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 story through which the answers are revealed. Moreover, a good video story takes us inside the event or issue and shows us the impact on people’s lives. Here are the key elements in a video story.
People: Every video story should be populated with interesting, knowledgable sources. Reporters must locate the key sources and convince them to be interviewed on camera. It’s also crucial to shoot b-roll of these people. The story has to show us who these people are and what they do, even if their daily routine consists of ordinary chores at home or work.
Data: I’m using this word to refer to all sorts of data that reporters gather from a wide range of sources. Here are a few types:
- Anecdotal data – Journalists interview people who share their personal experiences and eyewitness accounts. This might provide enough information for a short profile or a story that recaps a local event. But if the goal is to help viewers understand a complex event or issue, we also need other types of data. For example, one person’s experience with an illness might provide some great soundbites, but it doesn’t tell us much about the causes of the illness, the extent of the illness, or the most effective treatments for the illness. We need reliable medical data to answer those questions.
- 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 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.
Each story presents its own data challenges. Some are built mostly on anecdotes while others require rigorous data gathering and analysis. It’s crucial for you as a journalist to verify the source and validity of all data and understand how to accurately present it to viewers.
Context: In addition to presenting important people and data, the story needs to explain the relationship between this event/issue and other historical or social events and trends. Researchers and policy analysts can shed light on complex data and help explain historical events or recent trends. 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 terms are defined.
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 signal the end of the story. After the last words of narration, the reporter typically signs off with what is called a “sig out” (signature out). 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.