Broadcast Journalism

Avoiding Awkward On-Air Situations For Journalists

awkward reporters

Recently, on a local news program, the show’s anchors congratulated their meteorologist, who wasn’t there because she’d had a baby that morning, and had sent them a picture of the baby to share with viewers. The anchors gave the baby’s name and weight, noted how adorable she was, and then moved on to the next story.

Unfortunately, the next story involved a man being arrested for beating his infant son to death. Obviously, it was a tragic situation no matter where it appeared in the show, but the producer’s choice to go from a happy baby story to a tragic one made the story awkward as well, for everyone involved. It appeared that the news anchors didn’t know that would be the next topic, because they both had horrified looks on their faces when they started reading it. They stumbled through the story and managed to pitch to break, looking somewhat relieved.

How Do I Avoid These Situations?

Production of a nightly newscast is always chaotic, becoming more so as you approach air. This is especially true given how programs often include multiple “live shots” in the course of the broadcast. It’s the details that kill you, so as the producer you have to maintain the ability to stand back and consider the entire program. Equally important, you have to be open to comments and suggestions from the show staff. You will inevitably miss something. Story producers and junior staff need to know that they not only are permitted, but encouraged to speak up.

Some stories are sad, tragic, and awful. Unfortunately, there is some truth to the old adage about the news business, “If it bleeds, it leads.” If you plan to be on-air, you’re going to have to report on murders, accidents, domestic abuse, and many kinds of avoidable deaths. In general, it’s best to read these stories with a somber and respectful tone.

However, you can’t read the entire newscast that way or your viewers may start to get depressed and change the channel. An upbeat tone is fine for stories that don’t involve death or tragedy. The problem comes when you have two very different stories right next to each other. It’s difficult to transition from a happy story to a sad one—and vice versa. You have to change your tone and facial expression abruptly while on camera.

Pay Attention When Producing

If you are producing a show, you should pay attention to how you stack stories. Usually, the A block involves the biggest news of the day, and the biggest story is what you lead with, whether it’s a political story, an accident, a murder, or the weather. (If you work in a small market, it may be the weather more days than it isn’t.) Usually producers will start with the most important story and add other subjects in order of importance, continuing through the A block.

This is a good system, and in general you should follow it. However, with the exception of the lead story, most other topics in the A block can be moved around to avoid awkward transitions. This is sometimes done to avoid technical problems, like going from one camera shot to another without giving whoever is controlling the camera sufficient time to move the camera, set up and focus the new shot. However, it can also be done to avoid problematic transitions on-air.

One solution is to build your A block, then look at the stories. Think about their content and how the transitions will look and sound on air. Keep in mind that typical lead-ins to segments like, “And now John’s here to tell us what’s happening in the exciting world of sports today!” may sound perfectly normal in some circumstances, but tacky if they immediately follow a particularly tragic story.

When going over your A block, if you note a very sad or tragic story is immediately before or after a relatively happy one, consider whether you could add a more neutral story between them. Stories about business, the economy, road work, and city council meetings generally don’t require an especially happy or somber tone. Inserting one of those topics between two emotionally disparate stories can help make smoother transitions for everyone involved.

Anchors and Reporters Also Play a Role

Avoiding awkwardness isn’t just the producer’s job. Producers are often extremely busy, and may not always have time to consider the emotional impact of each story in a block. Anchors and other on-air talent should look over the scripts beforehand if possible. As a reporter, you should make note of the stories before and after yours, your tag, and any possible problems. As an anchor, you should look over all the stories, the lead-ins, the tags, and note if there are any drastic differences in emotional tone. If something looks problematic, let the producer know—he or she may be able to move things around for a better transition.

Several years ago, when this writer was working at a local TV station, the block dedicated to national news always ended with a teaser of the sports segment, which followed after the next commercial break. Usually the anchor’s tease was something like, “Well, our local team had an exciting day at the ballpark!” and the sports anchor would say something in agreement.

On this particular night, the world news included a story about gas prices, some sort of political news, and a story about a pregnant woman who was brutally murdered, after which the attacker cut the fetus out of her body and left the scene with it. It was an awful story, made worse by the fact that it immediately lead into an upbeat tease about an exciting day at the ballpark.

The anchors did their best to hide their discomfort and pitched to break as smoothly as possible. Afterward, they told the producer that she should have rearranged the stories in the block so the murder was in the middle, and either the gas price story or the political story lead into the sports tease. They were right, of course, but if they’d carefully read over their scripts beforehand, they could have let her know ahead of time and possibly avoided the awkward on-air situation.

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How To Stack A News Show

An on-air interview

What is Stacking a Show?

“Stacking a show” is a phrase broadcasters use to describe putting the segments of a newscast together. Usually the job of a producer, stacking the show is done after assignments are given—in other words, after the show’s topics have been chosen. However, new events can happen between the time of the morning news meeting and the five o’clock news, and stories frequently need to be rearranged multiple times before the show.

Where to Start

At the news meeting, the show’s producer or producers, reporters, an assignments editor, and usually the news director will discuss various story ideas. Sometimes these are continuations or new angles of news from the previous day or few days (“latest developments,” “new information,” etc.). Some are completely new events—say, a robbery in progress caught on the police scanner. On slow news days, meeting attendees may kick around human-interest or “in-depth look” type ideas when hard news is scarce. In most stations, each reporter is expected to offer at least one story suggestion each day.

The assignments editor usually decides what stories will be covered and what angles the reporter covering the story should look into. In some stations, the assignments editor chooses the general story, and the producer picks an angle. (If there is a big disagreement, the news director may make the final call.) Each story is then assigned to a reporter/photographer team. Frequently reporters are assigned the stories they pitched, but sometimes schedules and assignments have to be juggled for a variety of reasons.

Once assignments have been given, the producer begins creating a skeleton of the show, which at this point mostly consists of putting the stories in the order they are expected to air. Software varies from station to station, but generally the producer uses a program to create a show rundown (simply a list of everything appearing in the show in order), in addition to filling in each segment with scripts and directions for the production crew. Each segment can be moved if priorities change throughout the day.

What Goes First?

The A block is the first block of the show, usually slated for the biggest news stories of the day. Typically, a show will open with a brief tease of the two or three biggest subjects to be covered, a brief standard intro in which the anchors introduce themselves (“I’m so-and-so and this is your five o’clock news on such-and-such channel,” or something similar), then the top story. Some stations have a policy of doing a brief check of the weather near the top of every show, while others simply tease the weather report coming up in a later block, unless severe weather is imminent. Whoever is doing the weather usually has a small control device in his/her hand, which will change the CGI content being used. It is easier for the air talent to do it, since the CG operator might have to guess when to change given that there isn’t an actual script.

So, what’s the top story of the day? Sometimes the answer is easy. For example, if you work in a small market station (where most reporters begin their careers), where there is little hard news, you may only have one big news event a day. (Some days you may not have any, and you might have to lead with weather.) Generally, crimes, accidents, fires, and any type of new legislation from local government are all good contenders for the top spot.

If you have multiple options, you should usually start with crimes or accidents that involve death or serious injury, in that order. If there is more than one such event, go with the one that involves more people, if possible. This also works when you have multiple less-serious events, such as car accidents—if there were no deaths or injuries, a four-car pile-up beats a two-car fender-bender.

The rest of the A block should follow roughly the same pattern, going from serious accidents/crimes to more minor offenses or accidents. Local government news might go anywhere in the A block, depending on how important it is to a large number of viewers—typical city council meetings might warrant a brief mention near the end of the A block, but if a new law has been passed, that story might be closer to the front of the show. It could even lead if there was no other hard news to report. On the other hand, if the mayor was just arrested for purchasing the services of a prostitute or embezzling city funds, that story should be near the top of the show, if not the lead.

Should it be the lead? This can be a tough call. Will the majority of people be more interested in the mayor’s arrest than a story about a family killed in a car accident? Obviously both stories are newsworthy, but which one should you lead with? The car accident is sad, and involved multiple deaths, but the majority of viewers don’t personally know the victims, and won’t be directly affected. On the other hand, almost everyone knows of the mayor, who shapes or influences policies and laws all residents of the city are expected to follow. In this case, it might make more sense to lead with the local government corruption story, and follow with the car accident story.

In general, if you’re having a hard time choosing an order for two topics, it’s a good idea to think about how many people will be affected by each one, and put the story you think affects more of the viewing audience first. Some stations also take a cue from social media, teasing several stories for the upcoming newscast on Twitter or Facebook. If there is no clear-cut lead story, you can look at which one gathered more comments/shares/re-tweets to gauge audience interest.

The Rest of the Show

The rest of the show is usually divided into three or four blocks. These can vary by station, but usually one is dedicated to weather, another to national news and/or human interest type stories, and another to sports.

Weather is fairly easy to block, as the meteorologist usually ad-libs and doesn’t need any scripts. He or she will let the graphics operator know what needs to appear on the green screen, and in what order. Similarly, the sports director usually chooses the order of stories in his or her block and relays that to the producer.

The national news block should go in order of importance, although national stories, by nature, are important to most viewers. Deaths of VIPs or tragedies involving mass casualties usually lead. As we discussed in a previous article, if you end on a lighter story, try to add a more neutral topic in the middle for an easier transition.

