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How to figure out what should be in your TV story vs your digital story.

This is a million dollar question in a lot of ways:  How do I figure out what should be in a TV story vs a digital story? There are teams of researchers, consulting groups, and higher ups in the broadcast industry weighing this question every day. But you are a journalist, and you have to turn stories everyday right now while they ponder the future digital universe. So let’s lay out some common sense ground rules. 

Necessary TV Elements:

Wide Impact

Strong visual and/or emotional elements

DMA Impact

Timeliness, especially if ongoing

Necessary Digital Elements:

Immediacy

Impact

Strong visual and/or emotional elements

Great Why or How elements

Great extra nuggets of information surrounding ongoing story 

These lists look awfully similar right? The key differences are subtle but important.

Let’s jump into the TV elements list first. Wide Impact tops the list for a big reason, TV viewers are getting more finicky. We used to be able to just grab hyper local elements to fill up our local news sections and be fine. Not as easy now though. Viewers are likely two screening when watching TV so if a story or two bores them, you lost them to the other screen! So while remaining largely local, the story has to impact a lot of people. Let’s discuss the meaning of impact. That doesn’t mean a direct effect on the person watching necessarily. It can also mean a strong universal type tie. Think heartbreaking stories. My family isn’t impacted, but I sure care about the other family. Or I sit and thank my lucky starts that’s not my family. Just getting nitty gritty here. That’s why emotional elements are so crucial. 

TV news needs strong visuals in its stories. The goal is for every story. That’s not always realistic, but try as much as possible. Especially in this day of big monitors and telestrations and 2d graphics. Discussing the visual impact of the story is as big as the community impact when considering a TV news story.

DMA impact is a little different but very key. There are times especially if you are the third or fourth place station that you want to cater to an underserved audience in your DMA. This helps serve the community better as journalists, and can help bring up ratings. These are important discussions to have to make sure TV stories are truly considering the entire audience, not just a chosen few. (Which can get into the whole idea of not just choosing stories you personally care about to cover. Your opinion is one opinion. Never forget that as a journalist.)

Timeliness is also very important. But this is going to sound half crazy to some, it needs to emphasize more developing type stories, instead of just breaking news. Why? Because digital does breaking news better unless it is a HUGE event in which you are in continuous coverage. Admit that and you will start to produce more relevant stories for your viewers. It is too hard for TV to beat digital. Breaking news desks need to cater to digital first. But you cannot put clearly dated stories into newscasts. That’s where strong data driven journalism is starting to come into play. You have started hearing broadcast groups mention that they want to focus on hard hitting investigative journalism locally. That’s smart. That’s going to provide the key information that will drive audiences to a TV newscast. I want to see that reporter I trust spell it out for me. Then I can research more and see if I agree. That’s what journalism was about for a long time. But TV news went too heavy into pictures and immediacy and not enough into impact. That’s what hurt TV. It’s time to go back to the basics, with a little more showcasing savvy than TV news of the 80’s for example.

Now the digital list. Immediacy is first for obvious reasons. You check your phone to see what’s happening right now. What if I missed something? Due to content constantly changing people are constantly checking. That doesn’t change for local news. You have to have new elements all the time that make sense. Immediacy.

Impact is next. Just grabbing breaking news from all over the world will not impress local audiences. Research shows this for TV viewers and it is not different for internet users for local TV news websites. I promise you do not do it as well as HuffPost/Politico etc.  Focus on what the audience wants. Local stories that could make a difference for them or someone they know. 

Strong visual and/or emotional elements. Think Instagram mentality here. You go on the app thinking you have 15 minutes to burn and an hour later, you are still looking at posts. Same with Pinterest. Give them great information they can relate to and suck them in with a great image or video. The human brain cannot resist. 

Great why and/or how elements are crucial too. It can be really hard to catch everything stated on TV. Consumers are grabbing their phones, starved for more information. They can read the digital story more than once. They can highlight words and research more things. They can really get into the nitty gritty of stories and subject matter they want to understand. This is where we journalists can inform, teach and frankly be relevant again. Give them the facts they crave. Delve into what so many feel is so hard to get right now, understanding.

