How to freshen up news copy when you don’t have much of an update

A morning producer emailed this article suggestion.  It is a good one, not just for AM newsies.  Night siders really struggle with this also at times.  You are told to make the stories sound new, lead with new information, and add additional facts to all of your stories.  But what if the only new element is the name of a person charged with a crime you covered for days, and the person is a nobody?  Or what if there is not much new information on much of any of the local stories you have video for?  You can’t have a newscast of only copy stories.  So what do you do?

As crazy as this may sound, the easiest way to “freshen up” copy is to write more directly to video.  Yes.  I am serious.  When you watch most newscasts, there is a video reference for maybe the first shot of video.  Then the story rambles on, and the video makes no sense with the words.  Just by changing that, the story will seem new to the viewer.  The reason:  It will make more sense and the viewer will hear elements missed before.  Most people learn visually.  To retain information, more than one of our senses must be engaged at the same time.  Most people are distracted when they watch television news.  They’re making breakfast or dinner.  They’re getting ready for work.  You know the drill.  They miss half of what is said.  So, by simply engaging the eye and ear at the same time, your copy will appear fresh. (For more on how to write to video read “Can You Picture It?”)

If the only update to a story, is the name of a person charged with a crime, the crime happened days ago, and the person is not a public figure or repeat offender, you should question if the story should even be in your newscast.  With that said, I understand that sometimes you are desperate to add a story like this simply because you have so few new stories and can’t have all copy stories in your a-block.  In this case, you may make a judgment call to add the story in.  Just keep it short, and immediately reference what made the story interesting for viewers in the first place.  Here is an example:

When the shooting at this convenience store happened, neighbors wondered if it was a person from the neighborhood.  That’s because it’s the fourth convenience store stick up, in a month.  This morning, we know (insert name here) is charged, and it turns out he /she did not live anywhere near the neighborhood.  In fact police still are not sure if this shooting is related to the other robberies.

Notice I did not lead with the name, which is the “new information.”  I had to make story relevant to the viewer in order for the name to be relevant to the viewer.  If you do that, this kind of update is legitimate.

You can also freshen up stories by simply rewriting them.  Change the wording up a bit, but do not change the context.  To put this simply, write the story how you or your anchor would explain the story instead of just duping over the copy from the newscast before and hoping no one notices.  If the story is rewritten, it will sound different to the viewer who may not catch that you just said the exact same information.  Remember, viewers do not tend to watch all the newscasts your station does each day.  That does not mean being lazy and just copy/pasting.  It does mean you can take a few stories, with little to no updates and place them into your rundown to help create pacing.  Respect the viewer enough to at least rewrite the stories in a “different voice.”

Look for ways to “flesh out” stories.  Sometimes there is technically not a lot of new information to a story, but there is extra sound that wasn’t used that is actually interesting.  You can take a vo from the night before, and make it a vo/sot. You can take a vo/sot and make it a vo.  You can add nats.  You can write a mini-anchor pkg to showcase the sound and vo differently from the newscast before.  These are all legitimate ways to freshen up stories.  Nowadays, you can look through video from your desk, even from local content sources.  Take advantage of that.  Pick a few stories per shift to do this, and try and come up with ways to “package” it differently.  See “Produce It Up” and “Step out of the box” for more ways to showcase content differently.

In summary, keep these things in mind when trying to freshen up stories with very little new information:  Reference the video, see if you can change up the elements, and focus on the element of the story that’s most relevant to the viewer, even if it isn’t necessarily new.  Also remember, the rewrite doesn’t have to be dramatic to be effective.


Own the night. Finding and executing stories night side.

This article idea came from a reporter on Facebook who recently moved to night side.  If you have ever worked this shift, you already know what he asked.  How do you find stories, much less break news, night side when everyone you’re calling wants to just go home for dinner and offices are closed?

No doubt generating solid content can be challenging on a night where there is not a big event planned, a huge story that easily carries through or breaking news.  The biggest key to “owning the night” is recognizing you will need to give up a little of your off time to build sources and set up stories.  When you first begin as a night sider this will be a little time consuming, unless you’ve already worked in the same city for a while and have sources.  But, once you build up some sources (read “Cultivating Sources” if you need help building up sources), it will not take that much time to call and make your checks.  In fact, in some ways, it can be easier to see if a story you are hearing about really is sound, than it is for dayside reporters.  Remember, day siders have to try and figure out if a story is legit when people are eating breakfast, getting the kids to school and running late.  You can make calls as they come back from lunch and are often tying up loose ends and actually have some time to talk.  So, eventually, it will be easier to get the info verified quickly.  You just need to figure out who to call on your beat.

Speaking of beats, act like you have one, even if there is no formal defined beat system in your shop.  By that I mean, figure out what types of stories management bites on at night, and source build around those topics.  (see “How to Pitch and Pull Off Stories in Producer Driven Shops” for more on how to do that)  You just don’t have the time to source build in every section of the DMA on every subject.  Pick a couple of subjects and areas of the DMA and stick to that at first.  It will help you.  Just make sure the veteran night sider hasn’t already built up a rapport with the same agencies and sources, so you are not double calling and confusing the agencies.