The final block is usually brief, and involves a quick check of the weather, followed by what’s called a kicker—video of an upbeat event so the show can end on a pleasant note. Concerts, fairs, sporting events, spelling bees and other school events all make good kicker video. If there’s time (like on a slow news day), try a lighthearted national story—new world records, or human-interest stories about people doing anything unusual are good topics. The most important thing about the kicker is to have plenty of cover video, which will usually continue after the anchors sign off until the next commercial or network program rolls.

Other Considerations

In addition to choosing an order for stories, you will also need to write technical instructions for the director and production crew, letting them know what video and audio need to be “punched up” at any given time. This allows camera operators to prepare their shots, graphics operators to get graphics ready, audio operators to plan when to open and close mics, and the director to be prepared for all of the above. These technical considerations will be discussed in more detail in a future article.

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“Opening Up Libel Laws” – Can the President Do That?

Donald Trump speaking on the campaign trail

Last week presidential candidate Donald Trump told supporters at a rally in Texas that, if elected, he wants to “open up libel laws” to make suing media organizations easier. A Business Insider article contains the full quote from his speech:

“I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money…. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace—or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons—write a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

But Isn’t That Already the Law?

In a previous article, we discussed the burdens of proof for a libel suit, which include proving the defendant made a statement about the plaintiff (the person suing) that was both injurious and false. So if a media organization said something that was “negative and horrible and false” about Donald Trump—or Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, or anyone else running for public office—then yes, that candidate could sue for libel.

However, because Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Cruz, and everyone else running for public office are considered public officials, they would also have to prove something called “actual malice,” defined as knowing a statement is false and acting with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity.

Keep in mind, this only applies to three groups: Public officials, a group that includes politicians and many government employees; public figures, a group including celebrities, athletes, and heads of major corporations; and limited-purpose public figures—individuals who have inserted themselves into a particular controversy with the goal of influencing the outcome. If you don’t fall into any of the above categories, and a media outlet says something about you that is both false and injurious, you would not have to prove actual malice to win a defamation suit.

The idea of actual malice is to protect freedom of the press, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Public figures, after all, already command the media’s attention and can refute negative statements easily. If a media organization said something patently false and injurious about a presidential candidate like Trump, he could call a press conference and denounce the false statement any time he wanted. The average person would not have that luxury and would find it more difficult to refute a libelous statement.

While Trump wasn’t specific about what aspect of libel laws he wanted to change, actual malice would probably be the biggest stumbling block if a public figure wanted to sue for libel over a statement that met the other burdens of proof.

Does the President Have the Authority to Rewrite Libel Laws?

A Washington Post article notes that rewriting any of the country’s laws exceeds presidential authority in most circumstances. However, the article also notes that presidents nominate justices for the Supreme Court, and a president might appoint a justice who could swing the Supreme Court decision in the president’s favor, should a specific case about libel make its way to the highest court in the land. While it is theoretically possible for a president to change the libel laws (or other kinds of laws) in this way, future journalists can rest assured that this is a highly unlikely scenario.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

The Ultimate List Of Broadcast Journalism Terms

The Ultimate List of Broadcast Journalism Jobs

The amount of technical jargon in the world of journalism—often even for very simple concepts—is notorious, and even if you’ve spent a few years at broadcast journalism school there will still be terms that’ll inevitably mystify you when starting your career.

But fret not! Below you’ll find a glossary of the most common broadcast journalism terms, as well as definitions for the most confusing and ambiguous lingo still used today:

Common Broadcast Journalism Terms & Slang

Advocacy Journalism – In which the reporter or journalist openly declares their stance on an issue while attempting to espouse it with factual reporting.

Active Proceedings – Any ongoing judicial case in which the activities of journalists may impede or subvert the proceedings, typically spanning between the arrest of a suspect and sentencing. Those who contravene reporting restrictions on active proceedings may be held in contempt of court.

Actuality – Sometimes shortened to “act.” Any audio recording taken outside of the studio on location (typically referred to as a sound bite in radio; see below.)

Anchor – News anchors are responsible for presenting stories on-camera, usually from a studio location though work can take place in the field. See our broadcast journalism jobs page for more info on the different professions within the field.

AP Stylebook – The Associated Press Stylebook, commonly adhered to as the industry standard on formatting and word usage in news writing.

A-Roll – The main portion of audio video footage in a news story.

Aston – An increasingly uncommon term for the strap line, more popularly known in broadcast journalism as the lower third (see below)

Attribution – The written phrase that identifies the source of a fact, opinion, or quote in a story.

Back Timing – The practice of rehearsing the final segment of a news broadcast and timing it; during the live broadcast, the director may then speed up or slow down this segment to coincide with the scheduled finishing time of the program.

Backgrounder – A story used to provide history and context to a current news story.

Beats – The areas of expertise in which a journalist or reporter covers on a regular basis and on an in-depth level, such as politics, health, or law enforcement.

Beat Checks – A list of established contacts that a beat reporter will frequently touch base to find or develop a story. These could include the local law enforcement agency, city council, hospital, or other sources.

Blind Interview – More common in print than in broadcast journalism, a blind or off-the-record interview is one in which the interviewee is intentionally left unaccredited (also known as a non-attributable.)

Bridge – An audio track linking between two news items.

Breakbumper – A short (2-10 second) indent used as filler leading into and out of commercial breaks. Often shortened to “bump,” but not to be confused with the verb of the same name (to bump a story is to place it higher or lower on the scale of priority.)

B-Roll – Supplementary material to complement the A-Roll, such as establishing shots or graphical overlays.

Chroma Key – Also known as green screening. See this post for further information.

Chyron – The words on the screen that identify speakers, locations, or story subjects. Chryon is a trade name for a type of character generator. 

Citizen Journalism – Reporting which takes place outside of what is usually considered mainstream media, predominantly carried out by members of the public without formal training. Can include the work of bloggers and social media platforms.

Closed-Ended Question  A direct question intended to elicit a yes-or-no answer as opposed to an open-ended question intended to encourage a lengthy answer.

Cold Copy – News script not previously read by the reporter until the camera is rolling. Sometimes referred to by the slang term “rip n’ read.”

Cold Open – Any type of video which rolls before the camera cuts to the anchors, usually featuring a voice over and ending on a form of cliffhanger.

Correspondent – A reporter who files stories from outside the newsroom—usually someone assigned to cover events in another city, state, or country.

Crawl – AKA the news ticker, a thin bar of scrolling text which informs viewers of any upcoming breaking news or weather alerts.

Cutaway – A shot of something other than the main action of an action sequence. In an interview, the cutaway is usually a shot of the reporter listening as the source talks. Necessary to maintain continuity and avoid jump cuts.

Dateline – The specific location where a reporter is delivering a story. Usually announced in the sign-out or sign-off.

Donut – A produced news package with a live shot, with a live intro, and tag.

Downcut – Chopping off the end of a story or sound bite. Opposite of upcut.

Effort – A verb in newsrooms, as in “I am efforting that package to have it ready for tonight’s broadcast.”

Feature – A non-breaking news story on people, trends, or issues. A feature story isn’t necessarily related to a current event.

Feed – A satellite or microwave transmission of live or recorded material.

Follow-Up – A story updating or supplying additional details about an event that’s been previously covered.

Fullscreen Graphic or FS – A still or animated image, usually computer generated, that takes up the whole screen.

Happy Talk – Casual, informal, and light-hearted chatter between the anchors. Can be used as a form of bumper.

Hard News – The news of the day. Factual coverage of serious, timely events (crime, war, business, politics, etc.)

Hit or Glitch – Any distortion or technical distraction in video or audio.

Hot or Overmodulated – Either too loud (hot audio) or too bright (hot video). Engineers often say that hot video “blooms” on screen.

Hot Roll – When a crew in the field doesn’t have enough time to feed back footage to the newsroom, so they must roll it live from the truck during the broadcast.

Human Interest – A news story focusing on a personality or individual’s story with wide appeal to a general audience.

IFB or Interrupt Feedback – The earpiece through which a director or producer instructs a correspondent in the field or anchor in the studio. The producer interrupts whatever feedback the reporter is getting in the earpiece.

Join in Progress (JIP) – A direction to the control room to cut to a broadcast already in progress.

Jump Cut – An edit in a news package that interrupts continuity. Example: an interviewee speaking followed immediately by another shot of the same interviewee speaking at a different time, so the image “jumps.” Avoided by using cutaways or b-roll.

Kicker – A light story that ends a newscast.

Lead – The key information of the story, usually presented at the beginning of the segment. Not to be confused with the “lead story,” being the first presented in the broadcast and often the highest in priority (confusingly also referred to as the “lead.”)

Leading Questions – Questions intended to steer an interviewee in a particular direction.

Lip Flap – Video of somebody talking, with the audio portion muted. Happens when using video of people being interviewed as B-roll. Avoid it.

Live – Put on the air in real time, not pre-recorded or pre-produced.

Lower Third – The bottom third of the frame containing text information regarding the current story, the anchors’ or interviewee’s identification, and other relevant captions.

