Those who know, acknowledge television news is a busted flush, at least in its current form. It was a brilliant piece of reportorial engineering when it was born. Its progenitors, and there were many incubated, prototyped and refined the idea to be what is today.
Its development from the 50s, 60s and so on is a lesson in changing to stay the same. The 60s saw the emergence of the news package, the 70s a turn in electronic equipment and technology. By the 80s electronic news meant instant broadcasts. No hiatus, unlike filmic reportage when you could afford to wait for the film to develop, review it with an editor before you piquantly put words to images.
In the 90s the BBC’s Director General looked at news’s story form. There must, John Birt informed BBC departments, be a mission to explain. The package needed to be self contained. A story on a break through in Quantum physics should at the very least attempt to explain what quantum physics is.
And then so today. In an era of fake news, branded news, PR news, where and what is the ideal of news in perceptively trying to be an instrument of probity.
Across UK universities, hundreds of graduates and Masters students studying news will be immersing themselves into its structure and technique, aiming to be the custodians of the status quo. In the newsroom they will embolden their practice within the frequency of a news cycle.
It will be difficult. If it were not anybody could do it, But TV news pulls on knowledge of the foundations of journalism in the first place. Small wonder that many broadcasting outfits hire newspaper journalists. Writing news, or being able to write a blog using the inverted pyramid is a key skill within TV. But what are the other must haves that provide a foundational understanding of creating an acceptable, if not exemplary package? In ten points I distil these.
You may beg to differ, and indeed that would be of no surprise,but these 10 come from the experience of training since the 90s.
1. It starts with the story. Research, research, research. Some stories present themselves as gifts e.g. an event like Remembrance Day. Other are difficult to make as television news packages — at least for a trainee or learner reporter.
2. That story should resonate with your audience. It should be relevant to them. Ask yourself first “what the story is?”, then have a friend ask “why should I care?” This will force you to defend the story. If you can’t this intrinsic news value you imagined, might be just that, imagined.
3. The package is mixture of visuals and interviews. In practice they both matter, but as a learner, know that your interviews form the basis of this thing called the news package. If you’ve researched your story, you should know what questions you want answered. And sometimes you may be in a position to know those answers by asking an interviewee before hand.
4. Not always, but more often, particularly as you’re learning your craft, the part of the interview you’re after is about emotion, or an opinion. The interviewee may spew numbers and facts. These become relevant only when it disputes another.
5. There may be cases when you interview a singular person within a package. In that scenario, you become, as the impartial reporter, the opposing voice. Here you must ask questions they may not readily proffer answers. Not doing so runs the risk of the package coming across as PR.
6. To avoid this, the perception of balance and your impartiality is weighed by having different opinions in the package or different view points. Let the audience decide on veracity.
7. Attribute, Attribute, Attribute. What does that mean? If you did not witness what happened, attribute it to the source from where you retrieved this piece of news, interview etc. And whilst citing another media as a source is permitted, by doing so, you merely strengthen that media’s hand, leading viewers to ask, why should I be watching you when you’re not the primary source. Find the primary source in other news and ring them up directly for your interview or quote
8. You require strong pictures to support the interviews. By strong, that’s a reference to sequences that knit together cohesively. Watch news, or look at previous attempts in your institution that have garnered high marks. Mimesis is a route to understanding news. Better still watch cinema.
9. Ensure the technical quality of those pictures will hold up to scrutiny. Is it in focus? It is white balanced? Is the exposure correct? What about the sound? Wear headphones to ensure rich sound quality. Are the pictures framed well according to the several “rules” detailed in your lectures or broadcast books?
10. Voice over/ script. Voice your package by firstly slowing down how you would normally speak, and using words that you would say rather than write. Ensure you communicate meaning in the V/O. It’s not just a bunch of words. And finally when you’re all done, ask yourself whether you covered the W4H.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a leader in Cinema Journalism. He’s speaking at the Front Line Club on future forms of storytelling. He is this years Asper visiting professor of journalism at the University of British Columbia and leads the disLAB at the University of Westminster.