Try and work a day ahead if you can.  Forward looking stories about an upcoming hot button issue in town, or a major event, you will probably cover in a day or two can be great “fall backs” on a slow news night.  You can informally set those types of stories up ahead of time.

When I managed PM newscasts, my go to night side reporters, usually called the desk around lunchtime to see if an assignment editor had heard of anything that might pop that night.  Then the reporter would make a few calls and come in with a solid story idea.  I often got calls on my way into work from reporters who had checked with sources to feel out interest on potential stories they could pitch when we got to work.  This was a great help as well.  I could say, “Set it up.” or “Look for something else.” early in the process.  It took all of us just a few minutes, and often paid off in the end.

This may sound obvious, but another station in town used to routinely “break” interesting crime stories a day ahead of us.  We eventually figured out that one of their night side reporters would stop and pick up police reports (now you can usually just check them online) on their way into work.  That person then knew anything that happened after a typical 9 a.m. check by a dayside reporter.  The other stations didn’t check until the next morning either.  So this station ended up with constant “exclusives,” “first on’s” etc. until we figured out the trick.  It’s proof that simple moves can pay off big time for night side content.

My final suggestion is to buddy up with a dayside reporter.  That person may know of three people you can begin to call in the early afternoon to build sources.  Sometimes day siders get tips as they are coming off of their shift.  If that reporter knows you are willing to get calls before you come into work, you might get the tip call instead of it just going to the assignment desk.  But make sure you pay it forward.  If you hear rumblings of something good that might pop in the morning, shoot off a text to that day sider.  Having each other’s back only helps.

Those are some tricks to “own the night.”  If you have more suggestions, please send ‘em so we can all learn.


I got my first gig, and can’t pay my bills…

To be honest, I think J-schools should offer personal finance seminars on this subject.  You are warned that money will be tight at first, but it doesn’t prepare you for the grim reality.  Even with a roommate, I struggled badly.  I had student loans and a car payment.  (My car engine blew up on the way home from the interview for my first job… got stranded on the interstate… fun story!)  Dealing with that and the stress of figuring out the job entailed was tough. From what I’m hearing from some of you, this hasn’t changed.  Sometimes even after the first job!

Recently I asked for input on ways to help save money during that first gig.  Many savings pro’s sent great ideas.  Here they are.


There are great websites that spell out how to do this ( is a great example). The key: match up coupons with items that are also on sale at a store.



As in buy clothes at a consignment shop.  Speaking of clothes, remember you can get great clothes without spending a bundle.  If you plan to splurge, do it to have the clothes you buy fitted (see Dress for success).  I actually was surprised at the deals some of you mentioned finding.

Drive an old car

As I mentioned earlier, my engine blew up on the way home from the interview.  Having to lease a car was debilitating for me.  It frankly forced me to move to another job more quickly because I needed money desperately.  If you have an older car that still runs and the repairs cost less than a car payment, run that baby into the ground.  The savings truly is worth the trouble.


Pack lunch

This may sound silly, but it makes a huge difference.  Huge!  The other great part, you probably will eat healthier and take fewer sick days and that will be a great reason to ask for a raise in a year or so.


Happy Hour

Many people mentioned this as a great way to blow off steam without spending a bundle.  Cheap drinks are often paired with cheap or free food.  Bottom line, you are young and need/deserve to have some fun.  Why not go for it when you can spend less?


Now a few more ideas that may take a little more research, but could really pay off.


Save up for first job

Yes, this is for interns, college students.  If at all possible work summer jobs or a part time gig and save the money while you are in school.  Use it to supplement once you get that first gig. This is where I wish J-schools provided an elective course on personal finance.  By the time many realize how little you truly make, you are a summer away from working.  So please, tell any underclassmen you know who want to work in news: Save now.


See if you can defer student loans

Check this idea out.  Some people have had luck at this. Call Sallie Mae and see if you qualify.  Just know it can take 10 years to pay loans off, so don’t hold off too long.


Avoid credit cards

This may seem obvious to great journalistic minds, but I know many who are still desperately trying to pay off the debts from those first few years working.  Credit card debt is a beast!  You write stories about it.  Remember them.


Go in with a financial plan

How do you plan with no money?  There are ways.  If your family has a great financial planner, go in and ask what you can do with your earnings.  If you don’t have a planner you trust, start by reading “Automatic Millionaire.”  Don’t chuckle.  Some of the examples in there are from people who likely never earned what you will.  They were smart with their money from day one, and ended up very secure.  If you can take a financial planning course of some sort, do it.  Because starting salaries are low, we have less of a chance to make it right.  So start off on a smart path if you possibly can.


Finally, remember it does get better.  The sacrifices should pay off, even nowadays with salaries on the down side.


What’s lacking in training for TV news? Ask us (that means you too)!


        “Rules are made to be broken, but first you have to know the rules.”


By now you have probably read that J-schools were called on to change the way they teach by the Knight Foundation.  In its “Open Letter to American University Presidents” the group calls for a “teaching hospital” style curriculum. (Basically you work alongside professionals to really learn the craft.)  When I asked journalists about this, and what they would like to see change, I got a lot of kudos for universities that had producing classes and ran “newsrooms” where students put on the news.  Glad to hear you are happy with your educations overall.  But, I think this call to action goes beyond that.