Miscue – An error in which footage or audio is played before its intended time, resulting in overlapping elements in the broadcast.

MOS – An acronym for “man on street” interview, in which a reporter on location gets spontaneous sound bites comprised of reactions to a story from members of the public. Also referred to as “vox populi.

NATSOT or NAT Package – A type of pre-produced package that has no reporter track; the only audio is the natural sound of the video being shown. It may also use interview sound bites. Often used to convey the mood or atmosphere at a scene or an event.

NAT Sound – Natural sound on video that the microphone picks up. Example: Including sound of a rally with video of a rally.

News Envelope – A summary segment in which the main headlines are broadcast in brief (around a minute or less.) May have local or national sponsorship.

OC or On Cam – Abbreviation for “on camera.”

On Camera Bridge or OC Bridge – The reporter appearing on camera in the middle of the story. Used for transition between voiceovers or soundbites, or when there is no video to talk over.

Open-Ended Question – A question phrased in a way that encourages a source to give a lengthy, in-depth answer—as opposed to a closed-ended question designed to elicit a yes/no answer.

Outcue – The final three or four words of a news package, included in scripts to signal to the anchor and control room staff when the package is about to end so they can cue the next element in the program.

Over the Shoulder Graphic or OTS or OC Box – A graphic that appears over the anchor’s shoulder.

Package (sometimes Wrap) – A pre-recorded, pre-produced news story, usually by a reporter, with track, sound, B-roll, and possibly a stand-up.

POV or Point-of-View Shot – B-roll shot from the perspective of the subject, illustrating what the subject sees or saw at a given moment.

Production Element – Any piece of audio which is intended for use within the final mix, i.e. jingles, music, sound effects, and other station-specific audio.

Promo – Promotional announcement. In effect, an advertisement for a program a station or channel is carrying.

Pronouncer – Phonetic spelling of word in story, placed in copy behind correctly spelled word.

PSA – Abbreviation for “Public Service Announcement.”

Raw Video – Unedited video, just as it was shot. Also called field video.

Reader – A script read entirely by the anchor on camera, without sound bites or video.

Remote – A live shot from the field, where a satellite truck is required to transmit the image.

Rundown – An electronic or paper form created by the line producer of a news broadcast. Gives specific details of every element in a newscast, including the order of stories, video, audio, and graphic elements and timing for each.

ROSR – Radio On Scene Report. Audio broadcast from the scene of a breaking news story, or shortly in the wake of recent events.

Rundown – An electronic or paper form created by the line producer of a news broadcast. Gives specific details of every element in a newscast, including the order of stories, video, audio and graphic elements and timing for each.

Sidebar – A small story, graphic, or chart accompanying a bigger story on the same topic.

Sign Off, Sig, Sig Out – Reporter giving name and dateline at the end of a package or report.

Slate – A full-screen graphic, shown on screen before the beginning of pre-produced video which identifies the story title, the reporter’s name, and the total running time. Only for newsroom use; not meant for broadcast.

Slug – The name given to a story for newsroom use.

SOT or Sound Bit – “Sound on Tape.” A recorded comment, usually audio and video, from a news source other than the anchor, narration, or voiceover, played during a news story. Usually an edited portion of a larger statement.

Spot – A commercial.

Stacking – Lining up stories within a newscast based on their important and relationship to one another.

Stagger-through – A full rehearsal of the show.

Standup – A reporter speaking to camera, not covered by video.

Studio (in the) – A story updating or supplying additional details about an event that has been previously covered.

Still – A still image as opposed to a moving video image. Stills can be used to illustrate a story and can sometimes be displayed over track or interview clips instead of video footage.

Sting  A brief piece of music, typically less than fifteen seconds, used to punctuate the end of a segment or story. The sting is often the station’s own jingle. 

Stop Set  The time allotted to any commercial breaks within the broadcast.

Survey Week, Sweeps Week – The week in which a station’s viewership is monitored and rated.

Switch – An instruction given to the control room to cut to another camera or video source.

Tag – A paragraph at the end of a news story, usually delivered by the anchor, that provides additional information or sums up the item.

Tease  A short description of an upcoming story designed to keep the viewer watching through commercial breaks.

Tight on – A direction to the camera crew to zoom in on a subject so that they fill the shot (e.g. “Tight on anchor/guest.”)

Time Code – The time signature on a camera or recording device—actual time a story is being shot on a 24-hour basis, i.e., 1300 is 1 p.m., 0900 is 9 a.m. Includes hours, minutes, seconds, and video frames.

Toss – When an anchor or reporter turns over a portion of the show to another anchor or reporter.

Track – The reporter’s written and recorded script in a news package.

Tracking – The act of recording a script.

TRT – “Total running time.” The length of an edited package.

Two-Shot – Most often an interview guest and the back of the reporter’s head. Also used to refer to any shot including two people; two anchors at a single news desk, for instance.

Upcut – Chopping off the beginning of the audio or video of a shot or video story. Opposite of downcut.

Video Journalist or VJ – A reporter who shoots his or her own video and may even edit it. Also referred to as a “Multimedia Journalist.”

Videographer – A name for a photographer or cameraperson.

VO or Voiceover – “Voiceover” followed by “sound on tape.” A news script, usually read live, that includes video, track, and at least one sound bite.

VOSOT – “Voiceover” followed by “sound on tape.” A news script, usually read live, that includes video, track, and at least one sound bite.

Watermark – A semi-transparent graphic, usually the station’s logo, placed in one corner of the broadcast feed.

Woodshedding – The practice of annotating a news script to denote which words should be spoken with emphasis.

Know of any other terms which should be included here? Any that are still causing confusion and warrant further explanation? Head on down to the comments and let’s make the murky world of broadcast journalism terms a little clearer!

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Journalism Jobs In The News Department Beyond The Control Room

Channel 10 news room employees

Producers frequently do many of the same tasks as reporters—they come up with story ideas, and in some cases do the legwork of setting up interviews or chasing down leads. They’re also usually responsible for “stacking the show”—putting the stories for a broadcast in order, starting with the A block. This means deciding what to lead with—what was the biggest story of the day, or overnight if you’re working on a morning show. You will also have to decide how much time to devote to each story.

Producers’ duties can vary from one station to another, with larger stations having more producers, sometimes with different titles. Smaller stations (where many journalists start their careers after graduating) usually just have one producer per newscast. In these small-market stations, one producer may be responsible for the morning show, another for the five and six o’clock casts, and another for the ten o’clock news. (Again, this varies depending on the station—in some stations, one person may be responsible for all three evening newscasts, while another handles the morning and noon news.)

Field producers often go out with a photographer, gather facts, and interview subjects for the story while standing off-camera. Depending on the size of the station and how busy other staff members are, he or she may even go out alone, set up the camera, and record video in a pinch. The same is also true at the network level, where nationally known correspondents often arrive on scene after a field producer has already begun the process of assembling a story.  This is a good assignment if you like interviewing and chasing down stories, but don’t want the pressure of appearing in live shots or spending a lot of time fixing your hair and makeup every day.

If they’re not in a field position, most producers spend their time at the station, generating story ideas, monitoring the reporters’ work on those stories, and stacking the show.

Producers and reporters both usually report to the assignment editor, someone who monitors everything going on (including following the police scanner) and determines what stories to pursue. Often the assignments editor will give the producer a general assignment—“Give me five ideas for election coverage,” for example—and the producer will decide on a specific approach—the five angles, who covers them, when they run, etc. Producers and reporters sometimes move up to the assignments editor position after multiple years of experience.

Producing can be an ideal position for someone who wants to be a reporter but doesn’t want to be on-air. Good qualities for this job include multi-tasking, organizational skills, and the ability to work under a tight deadline. If you think producing is right for you, you’ll also need some of the same qualities as a reporter—being friendly, personable, and able to talk to a wide variety of people.


Not everyone is a “people person.” Photojournalism is a good career choice for those who are interested in journalism, but aren’t comfortable talking to a lot of strange people every day.

In television news, a photographer is usually assigned to go out with a reporter and capture video and audio of the story. While the reporter usually does most of the talking and tries to get the subject to open up, the photographer has an equally important job: Finding a visual way to tell the story.

This is not a job for someone who just wants to set up the camera and pay no attention to the news topic. Your job as a photographer is to understand the story, the angle the reporter is going for, related issues, etc. That way you can seek out shots that help tell the story.

A photographer’s job can be critical to producing a package that not only tells the facts, but makes viewers care. Yes, the reporter will do everything in his or her power to get the interviewee to open up and say something with emotional impact. But sometimes even the most skilled journalist can’t get a subject to say anything beyond a rote recitation of facts. Yes, you can complete the assignment that way, but whenever possible, you want to present something viewers will relate to on an emotional level.

This is where the photographer comes in. If you’re paying attention, you might get a shot of something in the interviewee’s office or home that tells us more about that person than he or she ever would. Maybe the police chief has the picture of a missing child whose case has been unsolved for twenty years on her desk. That tells us more about the kind of difficulties the chief faces in her job, and her determination to solve the crime even after many years, than she would probably tell a reporter in a standard interview about the department’s new software program to help find missing kids.