Sometimes that understanding is a whole series of special reports. Sometimes it is simply the last element of our digital story list:  extra nuggets of information on a developing story. This is especially true if your next newscast is not for hours. Keep covering the most relevant stories. Add elements, even a few lines with an updated time stamp under the byline. It helps you get more clicks, more loyalty and more impact. And extra nuggets are usually easy to find and explain. These often become the old “water cooler” elements that people want to share with friends and coworkers. Especially now that everyone wants to show they are in the know and frankly relevant themselves. The psychological draws of digital are crucial to consider throughout your story selection process.

Hopefully these guidelines will make your day to day job a little easier while the big wigs duke it out over who has the big answer to digital. 

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Know your why. How to start to develop an online brand as a journalist.

Its no secret the broadcast news industry is desperate to find a way to monetize its digital products. So far, mixed results.

There is an important factor that the TV news and frankly every industry is desperate to tap into. Influencers. They rule the internet. They make the big bucks and they are influencing public opinion in ways marketing and education experts are just starting to realize.

Because of this you need to start to create your own online brand as a journalist. You want to identify the type of influencer you would like to be before the bosses tell you how to act on social media.  Its really that simple. If you want to be true to the journalist you are, then get on it and get your brand defined.  But how?

Let’s start by defining these concepts for yourself.

Why are you a journalist to begin with?

What topics do you love delving into each day?

What kind of person do you want to actually be?

Heavy stuff right? Let’s not forget, your digital brand defines YOU. You are your most important commodity. So you need to soul search this. You need to be able to define who you are online, and why you are that way. Know your why. Otherwise you will be told what to be at some time or another.

So let’s dig into the first question. Why are you a journalist to begin with? This is the most important question you can ask yourself each day, and most important answer as you begin to define your brand. I am going to get harsh here. If you are a journalist because you want to wear pretty clothes on TV, this is not going to be an easy process for you. I know there are a ton of journalists out there showing off their fashion sense, and some are even getting endorsements but long term its not a good “look” for a journalist. Period. That answer makes you a want to be fashion influencer. So go do that. I am not saying posting an occasional image in a dress or showing off shoes or a tie is awful. But it should be an occasional reference rather than the main focus of your brand. Too many budding journalists are focusing on what they wear more than who they are and what topics they love. 

Now that we cleared that up, let’s talk about why you are a journalist. Not a personality. Not a host, a journalist. Are you super curious about the world? Can you not help but ask questions all day long about all kinds of things? Do you want to help hold people accountable for their actions? Do you love explaining things to people? All of these potential answers can help you start to define your brand.  Think about it. If you are super curious about the world, then start showing how you look into those curiosities. Boom, the start of a compelling brand with substantive posts. Same with the journalists that just love asking questions. Same with the accountability type journalists, although those might want some of their posts copy edited first for possible legal issues. If you love explaining things, think show and tell high tech style. Bet you can start to name off a bunch of topics right away already.

So let’s get more in-depth with topics. Some need to be highly relatable. Yep I am talking food, exploring the city you work in, surrounding areas and pets. These subjects should be incorporated into some of your tweets. Same with hobbies. Some behind the scenes at work posts are cool too. And a friendly reminder, makeup and fashion posts cannot be the main focus. Just an occasional mention. In fact all hobbies should be occasional mentions. Just enough to give a little personal insight, but not the crux of your journalist brand. 

When asking what topics you love delving into think of this more like a traditional beat. If you love education stories, retweet, research and engage in that topic. If you love politics do the same but take caution to never show an obvious bias. You are a journalist you must be impartial. And you likely have a work social media policy that demands impartiality. Love tech? Talk about it.  Love geeking out over space stuff? There’s a niche for that. Engage. If you have to interact with viewers several times a day for your job, at least half of it should be about things you love to check out anyway. 

