Video Journalism

Web site of professor Chris Shumway, Grady College of Journalism, University of Georgia

Story Elements

At the most basic level, a news story should try to provide answers to the five Ws and H: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. But it’s not enough to simply provide a list of answers, like writing a shopping list. The goal is to craft a compelling visual story through which the answers are revealed. Moreover, you should take us inside the event or issue and show us the impact on people’s lives.

Here are the key elements in a video story.

1. People:
The best news stories are about people — real people who are deeply affected by whatever issue or event you’re covering. They are a lot like characters in any dramatic story, only your characters are real people dealing with real-world issues and problems. You must search for interesting, knowledgeable characters and convince them to be interviewed on camera. You must get them to share their personal anecdotes, expertise and perspectives. It’s also crucial to shoot b-roll of these sources. The story has to show us who they are and what they do, even if their daily routine consists of ordinary chores at home or work.

2. Data:
Good stories will also provide relevant data that helps explain what the characters are dealing with. In many ways, data provides context to the story. Here are a few types of data you might include in a story

  • Scientific data – studies produced by researchers using statistical or scientific methods. This would include medical data in the example above, or something like numerical data about population growth.
  • Public data – records from local, state and federal government. Stuff like police reports, court documents, legislation, budgets, etc. Also data gathered by governmental agencies, and studies conducted by governmental agencies.
  • Corporate/business data – records from businesses and other private entities, which might be leaked to reporters since most of it is not public data. Many companies get government contracts and tax breaks, which are forms of public funding. They also produce consumer products that affect your viewers. Knowing what these companies are doing publicly and privately can be important for citizens.

Note: Each story presents its own data challenges. Some rely heavily on anecdotes from sources (features, human-interest profiles), while others require rigorous data gathering and analysis. It’s crucial for you as a journalist to figure out which kind of data you need and to verify the source and validity of all data and understand how to accurately present it to viewers.

3. Context: Data is helpful in providing context, as mentioned above. But you should avoid unleashing an onslaught of hastily gathered data on your viewers. You must carefully locate the most relevant, credible data and help viewers make sense of it. You’ve got to help them see how it connects the personal anecdotes of your characters to the main theme of the story. Interviews with researchers and policy analysts might be the best way to help explain complex experiments, historical evidence or legal doctrines. It’s also important to define key terms or technical jargon in a story. A story about “food insecurity” or “food deserts” will lack context unless the reporter defines those terms.

4. Conclusion: Stories need a clear ending with strong audio and video. Closing b-roll shots are usually accompanied by the reporter’s narration and possibly a short, compelling soundbite from a key source. Whatever the form, it’s crucial that the audio and video signals the end of the story in a way that invites the viewer to continue thinking about (or caring about) the issue and characters. After the last words of narration in a broadcast package, the reporter typically signs off with what is called a “sig out” (signature outcue). They say their name and the name of the news outlet.


Here’s a short news PKG produced by some of my students a few years ago. It was only the third PKG they’d ever done, but they captured some key elements. Watch closely and take note of the both the content and production — the information and the audio/visual presentation.

Here’s a story from 2009 about the economic recession. The reporter is Boyd Huppert from KARE-TV in Minneapolis. This is an example of telling the story through real people.

Finally, here’s an award-winning story from WNBC-TV in New York City (NPPA 2011 Best of Photojournalism – General News category). The story is about public transportation. Take note of how the reporter structures the story using the elements listed above.

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