Focus on Audience
One of the best ways to learn about producing TV news is to become a regular consumer of local newscasts. For this exercise, you should watch a local TV news show and then answer the questions below.
Your instructor may require you to watch a specific newscast, but if you have the option to choose your own, you may want to select an early or late evening news show. Those shows tend to have the most original content and newsroom resources devoted to them.
For a refresher on good producing techniques, review Chapter 10.
Questions--Focus on Audience
- What news program did you watch? Provide station, date, and time. Provide a URL if available.
- Describe elements of the show that indicate the producer was thinking about the audience.
- What was the lead story? Do you think the producer made the “right” choice? Why or why not?
- How did the producer develop and showcase the lead?
- Describe the pacing and flow of the show.
Discover Newscast Promotion
Effective newscast promotion is critical to the success of a TV newsroom. Watch the story provided for you and then write a newscast tease for that story.
As you write your tease, keep the principles of good tease writing in mind. Feel free to review the relevant pages of your text for a refresher. Be sure to include a description of the video you would use with the tease.
Take a look at the in-show tease produced for this story.
Do you like this tease or the one you created better? Why?
Crafting a Newscast
Newscast producers are essentially the managers of the shows they work on each day. Their goal is to create a compelling lineup of the day's best and most important stories. Since the news of the day is nearly always in flux, producers must become adept at creating rundowns and then adapting them to changes.
As we discussed in the text, newscasts are designed to grab the viewers' attention from the start and to keep them watching throughout the show. To achieve this, newscast producers must choreograph their broadcasts to showcase sound news judgment and high production values. At the same time, they must avoid creating shows that are so complicated that the entire newscast falls apart if the news of the day changes.
In this exercise, you will be given a list of stories and short descriptions. You will need to put the stories in the order you would use them in a newscast. Bear in mind that a good producer won't schedule all of the most compelling stories in the first block, instead the producer will "save" a couple of good stories to tease. To help guide your decisions, here is a bit of background on your station and your news audience:
You are in a relatively small market (Nielsen DMA 127).
Your coverage area includes communities in two states, and your chief competitor tends to have more viewers in Alabama and you have more viewers in Georgia.
You are producing a 6 p.m. newscast.
You have three reporters available, one who comes in at 3 p.m. to work the 11 o'clock newscast.
You have one live truck available.
You should also consider the following before creating your newscast:
When determining the first story in the newscast, think about which story affects most people in your coverage area. Also consider which story has been developed most effectively before you choose a lead.
Producers don't schedule all of the most compelling stories in the first block. Be sure to hold on to at least one or two stories that you will tease to keep people watching throughout the newscast.
Now, read through the list of story descriptions below. You need to decide what stories you will use and in what order to build a compelling first block of the newscast. You do NOT have to use all of the stories.
Keep in mind that producers often work with reporters to create sidebars from certain elements of the story. For example, if you assigned a reporter to the Richland water story, you might have the anchors share information about the dangers of asbestos contamination as a separate reader/graphic, rather than trying to cram that information into the package.
Homeless Evacuation--the city of Columbus, GA has set a deadline of midnight tonight for the evacuation of a group of about 45 homeless people who have been living under a city bridge. The homeless people involved were notified of this deadline 30 days ago and local shelters are ready to accept them. You have interviews with a homeless person, a shelter worker, and a city representative and lots of videos of the makeshift homes under the bridge.
Richland Water--the small town of Richland, GA has known about its asbestos-lined water pipes for 10 years. Now, the level of asbestos is considered dangerous and the state health department is ordering the city to replace the pipes. In the meantime, homeowners are relying on filters and bottled water--but many say they have been doing so for years. You have sound with a homeowner and a city representative, plus plenty of videos showing the homeowner's strategies for dealing with the problem.
Sumter Hospital Status--the town of Americus, GA was hit hard by a tornado several months ago. Since then, the hospital has been closed. Today, several hospital departments moved into temporary facilities, which will allow them to provide some services. You have sound with the hospital administrator, exteriors of the new facility and of the old, damaged facility.
Girl Murder Folo--this is a follow-up to a story your station reported earlier. A 14-year-old middle school student is now charged in the death of her grandfather. Police say she pushed the elderly gentleman in an argument; he fell and had a heart attack. The coroner is not yet saying if the fall caused the heart attack, but the teen is facing murder charges as an adult. You have a mug shot of the girl.
Tuskegee Murder--a student at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, AL was apparently robbed and shot to death near the campus. Police have not yet made any arrests. The student was from California. You have sound bites from students reacting to the incident as well as an official statement from the University, though no official is willing to go on camera. You have video of the scene with yellow police tape surrounding it and shots of the campus.
AL Grocery Tax Bill--the legislature is considering a plan to allow voters to decide if the state should continue to impose taxes on groceries. Today, the governor announced he opposes the idea--he wants to see a middle-class income tax cut instead. You don't have anything shot for this story and no sound bites.
Race and Traffic Stops--a national study indicates that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be stopped by police in routine traffic stops than Whites. You talk with several Black people in your community who say the study is not news to them. You have sound bites from them on camera, a sound bite from your local police chief, and a video of police pulling people over.
Opelika Cooking School--a traveling cooking show stops at a local middle school. The event is sponsored by your station's newspaper partner. You don't have any video of the event.
Now, it's time to share the story or stories you would tease at the end of the first block. For every tease element, fill in a space. You should have at least one and no more than three.
Sumter Hospital Status
Girl Murder Folo
AL Grocery Tax Bill
Race and Traffic Stops
Opelika Cooking School
The list of stories we gave you came from a newscast at WRBL-TV in Columbus, GA. Click here to see how producers there put the show together.
Compare what you did with what the station did. If the two rundowns are significantly different, why do you think that might be? If they are similar, how would you respond to critics who say television news tends to overemphasize crime at the expense of other, more relevant stories?
What were some of the factors you used to make your decisions? Did the pictures and the sound you had available influence your choices? Should they?
Did any of the stories pose any ethical concerns? Some stations may have decided not to run the photo of the 14-year-old, even if she is charged as an adult.
It's hard to say what the "right" story order should be.
In a series of journalism workshops conducted for newsrooms around the country, the Committee of Concerned Journalists conducted an exercise very similar to the one in which you just participated. Just like you, the people in these newsrooms were given a list of stories for which they had to decide the order and the treatment.
In newsroom after newsroom, the workshop leaders saw a pattern emerge. Nearly every group chose a crime story as the lead, and they assigned a reporter to produce a package or a live shot or both on the story. The pattern prompted the workshop leaders to wonder whether leading with crime has become reflexive, an automatic choice for journalists, regardless of the other important and relevant stories available.
There will certainly be occasions for which a crime story is the best lead for a newscast. However, it's not a given, and good producers know how to weigh all the factors involved to make the right call.