It’s important that the photographer and reporter work together as a team. Sometimes the photographer notices things the reporter misses because he or she is busy trying to make eye contact with the interview subject. Just because your job isn’t to interview, doesn’t mean you can’t ask the occasional question, or point something out to the reporter. Sometimes a casual questoin like, “Hey, that’s an interesting picture, where was it taken?” can bring a new angle to the reporter’s attention, and get the subject talking about something you can use. Cultivating basic interviewing skills is also important because, during busy times, a short-staffed assignments editor might ask you to go interview a subject by yourself.

Editors take the video from a shoot and edit it into a package, VO (voice over) or VO/SOT (voice over with sound bite). In smaller stations, photographers sometimes double as editors. This can be useful because if you do both jobs, you can start thinking about how you’ll edit a package as you shoot. However, in larger stations, photographers frequently run from one story to the next and have no time to edit, so these stations usually employ a full-time editor.

Editing is another job that requires you to pay attention and think about different ways to tell a story. When you edit a package, you receive a script written by the reporter. The script contains the package intro, the reporter’s voice over script, sound bites from subjects, and usually some direction about cover video/ambient sound (“cover of children playing at the park,” “cover of crowd with ambient noise from cheering fans,” “cover of the mayor greeting supporters,” etc.). This leaves you with some room for creativity, especially if the photographer provided a wide variety of video and audio. Training in both photography and editing is a good way to boost your skills for both tasks, as you can learn a lot about shooting video from editing, and vice versa.

Increasingly, employers are looking to hire multimedia journalists (MMJ). These are individuals who can quite literally “do it all.” In an era of tight budgets, it makes good economic sense to send out one person instead of three. Local cable news outlets pioneered this approach. Now even network news and magazine programs employ MMJ’s as broadcast journalism schools place an increased emphasis on teaching the skills needed to be an MMJ.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Nail An Interview As A News Reporter

Broadcast Journalist Gabriela Naplatanova interviews on camera

As a journalism student, you’ve probably learned a lot of different techniques for interviewing people. Being open and friendly, putting the interviewee at ease, asking the important questions even if they’re difficult—these are all good tips. But not every technique works in every situation. It’s important to learn how to quickly size up a situation—and a person—so you can determine the best way to proceed.

Watch Body Language

Depending on the situation, your subject may be open and friendly, or closed-off and uncommunicative. Sometimes body language is easy to read, but some individuals have great poker faces.

In general, you should watch for abrupt changes in body language. A person who suddenly breaks eye contact or looks away may be hiding something. If possible, you should try to make small talk about things unrelated to the interview’s topic for a few minutes before getting down to business. This lets you see what gestures, facial expressions, and tone and pitch of voice are normal for the interviewee, so you can be aware if there’s a big change.

Breaking the Ice is a Good Idea for Other Reasons, Too

Aside from granting more insight into the individual’s normal body language, chitchat can have other benefits. You may not always have time to talk about the weather or your subject’s favorite sports team, but if you do, it’s usually time well spent. Chatting about something relatively inconsequential can help put the subject at ease. It also allows you to establish rapport, and helps the subject see you as a human being rather than a scary person with a camera.

You don’t have to stick to the weather—in fact, it’s best if you can talk about something the subject finds interesting. Look around the person’s office or home for clues—sports memorabilia, movie posters, etc. People often open up when you ask about subjects that most interest them. Once they feel comfortable with you, it will be much easier to quiz them about other topics.

Again, it’s important to read the situation. If your subject seems impatient, answers all your small-talk questions with one-word answers, or suggests that he or she is in a hurry, it’s probably best to move on to the actual interview.

What If the Subject Doesn’t Want to Open Up?

What do you do when the individual at the center of a big news story won’t talk to you? Continuing to badger the person is generally a bad idea. The more you irritate people, the less they’re going to want to talk to you.

Instead, interview other involved parties. Keep going until you find someone close to the story who’s willing to talk—an employee, a friend, a coworker, etc. However, you should remember that people willing to talk to you about a big scandal may have an ax to grind, so it’s essential to fact-check their answers.

After you’ve spoken to others, another technique is to tell the person you really want to interview that you’d like their comments on X thing that Y said. Be specific enough to concern them, but vague enough that they have to ask you for clarification. For example: “I know you said you didn’t want to talk to the media about this issue, and I respect that, but I’d like to give you the chance to respond to your assistant Bob Jones’ comments about your campaign funding sources. If you’re interested in telling your side of the story, call me at….”

A word of caution: Don’t tell subjects you’re going to help rehab their image or make them look good—that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen, not to mention highly unethical and an example of media bias. As a reporter, your goal is to find and report the truth in the most unbiased way possible.

Do assure the subject that you want to examine both sides of the story. This may discourage people who are hiding something from granting an interview, but it can also get great stories out of people who are simply scared or feel they haven’t been accurately portrayed by the media. You can’t/shouldn’t promise someone good publicity, but you can assure the person you’ll make every effort to quote him or her accurately (which is something you should do anyway).

Asking the Hard Questions

Sometimes it can be intimidating to ask an interview subject, especially a powerful or well-known individual, difficult questions, especially ones that involve allegations of illegal or unethical behavior. Even if you don’t feel intimidated, it’s important to tread carefully—your boss will not be happy if you start making baseless accusations and ticking people off.

Here are some tips:

  • Prepare for the interview by thoroughly checking out the information you’ve received, and considering the source. If at all possible, fact-check the story yourself. If you’ve received allegations about a criminal activity, ask the source if he or she has reported the crime, and if not, why? If the source isn’t available for comment, you may want to check with your station’s legal department or counsel, if it has one, before venturing further.
  • When you interview the subject, be specific and explain the source of your information. If it’s an anonymous source, say just that—it’s better than letting the subject think you’re just pulling ideas from thin air. “Mr. Mayor, we received an anonymous tip from someone claiming to be one of your campaign staffers. This person says you wrote checks out of the campaign fund for personal items, including a $500 barbecue for your backyard. How do you respond to that?”
  • Don’t argue with the subject or accuse him or her of lying. Do reiterate what the person said and ask if you’re understanding the answer. “So you’re saying that you never purchased a $500 barbecue out of your campaign account? Is that right?”
  • If you have evidence the person is lying, follow up with another question asking for clarification. “Then how do you explain this copy of a canceled check on your campaign account for $500 to Joe’s Barbecues? Is that your signature?”
  • Remain calm and professional, even if the subject gets angry and starts yelling. Never get angry and start yelling back. Simply repeat your question in a calm manner.
  • You may hear something along the lines of, “You’re trying to make me look bad!” A good comeback is, “I’m just trying to gather the facts. I asked you a simple yes-or-no question. Did you sign the check or not?”
  • But don’t apologize either. Your job is to ask questions. If the subject really doesn’t want to answer, he or she can simply say, “No comment.” Yelling at a reporter for asking a question makes the interviewee look bad, not you.
  • If someone tries to duck a question, there is nothing wrong with saying, “That’s not what I asked,” or “You didn’t answer my question.” Then repeat the question.g
Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Broadcast Journalism Jobs: Is A Control Room Job Right For You?

television studio

Last week we talked about the pros and cons of on-air careers. While many people want to be in front of the camera, others prefer a behind-the-scenes job. This week we’ll discuss working in the control room or studio of a broadcast organization.

Control Room Or Production Jobs

TV and radio stations employ a variety of people to work in technical positions. A Production Assistant position is a classic entry level job. A PA is usually assigned to take care of  the many small, detail-oriented tasks that are essential to a successful program: distributing scripts, tracking down story elements (graphics, footage), and generally assisting the Show Producer in an always hectic production environment. That can mean everything from getting the anchor a bottle of water, to timing a news package and communicating its “out cue” to the director.

Production assistant jobs usually don’t have high starting salaries, but they allow you to get your foot in the door and make contacts at a TV or radio station, even if you have no previous experience. For this reason, and because production assistant jobs are often part-time, this is an ideal job for a student studying journalism. It’s also good for a recent graduate who is unable to find another job in the field due to inexperience. You’ll learn about how a TV station works, and may be able to find a mentor for the job you want to have later. If you’re not sure what you want to do, working on a news set can help you figure it out.

Camera Operators run TV studio cameras during live shows. In addition to setting up each shot, they give visual cues to the anchors using hand signals. They take direction from the Technical Director, who gives instructions via headset. Camera operators have to pay attention, even if they have static shots that don’t change often—if something goes wrong in the control room, they may be told to make a quick move with the camera to accommodate a sudden change. For example, if a graphic is wrong, you may need to quickly adjust the camera so the anchor is centered, while the director removes the incorrect graphic to the anchor’s right or left side.

Audio or Sound Board Operators control the audio during a live broadcast. In addition to the anchors’ mics, they also handle the audio for packages, other video, theme music, and live shots. Turning microphones and other sound sources on at the right time and off at the right time are equally important, and you may be doing both almost simultaneously. This job requires good concentration—if you get distracted watching the a package and forget to turn the anchor’s mic on after it concludes, viewers are going to see a talking head with no sound. Worse, if you forget to turn off the anchor’s mic while the package runs, viewers might hear him asking if his tie is straight over the package audio. Understandably, this position can be stressful and is not for everyone, but some people enjoy the fast pace and the challenge of juggling multiple audio sources.

