Shooting Sizzling Standups

I recently got a chuckle out of the “Gary Vosot Vain TV News Reporter Reel” on You Tube.  The cadence, type of voicing, and formatting are dead on.  You watch and laugh because he does a great job of poking fun.  But you should also realize that many actual TV news standups really do sound like Gary Vosot’s parodies to viewers.  Standups are a big seller for reporters and stations.  So I want to let you in on a few easy techniques so you don’t get a chuckle, unless you really want one.

You probably already know the basic rules of “why” you use a standup in a story.  But, it’s always worth hearing again.  We all need reminders from time to time to keep our awareness and skills sharp.  So, here are a few of the basic rules to keep in mind for when you include a standup in a story:

  • As a bridge from one distinct thought to another
  • As a bridge from one location to another
  • To impart information for which you do not have video or sound
  • To  flow into or out of a particular sound bite
  • To show that you were actually there during an important news event (i.e. – you travel to a distant location to cover a big event or breaking news)

Are there other reasons for which you sometimes include a standup?  Yes.  Should you always include a standup?  No.  Sometimes a standup can actually distract from good storytelling.  Remember, the story is not about YOU, it’s about the subjects you are covering.  However, the reality on this last one is that many stations essentially require you to include a standup.  Many of us hate this kind of rule.  But there really is some sound logic to it.  First, your station is paying you to be on TV, so they want to see you.  Also, there is a LOT of research that shows TV news viewers tend to gravitate to the stations with talent they like and identify with.  Therefore, a big part of your job is actually being seen on TV and doing your part to build these kind of “relationships” with your station’s viewers.  Don’t forget, the more visible you are the, more well-known (and hopefully liked) you will become with your station’s viewers and in your community.  This helps build job security.  So, if your station requires standups, just do them.  But, make them sizzle.  Make them memorable.  Make them work for your stories, your viewers and your career!

The tendency of most reporters is to just pop in front of the camera, stand there, and talk for 5-10 seconds to satisfy the need for a standup.  We all do it from time-to-time.  But that does not mean that it’s the best thing.  I think we would all agree that the better the visuals and sound in a story, the better and more memorable the story, right?  So, why should the same thinking not apply to standups?  Try to make them as visual and memorable as possible.

How do you do this?   My first rule when I want to jazz up a standup is to shoot it in multiple parts.  But make sure there is a reason.  For instance, if you’re going to do cut with a camera turn, try to make it reveal something.  Here’s an example:

“The robbers then took off running down this sidewalk… they made it to about this spot

(TURN/CUT) before they ducked through the door of this old boarded up storefront. (TIGHT


inside… the place was not empty like it probably looked.”

Just like you and the photog should be thinking visually about the b-roll in your piece, you should also be thinking about the visuals of your standups.  Look for different angles.  Look for nat sound to put in the middle of your standups.  (Nat sound grabs/keeps viewers attention.)  Heck, you can even look for VERY quick sound bites to put in the middle of your multi-part standups.

Don’t forget when you are trying to come up with an interesting standup that you have a visual expert as a partner in the process.  Brainstorm with the photographer you are working with to come up with visual and creative approaches.  When I ask a photog for ideas, I often get a common question in response:  “What are going to say in your standup?”  I like to think of things in a different way.  The visuals and sound are what drive great stories.  So, again, why shouldn’t they drive great standups?  I usually  come up with a general idea of what I want to do with my standup as we’re working a story.  But I wait to “write” it until we have come up with a good idea for the visuals.  Let your visual standup drive the verbage you use.  Learn to do standups this way and your stories will be better.

Another of my personal rules:  Don’t shoot a standup until you know where and how it’s gonna be used in your story.  This is very important.  Write a shell of your story, either in your head, on paper or your laptop/smartphone.  At the very least write up until the point where you want/need your standup.  Ever seen (or shot and used)  a standup  that in hindsight just did not seem to make sense in the piece or seemed like it was put in just to be put in?  The technique I’m laying out here is how you get around that.  Do it and your standups will always have a reason to be where they are in your stories and they will never seem meaningless.

Finally, have fun!  Now, I don’t mean put a goofy, smiling standup in the middle of a serious story.  (Remember Gary Vosot!)  What I mean is that you should have fun with the creative side of standups.  Make it a challenge to outdo yourself.  If you are in a newsroom that values good photography, editing and storytelling, then have some friendly competition with your fellow reporters.  And again, when your story airs and it has a finished standup that you are proud of, find your photog and tell them how much you appreciate their efforts to make it that way.  It’s your face on TV but it’s the team that creates standups that truly sizzle!



Bottoms up! Making sure your newscast is ready, no matter what.

It’s is one of the hardest things to pull off as a producer:  Making it to air, clean and polished, despite managers constantly changing your rundown and getting slammed with breaking news.

One time I had a news director reworking my rundown so much, I ended up having just two hours to turn an hour long newscast.  I made it with help from associate producers and my anchors, but vowed never to be in that horrible position again. Many of us know producers who write during the newscast, printing scripts a block before they air.  This is preventable.  Here’s how.

