What Makes a Good Story…

Wanted to share one journalist, CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman’s take on what makes a good story:

“The short answer is…I know one when I see it. It’s almost easier to tell you what’s not a good story idea. Sweet as she may be, you’re grandma’s 100th birthday is not a good story idea. Neither is your giant collection of Star Wars action figures. Nor your prize rutabaga. Been there, to

ld that. Also, there’s a difference between a good deed and a good story. Someone walking, biking, or even snowshoeing a great distance “to raise awareness” for a particular cause may be a very kind thing – but it doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of a national news story. First and foremost, a good feature story idea is unique. For example, if you grandma is celebrating her 100th by getting married to her high school sweetheart…I’m listening. If your giant Star Wars collection gets stolen by someone in a Wookie costume and you’ve got it on tape…I’m really listening. Or if your prize rutabaga has markings that that make it look like Oprah AND women from across America are flocking to your garden to pay homage AND you’ve got a Dr. Phil musk melon growing right beside her – done, you’ve got me!

Probably the easiest way to find a good story idea is to read your local paper. Yes, it’s perfectly OK to suggest a really good story that your local media has covered. Don’t assume that just because a story makes news in your town that I must know about it. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee I don’t. I’m one guy with one producer named Miles (he’s the one who will be reading your suggestions) and there’s no way we can read all the major dailies – let alone all the smaller papers, local monthly magazines, and church bulletins where good feature stories like to hide.

Of course, I’m also interested in story ideas that haven’t necessarily been in the local paper. But that’s a lot harder. I’ve found when I’ve asked for story ideas in the past that most people suggest themselves – or a product they’re trying to sell. A self-serving story idea is usually a bad story idea. The best ideas usually come from people who aren’t related to the subject – they just heard about this person or place or event and thought it was a story all of America should know.

Finally, and most importantly, if it’s a story that really caught your interest – if it’s something you couldn’t wait to tell other people about – chances are I’ll feel the same.”

 

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The News Producer – The Work Behind the Lens

The News Producer - The Blood and Sweat Behind the Lens

So, yes. I work for the news. Some think it’s awesome, some think otherwise, yet many continue to ask me, “What exactly do you do as a news producer?” Well, here I am to answer that question as best I could, with the help of my awesome step-by-step visual I’ve created up top.

Before I get to the actual process, Wikipedia (although we know may not be the most reliable source) describes a news producer well:

“A news producer is one of the most integral members of any news-production team. The news producer takes all the elements of a newscast (packages, video, graphics, etc.) and compiles them into a cohesive show.

In the hierarchy of the newsroom, the news producer is under the executive producer, who reports to the news director. The news producer is usually on the same level as the anchor, although this may differ from newsroom to newsroom. The news producer is over the director, studio crew, reporters, field crew, photographers, editors, etc.”

And now, the step-by-step:

I am currently the overnight producer for Good Morning Nebraska, a 2-hour newscast that airs live from 5-7am every weekday. Our coverage area focuses mainly on Central Nebraska and Northern Kansas.

With that said, I get in at midnight every weekday to begin my shift. Now when you work for the news, you learn rather quickly that you will never have ‘normal’ hours, no matter what position you take on…so you suck it up and do your job.

STEP ONE:
I get to my desk and review what was covered in the 10pm newscast the night before. I sift through stories I think fit to carry over to the morning newscast and start rewriting scripts. I continue to find new content to add, always keeping in mind our viewer demographic from 5-7am and what content they would find to be more appealing. After all, there are billions of new news to report on each day, surely I can’t cover all the news happening in the world in just 2 hours.
I research, I fact-check, I make phone calls and I’m monitoring the scanner constantly to hear for any new or breaking news. Once I have a good idea of what stories I will run, I start writing and re-writing scripts. (Broadcast writing is a whole different platform to get into, perhaps at a later time).

STEP TWO:
Once I complete picking and writing stories, I look at my rundown to see where exactly each story should be placed in the show. It’s important to place your stories strategically, in order to capture your viewers’ attention and keep them wanting to watch more. In most cases, hard breaking news always comes first and the more light-hearted, fun stories end the news block.
In step two, it’s also crucial to watch your timing. Everything is time-sensitive in the news and certain stories can only be written so long (i.e., VO’s 25 sec, VO/SOTS 45 sec, etc.) I have 2 full hours to fill and timing is everything.

STEP THREE:
Once I finish writing stories and building my rundowns, I am now in the booth getting ready to run the show. I put my headset on so I have constant communication with the director, audio, studio crew and anchors. It’s important to note that although you build your show the way you see it following through, once you get in the booth, unpredictability ensues.
You can have breaking news during the show, so you must kill (remove) stories you previously wrote in order to make room for the newest news. You can be either heavy (going over the allotted 2-hour time) or really light (still having a lot of time to fill) so you have to make quick decisions on which stories are worth killing or adding.
As the producer, you must be able to make split second decisions on how to handle a breaking news story. Do we go live? If so, who’s available to run the satellite truck? If the satellite feed goes down in the middle of the newscast, what’s next? Roll that tape now! Believe me when I say there are many curse words heard in a newsroom.
ANYTHING can happen while you are live and on-air. I’ve definitely had my share of mishaps and unpredictable situations thus far. You just have to take charge and learn to roll with the punches.

STEP FOUR:
This is my personal favorite part. If you’re having a smooth morning, you get to sit back and see all the hard work you put in, play out. You watch something you have created, your show, come to life. It’s a very rewarding feeling, and it helps when you have an awesome team to work with.

Now, I left out plenty of details, but I don’t want to extend this post and possibly bore you. I’ve laid out the basic steps of what a typical news producer is responsible for and I hope you have a little better understanding of the role.
The truth of the matter is, working for the news requires tons of teamwork, patience and constant communication. It’s a stressful job and not for the fainthearted. You must learn to stay calm under pressure and put your foot down when needed. Everyone contributes their share of hard work to bring you all the details on the latest news. I hope you can find some kind of appreciation in this.

If you ever have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask 🙂