Now let’s get into what kind of person you want to be. Influencers tend to provide “food for thought.” Not all of them slam their opinion down their followers throats. Some do. But more don’t. They use subtlety, a little self deprecating humor, and most serve up good doses of humility. Remember I am talking digital influencers, not TV pundits like Hannity. That’s a whole other ballgame. People are turning to digital to find “real” people instead of caricatures. If they want to laugh at a caricature, then they watch a few memes to get it out of their systems. That is an important thing to realize. Also do not put yourself on a perch above your followers. The online community is about collaboration, more than adulation. Even with movie stars, etc it is a chance to try and connect instead of just look up to them. Acting really authoritative will not last. You will tumble down. Exuding some confidence is fine. But make sure you watch and have a variety of types of posts. Not just ones that could be misconstrued as bragging. Stay, humble, real, and fair in your posts. Think of your online conversations like ones with a new friend you are getting to know. You want to showcase your interests to find a common bond. If you approach who you are on social media this way, you will do fine. 

Finally understand that developing a brand takes time. That’s why it is important to get on it, figure out who you are online and then stick to it. Give others time to find you, like you and then hopefully be impressed enough to continually engage with you. You want time to find and carve your niche in the topics you enjoy. And you want to get started and have a good foundation in place before your bosses come and tell you who to be online. So dive in, discover yourself more and enjoy engaging in things you love anyway. Its your best chance at success, and quite possibly influence online and in the industry.

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I keep writing fact errors. Help!

This isn’t easy to admit. I get that. But if you keep writing fact errors, you need to own up to it and do these things to stop.  In newsrooms nowadays, prevention techniques are not being taught much, and many times scripts aren’t being reviewed for accuracy. So you have to take ownership if you are writing errors, and fix the problem. Here’s how.

Look at multiple sources

If a fact doesn’t match ask for help

Copy paste the key facts 

Understand context

Make sure video fits

First and foremost, DO NOT JUST PASTE THE EARLIER NEWSCASTS SCRIPT AND REWRITE IT. Sorry to shout at you but this is a cardinal sin in TV news. Do not do it. I don’t care if everyone else does it. Do not do it. Here’s why. If that script has an error, you will repeat it. Even more important, if that script doesn’t have a fact error, your rewrite can easily create one. Its just the simple truth. Do not do it. I know it saves time. I know it means if you don’t get your writing done you still have a script there that can be read during the newscast. Do not do it anyway. I will explain why when we get into context.

When you start writing stories, read several sources first. If its a wire story, also check online publications to see if the facts match. If you see several versions of fatality numbers, different spellings of names etc, red flag, someone is wrong. Now you need to figure out the truth.

If its a local story, pick up the phone and call an expert. Call the PIO. Call the hospital. Do what needs to be done to check the fact. If its a national story, call your affiliate feed line or a station in that DMA. If you are in the weeds, ask the desk for help or an anchor. Tell your EP there’s an issue. Raise the red flag high in the air and get backup.

As you see matching facts, copy paste those, and only those into your script. That way you don’t accidentally type the name in wrong, or any other fact. Before you start writing you should have a little bullet point list like this:

House Fire

No injuries

Roads closed

(road names)

Police say accidental

Now write. Starting with something as simple as this outline should help you stick to the point and not embellish. Writing from another script tempts you to put your creative stamp on the story. Often that’s when context gets messed up. Seemingly subtle changes can really screw up the point and facts of a story. Remember as you write, keep it simple. One sentence per idea. One fact at a time. Short sentences. What’s the video showing? Reference.

Video counts as a type of fact. Often fact errors can occur because the wrong video is shown, or assumptions are made about the video that are incorrect. You need to know what you show. 

This system will take a little longer initially, but the payoff is worth it. And once you get the system down you will write as quickly as if you duped a script and did a rewrite. Best of all you will be factually correct. You will be credible. And you will have more job security.

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How to tell if you are putting too much information into a story.

Writers are being asked to write more, in different formats and faster than before.

You have to decide what is better served on a digital platform (more on that in an upcoming article), or shown on a big monitor. You are told the pacing has to be high, but still understandable. You need to showcase. You need to think of your audience. No mistakes. The list goes on and on.

But with all the talk of transforming graduates into the digital age and futuristic journalists, there are still glaring issues in newsrooms today; very little writing training and often even less copy editing. You are thrown into the fire quickly, and you simply must perform.

