What makes something “news”?
First, let’s look at the word news. The first three letters spell NEW. So that means news needs to be fresh and immediate. Do not pitch a story based on old information! You must be looking for the newest information and latest developments. Fresher is better!
Now let’s look at additional criteria for determining whether your story idea would make a good news story:
- Time: How fresh and immediate is it (the “newness” factor)?
- Geography: Where is it happening? How close is it to the audience?
- Change: Is something changing or about to change?
- Quantity: How much is changing? How many people does it affect? Do you have reliable data? Do you understand the data?
- Conflict/controversy: Are there conflicting sides to the story? Is the event/issue controversial?
- Context: What is the relationship between the event or issue and historical events or recent trends? Are there technical terms or jargon you need to define?
- People: Every story needs characters. Who are the people most affected? Can you get them on camera?
Do your homework
All of this underscores the importance of research. You need to quickly become an expert on the subject. At least become expert enough to know the critical facts, the timeline of events, the key sources and their connection to the story.
Here are some excellent tips for digging up information and developing your story.
Another big consideration for video journalists is knowing where and when to shoot video. If you’re working on a tight deadline, you can’t afford to wander around with a nice camera but no plan. So learn as much as you can about the subject BEFORE you go out in the field. Contact sources, schedule interviews, consider your locations (public vs. private property), get credentials if needed, and visualize the story in advance.
Think about the viewers
Journalism is a public service. You provide important information to the people who live in your community. Get to know people in neighborhoods all over your community and listen to their concerns. Find out what they are curious about. Find out what they want, and need, to know to be better informed citizens. And remember that the public isn’t a monolith. There are of lots of social, economic and cultural groups and small communities with particular concerns. So news can be very specialized. Something that is important to one group of people might not be as important to another group of people. There are also universal concerns and themes that transcend cultural differences.
Embrace nuance and complexity
“Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff,” as the late comic book author Harvey Pekar once said. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it. Consider the complex web of challenges you — and your viewers — face on a daily basis. Sadly, too much journalism (especially TV news) oversimplifies events and issues and reduces people to one-dimensional characters, making us seem more polarized that we might be. Bad journalism takes the complexity out of ordinary life. By contrast, many popular television series (comedies and dramas) are filled with multi-dimensional characters and feature complex plots. Viewers love these shows and, as a recent opinion piece in The New York Times argued, it’s likely that they would also embrace more complexity in news stories.
Follow Boyd’s Advice
Boyd Huppert is a legendary reporter at KARE-TV in Minneapolis. He’s the guy who wrote the “Emmett and Erling” story that you can find on this site. He’s won an astonishing 92 regional Emmy awards for his reporting. Here is a link to some of his recent stories.
At a conference back in 1996, Huppert shared these 12 tips for storytelling. They’re as relevant today as they were then. Read them carefully and incorporate them into your work routine. When you’re struggling with a story, or just having trouble coming up with a story idea, stop and ask yourself: WWBD? What would Boyd do?