a nice, squared to camera posture to hulk forward or dip to the side. I find this distracting. I’m suggesting you might try a reporter’s notepad. Use indelible ink. You might like it! Either way, if you’re checking notes to assure you’re correctly sharing names, numbers, legal charges etc., there’s no need to rush or try to hide that you’re doing so. We appreciate reporters who want to get it right.
No Whack-a-Mole standup movement
Yes, you’re supposed to move, and it's great if you’re standing within a zone of several objects integral to your story that you can refer to. There’s no rule that you have to touch them or tap them as you move among them, as in, "The car hit this fence, smashed the garage, then careened sideways into this tree.” Think about keeping your movement as the camera follows you, but you can be more fluid with your gesturing, and keep any touching natural vs. obligatory.
Avoid being too literal
We’re taught to ‘write to video,’ which often becomes too literal. Unfortunately, this foible translates to standups as well. Try to avoid holding up items and or naming them for us. Instead of saying, “This community pantry includes soap, shampoo and boxed cereals,” I'd suggest, "toiletries and packaged foods.” If there’s a surprise element, sure, go with it, such as “.. even sports supplies like these swimming goggles!” Be smart about this. If you’re introducing us to a specialist who’s crafting objects and furniture in an unusual manner, that’s when you’d let us know that she ranges, “From floor lamps to bookshelves... to yes! This is a functioning alarm clock!... Jenny has mined all her raw materials from the county dump." Or if the local fair is serving fried lizard burgers swathed in licorice sauce amid the steaks, desserts and rides, we want to hear about it!
Stay tuned: In an upcoming post, we’ll address ‘live for the sake of live,’ or as I call it, the ‘after the fact’ standup. It’s the secret (or not so secret) anguish of many TV journalists. My critical friends may tease me about it, but it’s here to stay, so let’s deal with it.
News consultant Joanne Stevens has written extensively about broadcast writing, reporting and anchoring, including columns in the former print version of RTDNA's Communicator Magazine, and earlier versions of the RTDNA website. She has taught at Columbia and New York University and serves as a news award judge for the New York Press Club. She has returned to RTDNA.org to offer a new series of News Coach columns with tips, best practices and more. Many of her previous columns are available on her website.
By Joanne Stevens, RTDNA Contributor