Graphics Operators create the show’s graphics (sometimes called keys, CG, tickers, etc.) and ensure they are available for the director to use at the appropriate time during a live broadcast. This person needs to have good technical skills and specialized training for the type of software the station uses, although some stations will train the right person. Good spelling/grammar skills and attention to detail are also essential.

TV stations used to employ Tape Deck Operators, but most broadcasters have moved to digital video. Usually, one person (whose title may vary from production assistant to digital video coordinator) is assigned to run the computer where all the videos are stored. The videos are put in order of their use during the show with video management software, and the person handling this job ensures the right video is available where and when the director expects to find it.

Often it is the Technical Director who runs the studio cameras from the Control Room. The TD responds to the Director’s commands, and puts online the specific studio shots, graphics and footage the Director calls for, using a piece of equipment called a production switcher. This complicated piece of equipment is the interface between literally dozens of video sources and the “on-air feed” that goes out to viewers.

The director job requires someone with the right temperament. If something goes wrong and you start yelling at people or arguing about whose fault it was, you will quickly turn one mistake into a string or mistakes. Fix the problem to the best of your ability, and deal with any disciplinary issues after the show is over. This is also a fast-paced and potentially stressful position, but can be enjoyable for people who like to do something different every day, as no two shows are ever exactly alike.

Some stations also employ Teleprompter Operators to run the prompter while the anchor reads. Again, you have to pay attention and learn to keep pace with how fast he or she reads. Not all stations hire for this position—some require anchors to run their own prompters, while others consider running the prompter a production assistant duty. In some stations, camera operators will take turns running the camera or the prompter.

How To Get Started In A Production Career

Most people start out running either the prompter or a studio camera, or both. If you’re not interested in moving to the news department to pursue a producing or reporting career, you may want to continue in the production department.

Assuming you do well running a camera, you may be able to move up to audio or graphics. If you think you’d like to make graphics, you might ask the graphics operator if you can watch him or her prepare the graphics before the show. (Camera operators often have some downtime between shows—just make sure the studio is properly set up before you do anything else.) After several years of experience, audio and graphics operators who have proven they work well under pressure are sometimes promoted to technical director.

If you think a production career might be right for you, the best skill you can cultivate is keeping your cool under pressure. Learn to focus on solving a problem before assigning blame.

It’s also important to understand that, as with on-air careers, working in production is not for everyone. Some people find the fast pace and rapid changes too stressful, and that’s okay. There are other behind-the-scenes careers in broadcast journalism, which we’ll discuss in a later article.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Choosing A Broadcast Journalism Job: Is An On-Air Career Right For You?

Faith Abubey interviewing a naval officer

While many people choose a broadcast journalism major because they aspire to be news anchors, there are many positions in the field, and all have their pros and cons.

But I Already Know I Want to Be An Anchor!

That’s great, and on-air jobs can be exciting. As a reporter (generally the starting position for inexperienced on-air journalists—no one starts at the anchor’s desk unless a relative owns the station), you have the opportunity to pursue a variety of interesting stories every day. You’ll get to interview people from all walks of life, and you may even bring the public’s attention to an important issue in the community. You get to learn new things every day, and share your knowledge with others.

Unfortunately, a lot of journalism students find on-air positions attractive, and there is tremendous competition for first-time reporter jobs. While having a good resume and audition video is helpful, other recent grads from all over the country will also have impressive experience and audition footage.

There are things you can do to improve your odds of getting the job you want, but some factors are beyond your control. When it comes to on-air roles, hiring managers will make decisions based not only on your experience, but also on your looks, voice, and personality. Sometimes they round-file your application because you look too much like another reporter they already have, because your voice has an inflection they don’t like, or because they think you’re too bubbly, or too flat, or too deadpan…the list goes on. The bottom line is that many graduates find they have to take an off-air job just to get a foot in the door at a TV or radio station. Although there is no guarantee you’ll be promoted to an on-air role, any experience in the industry is better than being unemployed or working in a fast food restaurant, and it can help you make contacts in the business.

If You Do Get That On-Air Job

Sometimes new grads think they want a job in front of the camera, only to get one and discover it’s not for them. Here are some things you should know before deciding this position is right for you:

  • Contracts can place all sorts of restrictions on what you can do—not just at work, but also in your personal life. They often specify that you can’t make major changes to your appearance (like a new hair color or a tattoo that would be visible on camera) without a supervisor’s permission. There are often clauses that say you can be terminated if you do something to embarrass the station—getting arrested, embarrassing pictures on social media, etc.
  • People will recognize you as “that TV reporter” everywhere you go, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day. You will have to be nice and polite to those people at all times—even if you’re having a lousy day and they’re pestering you about a story you covered two months ago and don’t remember. You will have to nod and smile if someone wants to tell you about seeing a UFO, until you can find a polite way to excuse yourself from the conversation.
  • Most of us have had a bad day and snapped at someone when we didn’t mean to. But if you’re an on-air personality who has a regrettable moment and says something rude in public, there’s a good chance someone will post it on social media. You won’t just be that anonymous jerk in line at the grocery store who snapped at a cashier—you’ll be that rude, snooty, stuck-up TV reporter who told off a cashier.
  • Despite the personal sacrifices you’ll have to make to keep your job, you won’t be well-paid. The median salary for an entry-level TV reporter is $35,000, with some making as little as $22,000. (Generally stations in smaller markets pay less, but jobs in smaller markets are slightly easier to obtain.) Reporter salaries do get higher as you gain experience, and/or work your way up to a bigger market (although your cost of living may also go up if you move to a bigger city).

Preparing For An On-Air Career

The list above isn’t meant to discourage anyone from pursuing a role on-air. All jobs have downsides, and many people find careers in front of the camera very rewarding. If you think it’s right for you, here are some suggestions:

  • Spend as much time as possible in front of the camera at your campus TV station, beyond what you’re required to do for class. This will help you build a good audition reel while improving your skills.
  • Ask teachers and other student-journalists who have spent a lot of time in front of the camera for constructive criticism.
  • You will probably be required to produce packages for some of your classes. When you get them back, don’t just look at the grade—read your professor’s suggestions and try to implement them. Often these will help you with things hiring managers look for—reading at an appropriate pace, enunciating clearly, not fidgeting, appearing comfortable in front of a camera, and more.
  • If possible, try to get an internship or part-time job at a local television or radio station. While your campus station is a great place to learn, working at a local affiliate can give you real-world experience. Not only will this look good on your resume, but you’ll also have the opportunity to watch the reporters and anchors, and learn how they handle various situations on-air.

I’m Not Sure I Want To Be On-Air

If you’re not sure being in front of the camera is for you, there are many other broadcast journalism careers to consider. Producers help reporters with newsgathering, generate new story ideas, “stack the show” by deciding what packages go where in a broadcast, and sometimes even interview people—all without ever being on-air. TV stations also need a variety of technical people to run studio cameras, act as photographers in the field, edit packages, control the audio during live broadcasts, produce graphics, and direct the show.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Cover Weather News

Meteorologist explaining the weather

As a reporter, there will likely be many times when you will have to go outside and cover a weather story. While this is normally the weather forecaster’s job, that person usually has to stay inside with the green screen and radar equipment. In a larger station, there might be multiple on-air personalities in the weather department, some of whom can stand outside while others remain in the studio. But in smaller stations (where you will likely end up after graduation, as discussed in last week’s post), this job often falls to someone in the news department. This is especially true on a slow news day, but depending on the severity of the weather, it may happen at other times as well.

What to Do When You’re Standing Outside Stating the Obvious

Frequently, this is not the most interesting type of story to cover. You may be pointing at the sky and explaining that it is raining, in case your viewers haven’t noticed. Worse, you’re unlikely to have a direct quote from Mother Nature about today’s activities.

The best thing you can do is try to plan ahead of time. Big weather events can usually be predicted, so you should get your assignment for this kind of coverage at the daily news meeting. Plan a list of weather-related things you can talk about that don’t include the obvious. Coordinate with the weather forecaster to make sure you’re not both talking about the same things, as viewers get bored easily. Most meteorologists mention standard reminders like bringing pets and plants inside when it’s cold and taking shelter in a severe thunderstorm or tornado threat. You should try to come up with other talking points.

Here are some general suggestions with examples:
• Effects the weather is having on the local economy (for example, no one is venturing out in the snow to shop; the drought is affecting local farmers)
• Problems for specific segments of the audience (community cooling centers or low-cost fan programs for people who are homeless or can’t afford to air-condition their homes; how people who have to work outdoors deal with extreme weather conditions)
• Tips about things related to weather that viewers may not have considered or had time to deal with (how to winterize your car; what to do if your basement floods; inexpensive temporary fixes for a leaky roof)
• Look for information that is relevant to viewers, which is “news you can use.” Compelling characters are at the core of every successful news stories, including the snow pile driver, the mother with the flooded basement, and the volunteer firefighter.

