By Joanne Stevens, RTDNA Contributor
You’re the nightside reporter. The suspect has already been caught. The aftermath of the car crash has been cleaned up. The street where the attack occurred is back to normal... you get the idea. The "news" part of the news story is long over. But the producer and the assignment desk are asking you to do a live update. What’s left to show us? Where’s the nat sound? What will we talk about? We all get these kinds of assignments, but the best reporters and photographers get creative to make the most of it. Hang in there.
Yes, you’re a journalist standing there in the dark, but you can find more to report!
- Be real: Don't pretend the event is still happening but instead, focus on what comes next.
- Give the anchors an introduction that sets the stage, but don't echo them in your own lede.
- Be ready with your first line, but have a second one up your sleeve if they ad-lib what you had in mind.
Since the event itself is over, your job is to add depth. “Over the last five months, this curve here on Route 78 has been the scene of...” or “Nationally, statistics on car deaths from speeding on wet curves like this one here on Route 78 is at an all-time high of...” or “Experts suspect this crash may have been related to the tires of…”
The 'news' may be over, but the story is not
If what happened there could happen once, it could happen again. Is there something to point out at the location that may have been a factor? You may be able to point out something the casual observer may have missed. The reporter and photographer can use meaningful movement to show it to viewers.
Nothing there to see? You're still okay! Stand there and give us three clean sentences with at least one smart fact we haven't heard yet, and be the professional who adds depth or sheds new light on the situation. When you put together your demo reel, you'll have a poised, solid, network-worthy standup in the montage.
What happens next? Are charges expected in court? Are steps being taken by the police, the city, the neighborhood, the state or anyone else to prevent future problems? Advance the story as best you can, and think of the people who will be on that street tomorrow.
Don't let a boring background make your story boring
If you're stuck in front of a building, a courthouse, a school, a railroad crossing gate, or anywhere that isn't an active scene, don't grumble. It will distract you and get you nowhere. Remind yourself that the viewers have imaginations and we’re picturing what transpired as you’re speaking. Use your b-roll. If you don't have much to show where you're standing at the moment, get to the tape quickly to show us what you do have, and use the back end of your liveshot to add detail. Give the viewers facts and context.
Another tip: You can mention the formal name of the building in your standup. It shows comprehensiveness on your part. For example, “The last time the ... Courthouse tried a case of such national prominence was in ... when … “
You can point out what was happening in or in front of the building, such as, "Earlier today every room on each of these four floors was.. “ or “Just hours ago, [name of suspect] was escorted from the front exit of the [...building] (you might gesture) down this walkway after …” or “...hours ago [name of building/school] was the focal point of an angry demonstration that spread down [xx blocks] calling for... We’ve since learned that…” or “We’ve been timing the coordination of this railroad crossing alarm bell with the lowering of the guard gates, and it appears that..." Then have a fact you can use for a short, smart close.
Remember these words: Follow up!
Rather than moaning about going live for the sake of going live, be innovative. Part of the reason for going live is to emphasize that the station has journalists in the field, pursing the story. You're in the field, so pursue it! Talk to witnesses. Get neighborhood perspective. Wear out some shoe leather. Look for that angle no one else has taken. Funnel your energy in to digging a little deeper, and that after-the-fact liveshot can be precursor to a meaty, smart follow-up story. Imagine the anchors saying “Yesterday we told you about.. Today our reporter [your name] discovered that...”
Be the smart one. Be the newsroom hero.