Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Telling A Good Story

Jeff's blog has some good story telling advice from Karen Brown of WGEM in Quincy.

I recently came across an old e-mail someone sent to me with thoughts on television storytelling from Wayne Freedman of KGO in San Francisco. Steve Gehlbach and I are huge fans of Freedman. Aside from conventions, I got to see his stuff on occasional trips up north when I lived in Monterey.

If you're interested his book is called It Takes More Than Good Looks (To Suceed At TV News Reporting).

SET THE SCENE - Every piece needs a beginning...something to deliver your viewer into the story. Use one sentence or a complex sequence. Your goal is to captivate the viewer. Eliminate other distractions in the room. You want the viewer to think of nothing else.

CAST THE STORY, FIND A REAL PERSON - Television news is a visceral medium. The road to the head runs through the gut. If you can give the viewer a person to care about, he or she will watch and remember the story.

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR INTERVIEWS - Great interviews are rarely factual. Instead, they amplify those facts with points of view, emotions, moments in time. Work for a good interview. Allow it to happen. Create an intellectual environment. Deliver your subject to the proper frame of mind and in the right situations, let your subject interview himself.

STRIVE FOR SPONTANEITY - Don’t scare your subjects with mic flags and beanie lights. Help them feel natural and comfortable. Don’t let them talk themselves out. Remember you want to hear it fresh the first time. Even if the pictures and light and sound are not perfect, go for the spontaneous moment.

MAXIMIZE STAND-UPS - Make them seamless. Do bridges. Know how and where your appearance will play. Your stand-up should fit the situation, even if it only consists of one word. Write to and from it as you would with any other piece of sound. Use the opportunity to demonstrate, confide, describe or connect. Use your environment. Wear a wireless. Don’t pontificate. Never forget that being on television is a byproduct of all the other work we do.

CREATE ILLUSIONS OF INTIMACY AND DEPTH - Humanize, characterize, use file tape and still photographs. Change the scene. Change the light. Change the background in your interviews. Change the camera angles. Keep a story moving forward, both visually and editorially. If the subject is too big, find a little story in the big one.

DESPERATION BREEDS INNOVATION - Never give up. Be the solution, not the problem. No need to lie or hype. If you can’t hit the editorial target, move that target. Even when a story does not match his or her preconceptions, a good reporter can take whatever is there, and make something interesting.

SOUND LIKE A HUMAN, USE ACTIVE VOICE - If you want to sound natural, write that way. Avoid the language known as Newseze. Use simple, declarative sentences. Put subjects before verbs. Someone who hates passive voice shot him. Avoid is, are, was, were...non-descriptive verbs and passive indicators. Remember the bedtime story.

USE NATURAL SOUND. WRITE FROM POINT-TO-POINT. USE YOUR VOICE AS AN INSTRUMENT - In this medium, we should should for both the ear and eye. We should write parallel with pictures. We should write about those pictures. We should set up and deliver to sound, but do it seamlessly.

USE WORDS AND SOUND TO ESTABLISH A RHYTHM - Establish a rhythm in every piece and stay within it. Set a tone. Let the viewer know what to expect. The Rule of Threes can work to your advantage, but not to a point of monotony.

SEEK THE SIMPLE TRUTHS - Step back from the material. Ask yourself, “What is this story really about?” Simple truths are essential, but intangible. Maybe the simple truth isn’t in the forest, or the trees, but the silence. Simple truth stories do not come out of a newspaper or follow a standard line. You can find them on every corner with any person. Simple truths strike a common chord and speak to the human condition.

WRITE UP TO YOUR VIEWERS - Write a story to several levels. Some of your best pieces may be about something other than the obvious. Let your viewers reach their own conclusions. They’ll take more away.

STRUCTURE, STRUCTURE, STRUCTURE - This applies to wraps within live shots as well as solo packages. Become familiar with and use traditional forms of storytelling. To be more creative, vary the structure, change from a linear timeline. Try prologues, flashbacks, climaxes, denouements. In the same way you build from a beginning, work to an ending. Your story will only be as strong as its conclusion.


Anonymous said...

Edgar's right, I'm a huge Wayne fan. his book should be standard reading for every reporter, or anyone who wants to be. I've seen his seminar about 4-5 times now(first time back in college) and he's now a big mentor to me. he's always willing to look at my reel and give honest advice. he's very talented, but willing to pass it on, which is great for young people like me trying to keep storytelling alive.

Jonathan Ahl said...

Great post with a lot of very cool ideas in it. (Are you sure the guy that wrote it isn't in public radio? :)

I've enjoyed your comments and critiques of some of the TV reporters in the market, but I think there is one thing you have not addressed that is critical to someone being a good reporter: general intelligence and an understanding of the world around them.

There are plenty of reporters that have "the look" and use the latest techniques pushed by consultants, but they just do not understand what it is they are reporting on.

I can't tell you how many times I have seen a story about a TIF District, business deal, or government process where it was so obvious the reporter had no idea what they are talking about.

Now it's no secret I'm a public-radio-policy-wonk-government type, so let's take that out of the equation.

How many times have you seen a reporter in Peoria TV:

-do a story about a farm issue when it is clear they don't understand how corn or soybeans are planted and harvested (or for that matter can tell you what happens to the crops once they are taken out of the ground.)

-reported on a criminal's arrest, and have no real clue about what the charges mean, what an arraignment is, or how a plea works. (Is it pleading not guilty or pleading innocent -- I've heard both on TV in Peoria. Ugh!)

-done a piece on some medical procedure and obviously not had a clue about the nature of the disease, its effects, how it is diagnosed, etc.

My point is that so many reporters forget the fact that if you are going to explain something to people, you have to understand it. REALLY understand it. Not just lift some facts from the press release or the interview with the "spokesperson" and rearrange them with a stand-up that has reporter involvement, good hair, and "the look" that will get you to the next market.

I'd love to talk about the reporters in Market 117 that seem to always know what they are talking about. The people that think spending five extra minutes getting the facts straight and understanding the issue is more important than five extra minutes fussing with clothes, hair, and makeup.

Edgar said...

Thanks for noticing Jon... you've unknowingly stolen some thunder as the post you're looking for is coming.

I really do feel that presentation and delivery are separate issues to address from newsgathering. Notice in my TV news for dummies posts those "delivery" issues are separate from what does it take to make a good anchor.

Anonymous said...

Just a comment on Jonathan's post about pleading "innocent" or "not guilty" It's actually AP standard to use the word "innocent" If you screw up and forget to say or write the the "not" your in BIG trouble, so to prevent that from happening, just about all reporters use the term "innocent" even though you don't actually plead innocent in court.