You produce bottom’s up.  No you don’t take a flask to work for your top drawer (as tempting as that can be).  You literally produce from the bottom of your rundown to the top.  It works for all newscasts.  Here’s how to do it, using an hour long newscast as an example.  Usually the final two blocks of your rundown are segmented and similar day to day.  Format, assign the anchor reads & graphics and write these blocks first. Have these stories edited first as well.  Next, work on the c-block and :45 block.  Put these to bed.  Then, do the :30 block and the b-block, except the block leads.  Again, finesse what you write, and have the stories edited quickly.  Now, in the last two hours, you can concentrate on the a-block as well as the b-block and :30 leads.  This way when all hell breaks loose you can slam out any breakers that pop.  You will have segments finished that look polished and are complete.  So if a breaker doesn’t make it in time you have lots of finished content.

Now let’s talk about backups.  Have plenty on hand, stashed throughout your rundown.  These backup stories should vary in length to fit different timing needs.  This will help make sure you can hit meters nearly to the second.  You assign these backup stories to your associate producer (AP) early in the day, and whenever interesting stories develop.  Some producers even make AP’s rework package scripts into vo/sot backups in case the reporter moves to breaking news and the newscast gets heavy on time.  Again, you want these assigned as early in your shift as possible.  That way you can spend the back half of your shift rolling with management decisions and breaking news.

Wait to assign which stories you tease in which spots in the rundown, until one hour before printing.  You do this because if the bosses make you blow up your rundown, changing the teases can eat a lot of your precious time.  Write those teases in separate scripts at the bottom of the rundown, so editors can put them together.  Then move the individual tease scripts up into the rundown and assign anchor reads an hour before printing.

A final trick, put dummy scripts in your rundown that have basic formatting (i.e.- “take vo” cues etc.).  If your shop allows it, you can even have these built into the rundown format so you don’t have to create them every day.  Also, throw in anchor reads for the block leads the night before.

Here’s a summary:

How to produce it quick!

  • Bottom’s up!
  • AP writes backup scripts of differing lengths.
  • Write entire blocks early.
  • Assign teases to their spots 1 hour before printing.
  • Format dummy scripts.
  • Assign some anchor reads the night before.




So Cliché! How to avoid overused phrases

We all have news wording that makes our skin crawl: “area residents,” “alleged” and “budget woes” to name a few.  Recently on Twitter a group of us started listing phrases that make us cringe.  Then one producer tweeted, “What do you use instead?”  Great question and we’re going to give you some answers.

First we need to discuss why these phrases come up so you can better understand how to avoid them.  In seminars you are taught that these phrases are formal language and not written for the ear.  That’s often true.  It can be hard to write on a computer screen and imagine the words actually coming out of someone’s mouth.  There’s more behind writers using these so called “crutch phrases” though.  Because they are used so often, they have become a sort of news slang.  They seem dependable when you write.  In fact it almost becomes expected that you will write this way.  Take music for example.  Thanks, in part, to tons of country and rock songs the term “ain’t” is now in the dictionary.  Think about it.  If you start singing songs in your head, it won’t take long to come across one with “ain’t” in the lyrics.  Many of the songs have amazing phrases, cadence and messages.  Yet the lyricist throws in “ain’t?”  It seems likes “ain’t” is expected in a song.  Now consider news copy.  The clichés we’re talking about are news writers versions of “ain’t.”  They are slang terms that some writers use as crutches because they hear them all the time.  Where?  In newsrooms, all day long.  Ask a reporter for a headline as he/she runs to a fire.  Chances are you will be told fire is at such and such address and “completely destroyed” the building.  We simply use these terms all the time.  But that does not mean they should end up in our news copy.

Writers (and by that we mean everyone who writes: anchors, producers, associate producers, reporters even assignment editors) also use these phrases because they are writing in a hurry.  When you are slamming information into the assignment file or into a script just to get the show done, you are going to use terms you are most familiar with.  That’s how the mind works.  You might call it: “News slang  under duress.”  Then a writer comes along for the next retread and ends up not comfortable with the story.  He/she clings to the news slang already in the script to avoid possibly changing the meaning of the copy.  Now you see how the cycle repeats over and over.

So how do you break the cycle of “news slang under duress?”  Discipline.  It begins with you printing out the news copy you write once every week and reading it over at home when you are more relaxed.  Have your highlighter ready and mark your “crutch phrases.”  Then work to eliminate them one at a time from all of your writing.  Write the “crutch phrase” on a notecard, then write three alternate types of wording.  Post the notecard somewhere on your desk at work.  That way, when you are slamming, you have quick options to avoid the clichés.

Many of the worst news clichés are easily avoided when deleting one word: “completely destroyed” becomes “destroyed.”  “Clouds of uncertainty” becomes uncertain.  “Brutal murder” is “murder.”  Most of this “news speak” is used while trying to provide an image.  “Clouds of uncertainty,” “brandishing a firearm,” “budget ax,” “hanging in the balance,” even “hit the nail on the head,” all put pictures in your mind.  These terms are not how you provide images in TV news.  You have video to provide the images.  Moving pictures are what separate us from newspapers and radio.  Remember when “writing for the ear” as consultants say, you are also writing to, or complimenting, the video.  (We  explain how to write to video more in depth in Can you picture it article.)  Your words do not need to put images in a person’s mind.  Again, this is not radio or the newspaper.  Your words need to get someone to look at the TV screen to see the images you are showing.  Your words also provide perspective.