So, I threw together some ideas on what journalists really need to know from the get go. Now I’m asking you to add to it.  After all, we live it.  We know what’s there and what’s missing.

Understanding subjects to handle a beat.

Think back to your first job.  Did you know military lingo? Did you understand cop speak so you could decode it for viewers to understand?  Could you clearly explain how the election process really works (Heck that’s a valid question on 4th job.)?  Let’s be honest, phrases like “firefighters responded to a three alarm fire” happen a lot in news copy because many journalists don’t truly know what it means.  So instead of potentially screwing it up, journalists just repeat the information the information they are given by the officials.  Reporting classes should decipher systems and lingo so you have a clue what’s going on from the moment you get in the TV news job force.  I mean they need to teach the things we tend to cover most: fires, murders, crashes, elections, school millage rates, the GNP (do you at least know what that acronym means?) and unemployment stats.  Is your head spinning yet?  Then focus on how to break those types of story elements down in layman’s terms.  That way viewers know what the heck your point is.  It goes back to the simple idea that rules are made to be broken, but first you have to know the rules.  Now think about your first economics story (or even your last one because that subject is a real bugger) and the first time you had to take a campaign ad and break down the true and false elements on various issues.  It’s hard if you don’t understand the basic principles.  It can take several attempts to get it right.  Some of you may be thinking, “Well, I took an economics class.” or “I’m a poly sci minor.”  Sometimes even that isn’t enough to break it down for TV viewers.  A lot of those classes are theory.  This is real world application stuff.  You need the systems explained clearly, not a discussion on theories.  If you understand those systems and the lingo, you can write about it clearly in news stories and school essays.  Know the rules, then you can move past them.

Source building

This, to me, is one of the biggest problems in newsrooms today.  So few people truly “get” how to source build.  There are a lot of techniques involved, ethical issues, people and networking skills.  We’ve dedicated articles under the cloud tag “source”.  But they just scratch the surface.  If you really sit and think about it, in the majority of TV newsrooms there are 1 or 2 reporters (besides the investigative team) and an assignment editor that have incredible sources.  The rest, well, not so much.  Source building does not come as naturally as it may seem, even in the age of social media.  That’s why it needs to be taught in college journalism programs.

Social media interaction

When I asked what J-Schools should improve on, a few journalists mentioned social media.  What writing style do you use on the social web, “newspaper” or “broadcast”?  What is proper etiquette?  What potential legal pitfalls could you run into?  Heck, many of us “veteran journalists” would go back to school to take these sorts of classes, if we could.  Again, we need to know the basic rules, before we can break them and begin to evolve.

Cross training

The most common suggestion I heard from journalists?  Cross training. That even came from some newsies who went to the universities that taught reporting, producing and photojournalism classes.  I am going to confess to one of the largest reasons I launched Too often, journalists are disconnected in newsrooms.  The reporter does not get what the producer needs.  The producer doesn’t get what the anchor needs.  No one seems to understand what the assignment editor needs.  And reporters and photojournalists sit in the same news vehicle all day, and often are not recognizing the challenges the other faces.  Simply put, few know the rules their teammates live under.  There are two whole categories on the website relating to these issues: “Getting along with Peers” and “Smart Alliances.”   “Getting along with Peers” is one of the most searched for and read sections.  The reason:  journalists want to understand why other key players in the newsroom act like they do.  That’s crucial because we journalists waste time trying to explain things that we should not have to explain.  It can hamper the product each day.  It prohibits open discussions in news editorial meetings.  Then people get “human” and start demanding “just trust me.”  This is not a trust issue. This is a productivity issue.  This is the cog in the wheel that prevents us from breaking the rules and evolving.  Turning a few newscasts as a producer; turning a few packages one semester as a reporter and shooting a few pieces as a photojournalist does not make you an expert.  It simply is not enough to allow you to really understand the daily pressures of these jobs.  But it might be enough if you combine  doing these things, in a newsroom setting, with talking about real world scenarios with veteran journalists.  Let longtime producers explain why they start snapping at reporters three hours before the show.  Let them explain why not turning in the tease video earlier than the pkg creates a multilevel nightmare.  They can also hash out why missing slot is really bad for the entire newscast.  Let veteran reporters explain why holding off on script approval can really screw over a field crew.  How about hearing from a well-seasoned pro why sending an anchor to the set 10 minutes before air, with no a-block scripts (because they aren’t written yet!) will potentially wreak havoc for the next two blocks of news, if not the entire newscast.  Then let’s discuss the reporter driving the live truck while the photojournalist sits in the back slam editing the pkg desperately trying to make slot, because of equipment failure or bad weather.  Real life scenarios do not always play out in these university “newsrooms.” Discussion groups involving veteran journalists, in every newsroom role, can help fill in the gaps.

There are many more issues we could bring up.  Please, FB with more of your ideas.  If we get enough, we’ll send them and this article to the Knight Foundation.  After all, it’s our vocation.  We deserve to lay out the rules, so we can help break them and evolve our profession.