One of the biggest challenges is learning how to write a relevant story, concisely and with the correct facts mentioned. This can be really confusing when being told to write quickly, to the video and saving a nugget for digital. We need to start with the basics. What does a well written story look/sound like?

Let’s delve in and help lay a strong foundation with a simple formula that can help you with a clear outline for your stories, no matter the format.

ELEMENTS OF A STRONG STORY

The sell

Video available

Facts explaining the sell

(ie relevant information so viewer can understand the story)

Looks simple right? Well its not for many until they practice a lot and get the hang of it.

So let’s start breaking things down.

VO’s.

When you title a story in your rundown, even a vo, you should aim to put the sell in the story slug or a unique element. Yep you read that correctly. But you only have a few words to work with, right? Keep in mind, you also will use that slug to find the story from now until the end of time. The slug cannot be a throw away. 

Let’s go through some examples:  House Fire is too generic. Think about it, you will have to scroll through dozens to find it for a follow up later. Child escapes house fire is better.  Or fire on Smith Street. Fire downtown can sometimes work but try and get even more specific. That’s part of the relevance. Fire in BBT Building, is likely how you will refer to it in the future. That’s why you hear things like Parkland shooting or Pulse shooting for example when discussing ongoing elements of these stories. The location helps to immediately identify the story. Some Tampa journalists will know this slug too; lobster man in court. The case was covered extensively in part because of the defendant’s deformity.  It was a unique element that caused viewer interest. The sell.

Once you have boiled a story down in the slug it is easier to write the story, no matter the format. The second thing you should immediately consider is the video. This is important whether you are writing a vo, vo/sot or package. Heck it is crucial when writing teases and opens as well. What image depicts the story best? Is it a static image or moving? If it is static you might want to put it in a monitor and have the anchor directly reference it in the first line or anchor intro. If it is moving, do you need to take it full natural sound up for a few seconds? Is the video itself your sell? Ask that every time.

Now that you defined the sell, and referenced an image right away, explain what the viewer is seeing and why they should care. This should play out easily. The fire is still burning up this house on this street. This family barely got out. This neighbor helped or watched terrified. Firefighters are still on the scene.

Let’s take one of the hardest subjects to boil down, a court case. When using the outline above it gets easier to boil the case down.

A court case story should start out this way:   Now an update on this case (that surprises, captures attention or fascinates viewers for a specific reason). Court video rolls… (since you defined the case and sell summarize the latest) today the person accused of stealing money from the company said it was a lie. The attorney for the company said that’s not true because of this and this fact (two most interesting/relevant ones). We have more on the court hearing on our website. Why did I mention that? Court hearings are the number one story overwritten in newscasts period. So the writer whether it is an associate producer who drew the short straw or the reporter stuck sitting in the courtroom all day needs to know right away that explaining everything will only confuse the viewer. You must boil down the highlights. Then do not be afraid to add more details on the website for people who love all the nitty gritty.

One other important note, yes, the video is mentioned early in the court story even if it is static. Why? It is part of the sell. The case is in court. You cannot make up more than is there, and you need to reference reality. You can use file from the scene if you like at some point too, but reference it directly. That is part of showing the relevant information in the story.

A final note, the outline above for how to write a good story does not have the five w’s and the all important how mentioned. Why? Not all will fit, or be relevant information at that point in the description of the story. That’s why the sell is the most important part of what you write. Sometimes the sell is we finally know why something happened. Or how. Sometimes we only know where, what and when. Trying to answer all of these elements every time, every story causes the copy to get bulky and increases the risk of fact errors. Especially when covering  breaking or developing news. Be clear about what you do know. Be clear about why you are reporting on the story (the sell). Do not make assumptions about facts. Only state what you absolutely know. If you find that you are writing and writing and the vo is 50 seconds long chances are you either do not know the sell of the story and are adding elements hoping to find the point, or you do not understand the facts well enough to tell the story yet. Same thing with long packages and/or long anchor intros into your package. If you have a really long story, you need to step back, look at our checklist above and start again. 