As with other types of news stories, you should always try to include a quote—on camera, if at all possible, but using audio from a phone conversation can work if an in-person interview isn’t going to happen. You may not be able to interview Mother Nature, but you can get a quote from the local police about road conditions, the increase in accidents they usually see with this type of weather, etc. Or you can interview a local business owner about how the weather has created challenges or opportunities for her store.

“As You Can See Here…”

Avoid this phrase. Viewers already know what they can see on the screen. If you think a visual might be confusing, just explain it with specifics. For example, “Those green bars your see in the middle of the water are actually the rails of a childrens’ slide in the park. The creek is so swollen from the last three days of rain that water has covered almost the entire slide.”

Don’t Be a Hero

You may have seen exciting viral videos of reporters clinging to traffic signs in hurricanes, shouting to be heard over the pounding of a heavy rainfall, etc. While these videos sometimes get shared a lot on social media, and might look good on your audition tape, you should still proceed with caution. Many TV stations have policies in place to prevent reporters from doing anything extremely dangerous in the name of getting a great shot. After all, no one wants to read the story about how their colleague was killed chasing a tornado.

If it isn’t too dangerous to go outside, you should still exercise caution and consider the picture and sound quality you’ll have. Even with a windscreen on your mic, sometimes weather conditions can make audio unintelligible. A news camera is an expensive piece of equipment that should be protected from rain with an umbrella—but remember that if it’s not only raining but windy, water might fly onto the lens. This probably won’t damage the camera, but it can make for a blurry live shot. Viewers at home don’t want to see the photographer’s fingers wiping the lens and doing so with wool gloves will scratch the lens. Also consider using compressed air, but never blow on the lens as eventually saliva will get mixed in, harming the lens.

One solution is the “back door” shot, where the photographer positions the camera inside the station with the back door propped open, and the reporter stands outside under an umbrella. Another alternative is to place the reporter in front of a green screen, which can have an image from the station’s permanent outdoor camera (often used in weather or to show the sunset at the end of early evening broadcasts). Yes, it will be obvious to discerning viewers that the reporter isn’t actually outside, but this is sometimes a better solution than poor picture or sound quality, and the reporter can still point out specifics in the shot.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Deal With Slow News Days….Weeks…Months?

Screen shot of a slow news day

When you decided on a career in journalism, you may have imagined yourself working for a large TV station, or even a national network. However, unless you have a friend or relative who can get you a cushy job at a big-city TV station, chances are your first job will be in a small market.

Nielsen Television Markets

Nielsen divides television markets in the United States into 210 distinct regions and ranks them by “TV homes.” According to Nielsen’s latest rankings, number one—the largest market—is New York, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. Of course, not every journalist wants to live in a large metropolis like the top three markets, but many aspire to work in a “Top 100” station.

Although some grads get lucky and land in a Top 100 station, students who have just graduated from a journalism program are most likely to find a job in a smaller market—sometimes, a very, very small market. Even students with a 4.0 average and an excellent audition video will find themselves competing with similarly impressive students from all over the country when applying for a first job in the industry. You may very well find your first job in a small-town station.

Reporting News When There is No News: Life at a Small Market Station

When you arrive at your new job in a small market, you’ll probably find that there are some days when there isn’t any news to report. It is the sad reality of any journalist who attempts to report news on a daily basis in a small town—some days nothing newsworthy happens. Sometimes those days become weeks. But you can’t just go on the air and say, “Nothing happened today, here are some extra commercials to fill the time until the national news comes on.”

Most station managers at smaller market stations will never admit this, or spell it out to employees, but your job in this situation is to make things that aren’t that newsworthy seem like they are, or to spend far more time on a single story than you would if there were other items to cover.

It goes something like this: Nothing happens. No car crashes. No fires. No one knocks over a convenience store or sues a local business or grows the world’s largest pumpkin. If you’re working on a morning show, this happens even more frequently, but even dayside reporters may find themselves victim of the news-less work shift.

So what do you do? If you’re a producer, you have to build the A block for your show. (Sometimes reporters also share this job in smaller stations.) If you’re an assignment editor, you’ll have to send reporters out to cover something. If you’re a reporter, you’ll be expected to pitch story ideas to said assignment editor.

What is an A Block?

As you may have learned in school, the A block is the first segment of the news, dedicated to the most important stories of the day (or night, if you’re blocking a morning show). What do you put there when nothing happens? Well, you’ll always have weather, the savior of TV stations on slow news days. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the meteorologist is predicting some rain.

And if you’re not lucky? Then your weather forecaster gets to tap dance, and the anchors get to make small talk with him or her. Unfortunately, this can seem forced, and can’t go on forever.

Help the Weather Forecaster Out

You can help by looking at the forecast and attempting to find weather-related stories the meteorologist can talk about. You may even find package material. For example, hot, dry weather is dull to talk about for more than a minute or two, but it may coincide with ragweed season (depending on your location, of course). You might be able to interview a local allergist about treatment options for allergies, when they should see a doctor, etc.

You can also send a photographer out to collect video of anything happening outside, thus giving the weather forecaster and anchors something to chat about.

For example: “It was so nice out today that a lot of our viewers felt compelled to have a picnic. Look at that video from Such-and-Such Park. The kids seem to be having a great time playing outside, don’t they? Look at that dog playing frisbee…”

This sort of thing isn’t groundbreaking journalism, but it provides an interesting visual, and prevents your weather person from struggling to find forty synonyms for “nice,” “pleasant,” and “warm.”

I’ve Spent as Much Time as Humanly Possible on Weather, Now What?

At some point, you’re going to have to stop talking about the weather, or viewers are going to start changing channels until they find a reality show rerun to watch. Sadly, you’re not even done with the A block.

At this point, u can start thinking about taking an in-depth look at stories that have been in the news recently, even if nothing new has happened. You don’t want to just rerun the last package on a subject, especially if you ran it three times yesterday. If you have time (and you should if there isn’t any other news), you should explore the story further. Are there other angles you haven’t considered? Are there other people you could interview? Did you do any person-on-the-street interviews previously? If not, now might be a good time to do so.

Of course, news droughts can go on for days, sometimes weeks. You may find that you’ve had only a few juicy stories in the past month, and after extrapolating and creating a new package on each of them, you still need to fill time.

At that point, start looking at localizing national stories. Resist the urge to just write an intro and tag to a package pulled from the national network. Instead, explore local angles. Find out how nearby businesses are or will be affected by new legislation. If there’s a big health story in the news, see if you can interview a local person affected by the disease or treatment. Person-on-the-street interviews can also work just as well for national stories.

Slow news cycles are also good times to do profiles on local officials or political candidates, although, as always, you have to be careful to cover them in an unbiased way. If you’re profiling the town’s mayor, don’t just repeat the PR buzz from his or her website profile. Try to get an interview with the mayor, or at least a quote from his or her publicist. Be sure to investigate what the mayor’s detractors have to say—if possible, interview one of them, and ask the mayor’s staff to respond.

You can do profiles on long-standing issues, as well. Again, you’ll want to cover both sides of proposed legislation or legal battles, and make every effort to interview local supporters and opponents.

You don’t have to stick to politicians and legislation, either. Slow news cycles are also good times to do human interest stories about any local resident who’s doing something interesting—maybe a person who is training for a national sporting event but hasn’t qualified yet, someone who plans to audition for a national reality show, a person who started a new community program, etc. Well-produced human-interest stories and profiles of interesting people can attract viewers to your station, while giving you something impressive to put on your audition video—and the better your audition video is, the better your prospects of moving to a larger station, if that’s your goal.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Sound Like A Professional Journalist

Judy Woodruf interviews Chuck Hagel on PBS News Hour

Writing and speaking like a professional have always been important concerns for journalists. But today, with advertorials cluttering up TV station websites and social media alike, it’s even more pressing to set yourself apart from the fake news that constantly bombards your audience.

The Confusion of Advertorials or Native Content

An advertorial—sometimes called native content—is an ad in the form of editorial content. In other words, it’s an ad made to look like a real news story. You’ve probably seen many of these. Don’t think so? Browse a local TV station’s website. Look along the sides and scroll down to the bottom of the page. See any ads for anti-aging creams that “plastic surgeons don’t want you to know about,” or investing advice that “makes bankers crazy?”

The reason websites (including media organizations) can make money off these advertorials is that they don’t really look like content native to the website; most people can easily tell an advertorial is not a legitimate news story. For one thing, the picture quality is usually horrible, and real news stories don’t contain badly edited animations—dancing pumpkins, flickering lights, mouths opening and closing to name just a few.

The other giveaway is the language, and that brings us back to the importance of sounding professional as a journalist. Every time I see one of the following sensationalist words of phrases, I know I’m looking at an advertorial: “Shocking,” “jaw-dropping,” “you won’t believe,” “this is amazing.”

Choosing Your Language Carefully

Obviously, you don’t want to use any of the above words or phrases when writing headlines for your station’s website or social media posts. But it’s also important to keep them out of your vocabulary when you write scripts or ad-lib in a live shot. Your job as a reporter is to sound like you know what you’re talking about. This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert on everything, but you should be knowledgeable about general topics. You should also be able to ask questions, learn about a subject, and be able to describe it accurately in layman’s terms to your audience. Otherwise, your viewers will have no confidence in your ability to report the news.

