Many of you know that I spend a decent amount of my time watching newscasts from around the country. I also spend a lot of time talking with producers. One thing that has surprised me, is how few understand the concept of an “umbrella lead.” This is important because the “umbrella lead” sets the foundation for creating really incredible newscast opens as well as designing team coverage.
So what’s an umbrella lead? Well, it is what you probably picture in your mind. At the start of the newscast you mention one thing you will show the viewer, then you mention another. The anchor’s statements are an umbrella over the two images you are showing. Here’s an example: “Flames shooting high in the air tonight at this house. We’re going to show you how a neighbor kept this from being much worse. But first, these protestors say lawmakers are about to cost you a lot of money.” My point in this example is the stories do not have to be related. Hopefully one will have great visuals. The other may not.
So what types of stories qualify for umbrella leads? Umbrella leads do not require that one of the stories is a breaker. They just both need to have high impact. A breaking story can be used, especially in a situation where you are still gathering information, but want to make it clear you are on the scene of a big story and viewers need to stay put. However, thinking that is the only time to use an umbrella lead, really limits its potential effectiveness when trying to attract and hold an audience.
Some producers use umbrella leads when they just cannot decide which story is the best off the top. Now you can have both. Some use them to try and keep the lead-in audience through a key meter point. For instance, if you are coming out of the show “Scandal,” great flame video would likely draw the audience in, more so than video of protestors. So you use the flames to try and keep them engaged, but do the very important protest story in the actual lead position in your rundown.
Umbrella leads are really a type of tease. But remember, both elements need to be in the a-block. Ideally you want them to be the first two “chunks” in the a-block. By “chunks” I am not talking about a simple VO or VO/SOT. I’m talking about a reporter package and/or live shot. It could also be an anchor package or even a produced up segment involving several anchor driven elements on one important story. If you don’t place this high in the a-block you confuse and possibly upset the viewer. You made this story out to be hugely important by using it in the umbrella lead. So you need to consider that fact when placing it in your rundown.
O.K., so how do umbrella leads help you create team coverage and incredible newscast opens? Cold opens are based on the concept of giving a taste of your best video and/or sound to draw the viewer in. Doing umbrella leads is a more simplistic way to “get practice” before you really launch into fancy cold opens or “headers.” You also use a more sophisticated type of umbrella lead to showcase multiple elements you have when designing team coverage. So it is a good idea to do some umbrella leads to get those tease skills warmed up. Best of all, umbrella leads can really help hold an audience through your a-block. That alone can be a ratings win. So give them a try.
When talking about tease challenges recently on FB, a newsie mentioned it is hard to tease a story “not knowing what the reporter is ACTUALLY working on.” This is a common scenario in most newsrooms. I said the producer should ask for a tease line when the reporter calls in with elements. Now let’s talk about why the reporter should want to call in a tease line, or better yet, offer to write a tease. Reporters need to be great tease writers too, because it not only helps them curry favor with management, it also helps them write better stories.
A big key to great story telling and great tease writing is truly understanding what impact the story will have on the audience. This is the WIFM and sell combined. So by challenging yourself to become a great tease writer, you are kicking your story telling skills up a notch.
Great tease writers are also experts at using sound and video to capture the viewer’s attention, key elements in great storytelling. Think about it, most teases that really knock your socks off, leave an image or sound in your mind. Most people are visual or auditory learners. It is important to play on that fact.
Tight, powerful writing is also key to great tease writing and great storytelling. You can’t boil it down if you don’t understand the story. Powerful writing makes for many memorable moments as well.
So reporters, challenge yourself. Offer to call in a tease line with your elements each day. Look for the sound and video that really sells your story and offer it up. You will not only become the producer’s favorite, your own stories will improve.
Whenever I publish an article on teases, journalists talk it up on Facebook and Twitter. Teases, as I have said before, are not natural to us newsies. So we have plenty to discuss because teases are a completely different writing style. I asked on FB and Twitter: What are the biggest challenges you face when writing teases? Here’s the list and some fixes.
Tease writing challenges
- Making the time to write them
- Not giving away too much of the story
- Picking what to tease
- What order to put teases in
The number one secret of killer tease writers is this: Make time to really work on your teases. These are not the elements you save for last and just throw something in to get them done. Teases make or break your newscast. You are judged on them harshly and often. They have to be a priority. They need a special amount of time set aside. Give yourself a chance to write and read over the teases to challenge yourself: Are these really the best I can do?
That said many of you mentioned writing the teases right after you write the story you are teasing. That can be an effective technique, as long as you go back and look at them again. Why? Often you end up giving away too much of the story. Sometimes you need a little separation from writing the story, to see what your short term memory actually retains. What is it about that story that made you want to tease it in the first place?
Picking what to tease is very challenging, especially when you look at your rundown and think, the stories all sound run of the mill, with no good sound, average video and the same old facts. This is key. There should be a reason every story is in your newscast. It may be that a little tidbit is interesting, the fact the fire happened in a key demo of the market you are tapping into, or because you need video on a day when you have few resources and too many copy stories. Realistically not all of the reasons are super compelling, but they are reasons that have WIFM (“What’s In It For Me”). So draw on the reason why the story is in the newscast and try to build on that for a tease. Viewers do not expect every story to be a gut wrenching, heart stopping, amazing moment. Remember at their core, viewers want tangible relatable information. Information is teasable. Just don’t oversell. (see “Reel ‘Em In Without Exaggerating”).
Finally, order. How many producers have wasted way too much time on this? For the most part, the way to “stack” teases is this deep, deeper, next. You can play around with the deep, deeper part, but not the next (unless you are in the second to last block of course). If viewers see a pattern (and they can and will recognize it) of you teasing next right off, they will not stick around for the whole newscast.
So now you can take those teasing challenges head on! Go knock ’em dead.