Hope this helps you boil your stories down more. You can even take past copy you’ve written and then put it to the outline test. By doing that you should quickly see where your writing crutches and/or pitfalls are so you can eliminate them. 

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Let’s get personal. Why your social media connections could cost you your job.

Over the last several months especially, FTVLive.com has called out a lot of journalists for inflammatory remarks made on their social media including their personal Facebook posts.

At times these Facebook or Instagram pages are “locked down” meaning someone has to ask to be your friend to get access. Apparently that is leading some journalists, including very seasoned ones, to think they can post anything because its only going to be seen by family and friends. But here’s the issue, friends can fall out of favor, or have another friend who doesn’t like you. All it takes is a friend with access to your page to screen grab your post and send it to another person, and you are as good as public. Don’t believe me? Again ask some of the journalists recently called out about their postings on FTVLive.

The hard reality here is these posts can also be sought after by bosses, HR and coworkers ticked you got the shift they wanted, the position they hoped for etc. I have seen it, and had to help journalists deal with this reality several times now. You have to realize, all it takes is one person to take a screen grab and share it. 

I have also seen people go through the rest of the staff’s posts when they get in trouble themselves and try and out the others for doing the same thing. Next thing you know a bunch of staffers are getting written up. And it can be more than a slap on the wrist, the post and disciplinary action can end up in your employee file impacting your ability to get a job in company in the future. Also HR will protect who “outed” your comment. So you will constantly look around the newsroom and wonder who turned you in. Who has it out for you?

I have heard of hiring managers contacting former employees at stations you apply for, to see if they can get access to your personal Facebook etc. Not to mention HR and managers having burner accounts, that seem innocent but are actually used to get access. 

This is meant to make you stop and think hard about social media. Privacy just does not exist. You cannot count on private mode, when it comes to protecting your career. There is always a way to gain access if a person wants to, and there can be people you think are your friends that will stab you in the back. 

With this reality in mind, let’s talk about the never post list you need to memorize.

Political Views

Compromising selfies

Sexual comments, innuendo

Religious opinion

These are your danger zone topics.  Can you post a bible verse for inspiration on your personal account, probably, but be careful. You can also say you just got back from service. Other than that, keep any opinions to yourself. You are a journalist, you are very vulnerable and under scrutiny.

Politics is just a no. Sorry the world is too polarizing. Pass. Talk with your friends and family. Otherwise. No.

What are compromising selfies? The specifics vary depending on CoVid. Right now if you go to a social gathering, do not post a picture. If you are out drinking do not post a picture. If you are flying somewhere probably should not post a selfie from the plane, airport etc. Non CoVid times, do you look drunk don’t post. (As in you do not want any pics taken when you are drinking that could end up on social media) Would you wear that outfit in front of a religious leader or your parents? If no, then no selfie online. Sorry, America still can have very puritan like values. 

I know that there is a push to feel good in your own skin. And you should. If you work out and love your toned body, that is not a bad thing. But you have to be careful about mistaken impressions. You might think that bikini is ok, but I promise most of the hiring managers are not thrilled. Those that are frankly are likely not thinking of you as a good journalist, but eye candy they can use to get numbers then dump when the awe wears off. Sorry but someone has to say that bluntly. Too many people are not understanding it. There are a very few  hiring managers who will not judge and will just focus on your journalistic integrity.  To assume most will is just plain over estimating their goodwill and maturity. Also, think of all the memes out there, do you think most Americans are mature too or will pick apart your “assets” and objectify you. Is the risk worth your career? If you are in journalism to be looked at, you still have to keep the job, to get that attention. Remember that too.

Now sexual comments and innuendo. Sadly, I see a lot of this when screening journalists myself. I get that social media can be a way to hook up or find the love of your life. But again, you need to think about all the stories covered when politicians sext etc. Same applies to you.