If you start describing stories as “shocking” or “jaw-dropping,” you’re going to sound naive and inexperienced. Or audience members might think you’re trying to make a story sound more sensational or newsworthy than it actually is. (If you’re working in a small market without a lot of hard news, that may in fact be the case—but you don’t want it to be obvious to your viewers!) Additionally, whether or not something is “shocking” depends on the individual, and many of your viewers won’t be surprised at all.

If you need to point out why something is unusual, explain with specifics. For example, don’t say, “This pumpkin is so huge, it’s jaw-dropping!” Instead, say, “This pumpkin that Mr. Smith grew in his backyard weighs thirty pounds. By contrast, the average size for pumpkins of this variety is between six and eighteen pounds.” Let your audience members decide if the pumpkin’s size is jaw-dropping or just mildly surprising.

This doesn’t mean that you have to sound jaded or act like nothing surprises you. It’s okay to express genuine surprise, but do it in a way that doesn’t sound over-the-top. Again, giving specifics instead of interpreting a situation as “shocking” works better.

For example: “I knew our meteorologist predicted six inches of snow tonight, but I was surprised by how quickly it accumulated. Look at how much snow is piled up on the hood of our news van. You can see on the ruler that it’s almost four inches of snow. Just thirty minutes ago, when we parked here, there was no snow on the hood at all.” This sounds better than, “It’s just shocking how much snow we’re getting!” or “My jaw dropped when I saw the parking lot!”

But Don’t Sound Like a Professor, Either

Sounding well-informed does not mean sounding like you have an advanced degree in every subject you cover. As you may have learned in some of your classes, using unfamiliar, big words without explanation is also a good way to alienate some audience members. Some stations have their own standards and may recommend writing for a sixth- or eighth-grade vocabulary, but in general you don’t want to use words that go much beyond the junior-high level.

Words the average person uses in conversation (aside from profanity, of course) are usually good choices, but sometimes it’s necessary to use jargon when covering a scientific or medical story. In that case, just make sure to explain the word’s meaning. You don’t have to go into a lot of technical details—just sum up what the word means and how it relates to the story. For example, “Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that can be fatal, and often results in patients like Jane Doe needing a heart transplant. Jane told us she’s been on the waiting list for a transplant since April….”

Relating to Interview Subjects

You may have learned in one of your classes that talking to people in their own language—parroting the words or phrases they use—is a good way to establish rapport and get them talking. Sometimes this works, but it’s also possible your subject may think you’re trying too hard or being disingenuous. You might even come off that way to viewers, too. An adult trying to use the latest slang popular with twelve-year-olds is probably going to look silly, and the preteen subject might respond by rolling his or her eyes. A better alternative is to restate what the subject said when leading into questions. For example, “You said, in your own words, that you were ‘down with that sick beat.’ How long have you been practicing this type of music?” By maintaining that distance, you retain both that professional tone without sounding insincere, which, ultimately, is the goal here.

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Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

What To Do When A Live Broadcast Goes Wrong

control room during live shoot

If you’ve spent any time watching news blooper videos on YouTube, you’ve probably seen a wide variety of live shots going wrong. But how you should deal with unexpected events on live television when you graduate and get a job in broadcast journalism?

Live Shots: A Million Ways Things Can Go Wrong

There is no shortage of possible problems you might experience during a live shot. Teenagers sometimes get a kick out of screaming profanity or making obscene hand gestures on live TV. Adult hecklers who don’t like the subject of your story might try to make their opinions heard. People being interviewed can become flustered, have a meltdown, or decide now is the time to launch into a diatribe about a subject unrelated to the story you’re covering. Then there are unexpected weather problems, animals running into shots, etc.


Remember that your job is to report the story. Try to ignore hecklers—engaging with them only encourages more heckling. Stay on track with what you’d planned to say. If the heckling gets worse anyway, you may want to wrap up quickly and pitch back to the anchor. If someone is screaming profanity, pitch back to the anchor immediately—chances are, someone in the control room has already killed your mike anyway and didn’t have time to tell you.

Obviously, those working in the control room should also be ready to cut away from a live shot at a moment’s notice if things go wrong. If you’re sitting at the anchor desk, you should be prepared for unexpected problems, as well. If the reporter has a live shot script in the prompter, it’s best to scroll through it with him or her instead of cuing the prompter to your tag—that way, you can finish reading what the reporter planned to say if it becomes necessary. If there isn’t a reporter tag in the prompter, briefly apologize, read the anchor tag, promise to have more on the story later, and move on.

Sometimes people cause problems with live shots unintentionally. Your interviewee might have a sudden attack of nerves upon realizing he or she is on live television and people are watching. You don’t want to look like the heartless reporter who embarrassed someone on TV—and some people might interpret the situation that way, even though the reality is that you don’t control other people’s emotions.

You can, however, try to make things easier on your subjects. If an interviewee seems nervous before the live shot, try to distract them from things like lights and cameras. Make small talk with them. Getting your subjects talking about things that make them happy—their families, pets, hobbies—can help put them at ease.

You may not always have time to talk to the person you’re interviewing before the live shot. If, despite your best efforts, someone gets visibly flustered, starts stammering, or babbling about nothing, help them out. Asking a long-winded question can give interviewees time to collect themselves. You can repeat some facts about the subject of the conversation, and gradually lead back into a question for the subject. Although it’s usually better to ask open-ended questions so you can get more than a one-word answer, if the subject is flustered, you might try lobbing them a few yes/no questions. Having someone nod or stammer, “Mm-hmmm” may not result in the most brilliant interview ever, but it’s better than having the subject clam up completely or walk off in the middle of the interview.

Weather, Animals, And Other Unforeseen Events

Sometimes things just happen beyond your control. The good thing about these kinds of calamities is that they can actually make for great viral videos—meaning more publicity for you and your station—if you handle things well. Try to roll with whatever happens. There’s no need to pretend things didn’t go wrong—acknowledge it and keep going. “Well, as you can see, it’s very windy out here, but that hasn’t stopped the crowd of people who came out for this event….”

Remember, the reporter who laughs off a mishap and continues to report the story will be remembered in a more positive light than one who gets upset and flustered.

Microphones, Cameras, Lights, Technical Difficulties

You’ve probably learned in school that the best way to deal with technical difficulties is to prevent them by planning carefully and checking out your equipment beforehand.

But in the real world, sometimes you just don’t have time, or everyone is busy dealing with one problem and overlooks another. Even with the best preparation, electronics can fail spontaneously.

If you’re a photographer or part of a camera crew, you’ll need to master the art of getting the reporter a new mic without completely distracting him or her. Usually the best bet is just to hand it to them, or wave it in the air just off-camera. At least they’ll have an idea what you want them to do. Random hand gestures, waving frantically, or a producer yelling in the reporter’s IFB (a small earpiece that allows you to hear the off-air signal and sometimes the control room) can result in an inexperienced reporter getting distracted and stumbling through his or her script.

If you’re in front of the camera and think your mike or camera isn’t working, pretend like it is. Just keep reading your script or talking about the story. If your mic suddenly starts working (or someone in the control room remembers to turn it on after all), you don’t want to be complaining about your station’s crummy equipment at the exact moment that happens. You also don’t want to be making a face, rolling your eyes, or looking panicky when they finally get a picture to go with the sound. If the problem can’t be solved, someone in the control room will eventually let you know you’re clear, either by communicating through your IFB or having the photographer tell you.

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Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

San Bernardino Shooting Aftermath: What You Need To Know About Covering Crime Scenes

Shot of television coverage of San Bernardino shooting

After the recent shootings in San Bernardino, in which 14 were killed and another 14 wounded, the news media naturally wanted to learn more about the shooters, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who were both killed following the attack. On Friday December 4, reporters and camera crews from CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and other major media organizations entered the rental home of Farook and Malik, with the permission of the couple’s landlord, who let them in.

All the cable networks aired a substantial portion of their inspection of the townhouse live, and soon came under fire for what some felt was interfering with the investigation. Some law enforcement experts criticized the journalists, pointing out that the house didn’t appear to have been dusted for fingerprints, and contained shredded documents that authorities might want to piece back together. Another problem was the airing of identification documents belonging to some of Farook’s relatives, including social security numbers and addresses—an obvious security issue.

What Do I Need To Know When Investigating A Crime Scene?

As a journalism student, you may have learned some general aspects of media law. In most cases, you are free to take video in any public place, or on private property if you have permission of the owner or tenant. According to this New York Daily News article, Farook and Malik’s landlord opened the door for reporters, so in that aspect they did nothing wrong.

But What About Crime Scenes?

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. You may have permission to report from a public sidewalk, but if someone was just shot there you’ll have to stay on your side of the yellow crime scene tape. Police can’t ask you to leave a public place (except in cases of public safety issues), but they can stop you from trampling on a crime scene that hasn’t been released yet.

In the case of Farook and Malik’s home, the FBI said it was no longer a crime scene as of Thursday night, and released it back to the landlord. While some might question why authorities didn’t confiscate the shredded documents in the house, the journalists had every right to be there with the landlord’s permission.

