One of the toughest learning curves for young reporters can be hitting your deadlines. You know how it goes—you knock out a noon live shot and as soon as you’re done, the EP or Assignment Desk is calling, to say you’re now on a completely different story for 5pm… and you’re live in another town… and don’t miss slot!
So how can you do good work and at the same time keep management off your back so you’re not “the problem child” on the reporting staff?
Well, it starts, and ends, with 3 keys—think of this as your own personal EOC (Emergency Operations Center … for reporters).
The old saying goes: “Get off your ass, get out of the building!” And it’s true. You can save a lot of time by simply being efficient with your time. Let’s say you’re assigned a story in the morning meeting. Depending on how your newsroom works, maybe you don’t have to sit through the remaining 45 minutes of that meeting. Get your story and ask if you can take off. Grab your photog and go. You’ll be thankful for those 45 minutes as you hit crunch time before the newscast.
You can make lots of calls, but remember: it’s easier for someone to blow you off by phone than in person. So if may be more efficient to just show up at that police PIO’s office and ask for a quick interview or a copy of that arrest report than making 6 calls throughout the day.
Plan out your stops to save time— so you’ll go talk with the mayor first because he’s available now. You’ll call the city council member on your way to the mayor’s office (saves time vs. you staying in the newsroom and making calls from your desk) to see if you can interview her right after the mayor. Then you can head to the next stop for B-roll and other material. Then you’ll end up at your live location.
Quickly research story background and contacts, and remember you can do that in the car from your phone if your photog is driving.
Make notes as you record your interview so you don’t waste time when logging and getting ready to write.
If you have a photog (won’t work if you’re an solo MMJ), you log and write while he or she sets up the live shot. Better yet, you write your basic script while the photog is driving to the next location.
If you know you need help from the Assignment Desk, be efficient there too Let them know early if you need something researched or a call made. Assignment editors are insanely busy people and the last thing they need is a last-minute call from you asking for 3 calls to be made on your story.
Efficiency also can mean not biting off more than you can chew. If you’re assigned to breaking news just before airtime, don’t stress too much over whether it’s a pkg. Viewers don’t care about the format, and a good management team won’t either, as long as you do a solid, compelling breaking news live shot. So be confident, get on scene and let your newsroom know what you can provide: “I’ll have a live VO at the top of the show… possibly a live interview if I can track someone down.”
Keep a list of key contacts from your previous news stories. That way, you’re not re-researching potential interviewees every time you do a story.
Make sure you have the addresses you need and GPS your route so you’re not wasting time getting lost.
Don’t overshoot your stories. No need to shoot an hour of material for a basic pkg on a crash or fire or school board meeting. Make sure you have enough, but the more organized you are with shooting, the less you have to log for your script.
Don’t try to re-invent the wheel every time. Here’s a good example—
I worked with a veteran reporter in Tampa who was a master of working fast and efficiently. Knowing that reporters tend to cover many of the same types of stories over and over (fires, crashes, protests, budget meetings, elections), he basically had templates of these stories in his computer and in his head. If he was assigned a story about an election campaign stop by a candidate, he’d do some quick research on the race/candidate, then sketch out his script even before leaving the station. Why? Because he knew where the story was likely to go when he got there. So all he had to do is get his sounds bites and fill in the blanks. Now, the obvious danger in that plan is: what happens if the story takes a different turn? Well, then he’d just change it as needed. But the point is, he didn’t wait until the 4pm event ended and then scrambled to write the story for 5pm. He pre-wrote a skeleton script and then plugged in the holes.
Be in touch with your Producer, EP and Desk frequently (at least every few hours or whenever you change locations). Be clear about what elements you have and what else you need. That avoids the dreaded angry EP conversation because she thought you were dong angle X for your story and you have angle Y.
Get script approval as early as possible. When I was a news manager, I can’t tell you the number of times 3 reporters called me at virtually the same time… an hour before the show… for script approval. That gives me very little time to concentrate on your script, make suggestions and have you change it for the better. Write it as early as possible and get it approved. Your managers will love you for it and so will your photog/editor, since they’ll have more time to make it look great.
So keep in mind your EOC to hit your deadlines—be efficient, be organized, and clearly communicate with your newsroom. Since far too many reporters DON’T do these, if you do, you’ll be a hero. Believe me.
Steve Kraycik is the Director of Student Television and Online Operations at Penn State University. He has more than 27 years of experience in television news, much of that as a manager. He also is an agent with MediaStars. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and @TV_Agent_Steve.