Also seriously consider whether people at work should have access to your personal accounts. A lot of people choose to keep work and home separate, including their personal social media accounts. It is a valid idea. One I would encourage while you work in the industry. Once you leave a station maybe you invite a select few of your closest friends to have access. Maybe. Again, I can promise you, when you see a personal Facebook reference on FTVLive, in most cases someone that person trusted shared that post with someone else, possibly including FTVLive directly. Having limited access, where you approve the friend list is not enough.

Finally a word on social media policies at work. All of them have some language that allows the staton to come after you for personal pages. That includes, personal Facebook with limited access, personal websites, etc. They keep the language fluid enough to be able to come after you if they so desire. Bottom line, most journalists do not have the cash flow to fight them back, and the companies know it. So they issue blanket statements about types of unacceptable posts (see list above) and they remind that everyone, even those of you behind the scenes represent the company at all times on social media. All times. If you are online, you represent the station you work for. Period. That has to be ingrained in your mind as you post. Every minute. Every day. You just need 1 person to dislike something you post to potentially seriously damage your reputation and cost you your job. So never forget your social media connections could cost you your job. 

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Should my opinion count? Taking a hard look at story decision making in newsrooms today.

The goal of this article is to spark conversation, much like the article “What is hard news really” did when we first published it. If you attend morning or afternoon editorial meetings chances are you know these phrases well “I am just not interested about that” , “Who cares” or “I don’t care so our viewers won’t either, after all I am the demo.”  When cut outs of the key demo figures showed up in editorial conference rooms, it made an underlying issue come to the forefront of decision making:  Doing the news I care about instead of what may need to be covered. Presumed biases.

I get what consultants were trying to do, showing off a Michelle or Jennifer cut out of a mom who loves to workout and go shopping. But designing entire brands around getting these idealized people to watch really hurt the business in a lot of ways. People are not caricatures. And to be even more blunt, journalists should never assume most of their audience thinks like them. Sometimes you have to take some time off as a journalist to really get this, but journalists brains sort information and relevance differently after awhile. In other words, you can get jaded. Or you can put too much relevance on an issue in the community with biased reasoning. Getting regular access to research can help you avoid some of this. But research nowadays is done more for the quick fix branding issue than truly digging into community needs. It shows. It hurts credibility. Even worse a lot of companies are dumping research options to “do it themselves.” Then the bias really comes in. The “well I don’t care about that story,” rejections become daily reasoning. 

This has been a problem for years. Check out our article on how to get around stories the GM wants, for example. Story selection for the good of the community will never be perfect. There will always be a need to humor the cut out Jennifer a little bit. There is always a desire to get the key demo to watch in order to get the ad revenue to allow your station to do more news. I am not going to say this issue is an easy fix. But I am going to say that more newsrooms need to put stories through a quick viability test that is more profound than the ND or EP or producer saying “ I don’t care about that story, pass.” Journalists step in and out of many communities, many micro worlds so to speak. To be great connectors, investigators and fact finders you must start with wondering why others care about something you don’t find interesting.  

Let’s take a look at the tried and true WIFM (What’s in it for me?) consultant story selection strategy that survive has written plenty about in the past, and let’s make it more inclusive for todays newsroom editorial meetings.  

The what’s in it for me question is supposed to consider impact with emotional relevance. It sparks a reaction that is immediate and needs validation. The problem is station brands took the “for me” part of the question too far. What if you ask these questions instead about each story pitch: Who benefits? Who is hurt? Why is this happening? How will groups/communities/politicians /companies relate to the event/fact/study/crime etc?

See the difference? I may not personally have an interest in a story about more dogs on the loose in a neighborhood on the other side of the DMA. I may not even like dogs. But I will care if people are being bitten and/or people are pushing for rights to go unleashed. Could this idea spread to my neighborhood?

These simple questions can apply to any kind of news. Road closures, fires, court cases, political debates, medical breakthroughs, tech stories, economic trends. The questions quickly identify the impact. More importantly they can help reduce the influence of personal biases. Asking why others care about a story can help analysis become more objective. Maybe it can even make the viewer feel like you actually do care about them,  because you take on a variety of topics instead of easy grabs that truly impact a narrow audience. Your newsroom.   Your opinion needs to be one voice. And other conflicting voices might have the better story for the day.

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