Purloined from The Lenslinger Institute, the Top Ten Things I’d teach at the New Reporter Academy - none of which applies to the fine journamalists I currently toil beside.
1. Write To Your Video!
I know it seems remedial, but this prime directive can befuddle the glossiest of correspondents. Just ask any photog whose jugular throbbed as he tried to stretch three shots of some bit player over a minute and a half of impromptu profile. Scour every second of that fresh footage, embrace its rhythms and fill in the gaps and every the surly burn-out at the end of the hall will want to work with you.
2. Have A Plan
I can set up stories at 70 miles per hour while fondling a dollar menu cheeseburger . Imagine what you can do from the comparative luxury of stationary news cubicle. Make some calls. Hey, I’m not above the occasional cold-call or drive-by - but don’t ask me to circle the block nine times while you try and decide which Cadillac belongs to the city manager . In short, don’t waste my time. I ain’t got a lot of it.
(2.5) The Story Is Not You
This is TV news we’re talking about; reporters shouldn’t be invisible. But if you find yourself knocking the little sick kid off his pogo stick so you can bounce and twinkle on-cue - then you Sir or Ma’am have bum-rushed the wrong spotlight. Don’t fret though, we got lots like you. A little time out in the field and we can beat the drama-queen out of you. Otherwise, look into Entertainment News or Reality Television. But be warned: It’s a long line and the conversation is mind-numbing.
3. Try Not to Over Explain Things
You’re putting a microphone on someone’s lapel, not shoving them through an MRI tunnel. That little speech you like to give about ‘don’t be nervous just because we’re attaching this piece of audio recording equipment to your person’ achieves the exact opposite. Try this instead: Engage them in polite conversation during set-up, then start in with the questions once you know I’m rolling. No one need yell ’Action!’ (Yes, it happened once).
4. DON’T Touch the Radio
File this one under professional courtesy. See, that news unit you’re primping in is your partner’s office. He (or she) knows its every content by heart and has probably already driven the damn thing to the moon and back. Thus, the lowly car radio is an intimate part of the photog’s psyche - it’s probably the only non-logo’d gizmo he has complete dominion over. So don’t jump in and twists its knobs to the new hip-hop station - especially if your driver’s sportin’ Dead Head stickers on his windshield.
5. DO Touch the Tripod
Hey, here’s a contraption your more than welcome to fiddle with - it’s the lowly tripod, that three legged beast that refuses to walk on its own power. Dragging it along will do wonders for your video and chances are your photog will be more than happy to leave you in charge of it. So hoist that baby on your designer-clad shoulder and try to keep up. Just don’t complain. Your partner has easily schlepped that and more up steep gravel driveways and through revolving doors and has yet to bitch about breaking a nail.
6. Mind the Nats (SHUT-UP!)
You know that little black tubular thing hanging off your partner’s camera? It’s a microphone! It records sound - long after you finish your prophetic stand-ups. With that in mind - put a sock in it, wouldya? Natural sound can often drive the drama of a piece, interview subjects will spout out the greatest sound-bites known to man once they’re up and moving. But we can’t use any of this impromptu theater if you’re yammering on about prep school or your famous husband! So do whatever it takes to remain mum for awhile. Remember, there’s duct tape in the car.
7. M-0-S’s - Curse of the Weak
Man on the Street Interviews. Producers love ‘em - mostly because they’ve never had to loiter outside a Wal-Mart and pepper strangers with obtuse questions. Still, they’re a necessary evil in broadcast news - so learn to do them well. Easy in, Easy out, no one gets hurt. As much as we hate them, they can spice up a narrative. Just don’t get carried away. If your nightly pieces each contain forty-five seconds of some yak in a parking lot scratching his head - you ain’t tryin’ hard enough and everyone knows it.
8. Be Nice!
Maybe it’s just the Southerner in me, but I’m a big believer in manners. Remember, a wireless microphone and perfect teeth don’t make you any better than the people at home. It is, after all, their town, their trends, their TV’s. Run roughshod over their sensibilities and you’ll find yourself getting less respect, fewer insider tips and worst of all you’ll incur the wrath of the photog staff - who probably plan on living here long after you’ve ridden an escape-tape out of town. Remember, no one likes a pompous ass - not even the ass himself.
9. Know When to Blend
The greatest story-tellers I’ve ever worked with were gifted with invisibility. Okay, so maybe they never achieved total transparency, but they all knew how to ratchet down their personalities long enough to let their subjects of their stories take center-stage. They also possessed a certain chameleon-like quality, an ingrained ability to reflect the room around them. This comes in handy whether you’re visiting grieving hill-folk, lecherous politicos or senile witnesses. You know - like last Wednesday. Or the day before that. Or the day…you get the idea.
10. Write To Your Video!
So important, I had to include it twice. Why - because no matter where you ate lunch or who you gossiped about in the car, telling the best story possible is your Prime Directive. Your partner thinks so - otherwise he wouldn’t have bullied those three grannies out of the fast lane to get you back in time. Use those well-earned minutes to craft your oh-0-important words around the sights and sounds they brought back. Do this well and every photog in the building will have your back. Slather some crap on a page with little thought to the footage it will adorn and screams of anguish and doom will ring out from the edit bay. Quickly, shooters will wiggle out of working with you and curse your very name. Some of us may even post thinly-veiled diatribes on our personal blogs - and who’d want THAT?