Providing perspective means you need to understand what you are writing about.  I saw this repeatedly as a producer and an EP.  If the writer, be it a reporter, assignment editor, anchor, producer or associate producer did not understand the content, the copy became cliché.  When we are uncomfortable, we cling to crutches.  If you are unclear in understanding the story, you must ask for information before writing it.

Now let’s address the comment from the producer on Twitter asking what alternates to use for the crutch phrases.  Since writing for television news is always under duress, we at has posted  alternatives in an extensive list. (Cliché list)  Here’s to making sure all of our copy isn’t “so cliché!”


Why photographers are a reporter’s best friend.

Chinese philosopher Mencius said:  “Friendship is one mind in two bodies.”  This is the basis of why I tell young and/or inexperienced reporters that their best “friends” in a newsroom should be the photographers they work closely with every day.  Being of “one mind” about the stories you tell on a daily basis is the difference between below-average to average TV news stories and great, memorable storytelling that gets viewers to pay attention and your work noticed.

Whenever I move into a new newsroom, the first thing I do is take inventory of the photography staff.  Who’s good?  Who’s average?  Who’s motivated?  Who’s not?  And most importantly… who gets “it?”  Do you know what I mean by “it?”  I mean simply: storytelling.  It is THE number one thing that can take your career as a reporter to limitless heights.  (For more on storytelling see this article  Most of us know it when we see it and you should definitely look for it whenever you start in a new shop as well.  Once you have identified the “players” among the photography staff, buddy up with them!  Why?  Because they can make your daily life easy as well as set you up for a successful career path.  On the opposite end of the spectrum… news photographers can also make your life a living hell if you dis them.  Think about that last point for a moment.  You work your tail off turning your story (or in most cases today, stories) for that night’s newscast(s).  You find good “characters”, ask all the right questions and write a gem of a script.  You get it copyedited and it’s ready for the photog to edit into a masterpiece of local news storytelling.  But there’s one problem:  You are the reporter who gives “orders” to photographers rather than asking nicely when you need something from them.  You are the reporter who sits in the truck playing on your smartphone while the photog busts his/her butt breaking down the live shot in the cold.  You are the reporter who calls every story “my story” rather than “our story.”  So, guess what, Mr. or Miss Photog is magically having “editing problems” or just can’t get an edit to take.  Suddenly, that masterpiece of storytelling that was filled with characters and nat sound becomes just another news package slapped together so it can make air.  Think it cannot or does not happen?  Wake up Alice, you’re in Wonderland!  It can and does.

On the other hand, what if you’re the reporter who always helps carry equipment and break down live shots?  What if you’re the reporter who ends every recorded interview by asking the photog if they have any questions for the interviewee?  What if you’re the reporter who asks the photographer to brainstorm ideas on making the standup different and visually stunning?  And what if maybe you’re the reporter who always, and I mean always, tells the photog what a great job they did on “our” story today/yesterday or last week with another reporter?  Well, suddenly Mr. or Miss Photog is busting their hump to get some extra nat sound and a few extra tight shots to really make the story sing!  Keep it up, make it a habit and you’ll soon be getting that effort everyday when you work with that photog.  Then, that photog will tell the others on staff how cool it is to work with you and you’ll start getting the same effort from every photog you work with.  Next thing you know you’re work is noticed as excellent by your bosses and eventually the newsroom you target as the next stop on your march to TV news greatness!


The best friend I’ve ever had “in the business” is a photographer.  He just so happens to be what I would consider among the absolute best in the business too with an entire room filled with Emmy and other high level awards.  But there was a time when neither one of us knew what it meant to make really good TV.  We didn’t even know the term “storytelling” much less what it took to do it.  But as our friendship developed so did our relationship as co-workers.  We discovered that we both wanted to know what it took to be really good at making really good TV news stories.  So, we set about teaching ourselves.  We constantly challenged each other to learn and try new things in our stories.  It didn’t take long for both of us to start down the path to great storytelling.  Had we thought of each other as “just a photog” or “just a reporter” rather than as the most important part of the daily equation, neither one of us might have gone on to the successful  and long careers we enjoy.

Unfortunately, there are many, many people in this business who do view TV News Photographers as “just photogs.”  Don’t be one of these people.  TV News Photographers really are THE most important part of the equation.  TV news is at its best when it truly harnesses what no other news medium can harness:  effectively blending moving pictures, with sound and words.  When it makes you feel like ”you are there.”  A reporter can write the words and even say the words.  But without a photographer there is no way you are grabbing all three and making viewers feel connected with great TV news storytelling.  So don’t forget about your true “best friends” in the newsroom.  As Mencius suggested, be of “one mind in two bodies.”  Make sure you make it clear to photogs that you know how important they are to making everyone in the newsroom more successful.  Your job today, and career down the line, will not be sorry and you just might come away with some really good friends too!