What About Airing Personal Identification Information?

The real problem occurred when some networks aired footage identifying relatives of Farook, including addresses and social security numbers. It’s obviously wrong to air anyone’s social security number, due to the potential for identity theft. Names and addresses are usually available with a brief internet search, but in some situations, airing them without permission is still a bad editorial decision.

In the San Bernardino situation, for example, you have relatives of an individual who killed 14 people and wounded 14 more. What if a loved one of a victim decided to get even by harassing or even harming one of Farook’s relatives? Could the network that aired that person’s personal information be held responsible?

According to the Digital Media Law Project, a person can only sue for invasion of privacy if the information shared by the media is otherwise private—such as medical or financial information (this includes social security numbers, in most cases).

In general, publishing a person’s address is not considered grounds for an “invasion of privacy” lawsuit against the media. After all, a lawyer for the network could argue that anyone with an internet connection and a credit card can get any address he or she wants. A person who was determined to track down one of Farook’s relatives, for any reason, could probably do it even if a cable network hadn’t flashed their address on a national news program. On the other hand, the network’s airing of that personal information certainly made things easy for any viewers who were inclined to harass Farook’s relatives. Some might argue the broadcast could have encouraged already-angry viewers to take their feelings out on the individuals whose information was aired.

Regardless of the legal implications, airing personal identification of Farook’s relatives was a poor editorial decision. Some networks made an effort to avoid showing sensitive information—CNN told the New York Times it avoided “close-up footage of sensitive or identifiable information, like photos or ID cards,” and Fox News had a similar statement.

MSNBC, however, did show footage of the relatives’ identifying info, plus pictures of Farook and Malik’s six-month-old daughter. (The network’s anchor, Andrea Mitchell, told the camera crew to pan away from the child’s pictures, and the network later apologized.)

Think Carefully When Doing Live Shots

This highlights a problem of any live broadcast: You can’t edit what you just aired. If you’re gathering video for later and aren’t sure if you should air something, you can always ask a colleague during the editing process. But if you’re doing a live shot of a crime scene, you won’t get that chance.

Unfortunately, you can’t predict what you might find when working your way through a recently-released crime scene. If possible, it’s always a good idea to briefly go through the building before going live. It will help you to decide what you can safely air, and what you should entirely avoid.

If it’s not possible to preview the scene before going live, plan on starting with a wide shot of the room and panning slowly around. If you pan over any identifying information, the details probably won’t be visible to viewers. You can always ask the photographer to zoom in if you see something interesting that doesn’t seem sensitive.

If you do realize that you are showing something personal and unnecessary to the story, do your best to direct the photog away from it as quickly as possible. There is nothing wrong with simply saying, “Let’s not show that,” like MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell did during the live shot at Farook and Malik’s home, when she told the crew, “Let’s not show the child.” This lets viewers know you are doing your best to avoid unnecessarily airing sensitive information in an unpredictable situation.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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Social Media Means Journalists Should Work Harder Than Ever To Avoid Media Bias

Set of Today Show seen through iPhone

What is Media Bias?

As a journalism student, you’ve probably learned a lot about objectivity (what all reporters are supposed to have) and media bias (what you want to avoid). Despite the fact that most journalism schools cover the subject of media bias, the topic is a growing concern for journalists—and future journalists—in the digital age.

Media bias is generally defined as journalists or news organization selecting and covering stories based on their own opinions or preferences. This may mean they choose not to cover a story, or that they spend less time on it than other topics. Or it may mean they cover a story in a way that unfairly portrays a person or situation involved in the story.

But What Counts As Media Bias?

Some examples of situations that often spark accusations of media bias:

  • Politics—one of the most frequent reasons , usually relating to the amount of time spent on different sides of an issue or the perceived slant of a story about a politician or issue.
  • Race/gender/religion/sexual orientation—viewers sometimes question whether one of these characteristics affects a news organization’s coverage of a story, such as the recent controversy over the New York Times’ coverage of the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado.
  • Parent companies and advertisers—sometimes viewers think a media organization’s coverage of a story is biased because it involves an advertiser or parent company of the media organization.
  • Personal biases of the reporter—sometimes audience members perceive bias because the reporter has a personal relationship with someone or something involved in the story.

How Do I Avoid Media Bias?

When studying journalism, one of the first things you learn about objectivity is that no one is ever really completely objective. We all have opinions about the people and situations we encounter every day. As a reporter, your job is not to let those opinions affect how you cover stories.

Most likely, you learned in your journalism classes that you can do this by sticking to the facts—just report who, what, when, why, where, and how, and let the audience form their own opinions. Sounds simple, right?

But in the real world, things are not always simple. Sometimes, as in the case of the New York Times article about the Planned Parenthood shooting, audience members perceive bias based on word choices. The original version of the Times’ profile on the man arrested for the shooting read, “Acquaintances described John L. Dear, Jr., who was arrested in a fatal rampage at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, as a gentle loner…. “

The profile was clearly complicated, since Dear wasn’t available for an interview, and the Times reporter’s job was, essentially, to interview people who knew the subject and form a picture of the man.

Was using the word “gentle” problematic? It certainly made some readers angry. Many people posted sarcastic tweets about the juxtaposition between “gentle” and “killed three and wounded nine”. Others thought Dear would have been described differently if he wasn’t a white male. Still others thought the Times was sympathizing with Dear.

But we’ve all read articles or seen TV interviews where a neighbor described someone arrested for murder as “such a nice man, I just can’t believe it.” Why don’t those stories incite complaints of media bias?

The problem perceived by some readers most likely arose from the phrasing. Technically, the article did say “acquaintances describe,” clearly not expressing the opinion of the paper or journalist—right?

Well, maybe. “Acquaintances” is a little vague, and suggests the description is a summation of what the reporter gleaned from interviewing many people. Had the article instead quoted a specific person saying, “he was a gentle loner,” it might have been received very differently. If three different people used the word “gentle” to describe Dear, they should all have been quoted separately.

Ultimately, the Times changed the description (removing “gentle”) without comment. (The updated article here quotes several people who called Dear a loner, but none uses the word “gentle”.) Whether they genuinely felt they’d made a mistake or they were simply tired of being the news story, we’ll probably never know.

What Can I Do?

When covering politics, be sure to cover both angles as equally as you can. When describing a politician’s intentions, the best bet is to use a soundbite from him or her. If video or audio is not available, let your audience know you are quoting directly from the candidate or an official press release. If you have a personal connection to a story, tell the person making the assignment. If he or she wants you to cover it anyway, it’s generally a good idea to give the audience full disclosure that one of the people involved is your cousin, close friend, etc.

What If Do That And Someone Still Complains Of Media Bias?

In today’s online world of social media and viral videos, people can get offended by just about anything, and more than one person has accused a media organization of bias simply because he or she didn’t like the facts presented in the story. You should always check your facts and present them in as objective a manner as possible, but even that doesn’t guarantee you’ll avoid complaints of bias.

Another very important thing you can do to minimize potential problems is always be ready to explain your choices if questioned. Ask yourself why you are choosing to spend more time on one story than another, or why you chose certain words in describing a person or situation. This not only helps improve your objectivity, but it will also make things go more smoothly if a story you cover is ever called into question. Here are some examples:

“If you watch the beginning of the report, you’ll hear me say that I’m quoting John Doe, an organizer of today’s political rally. Due to our severe weather coverage, we didn’t have time to air my full interview with Mr. Doe as planned, but you can watch it on our website.”

“We spent more time covering Candidate X today because she made a campaign stop here in town. When a national political candidate from either party visits our area, we consider that newsworthy, and we plan to cover Candidate Y’s campaign stop here next week. We also interviewed supporters of both Candidate X and Candidate Y to get their reaction to Candidate X’s visit today.”

While that might not eliminate claims of bias, it does show that you are aware of such criticism and how your news organization works to avoid bias.

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Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

4K UHD TV: How To Prepare For The New Standard

4K comparison chart

The latest HD television technology is called 4K, or Ultra High Definition (UHD), sometimes also called 4K UHD. Previously, there were three ways to describe definition in TV: Standard Definition (480p/540p), High Definition (720p), and Full High Definition (1080i/p). By contrast, UHD is 2160p. Each UHD TV has a minimum resolution of 3,840 pixels wide by 2,160 pixels high. Essentially, a UHD TV has about 8 million more pixels than a 1,080p HD television.

More Pixels, More Problems?

While more pixels result in a better picture, most broadcasters and streaming services have not yet converted. Why? Because 4K video takes up much more space on a hard drive, and streaming it eats up a large amount of bandwidth—in fact, people who wish to stream 4K content like House of Cards on Netflix will need a 25mbps download speed that many viewers don’t currently have. While there has been talk of broadcasting the 2016 Olympic Games in UHD, the current options for true UHD content are limited to some content on a few streaming services, mainly Netflix and Amazon.

Is Upconverting The Answer?

Despite the limited programming currently available for UHD, 4K televisions are still flying off the shelves. While there will be more shows available in the future, another selling point is “upconverting”—changing an HD 1080p signal, for example, into a 4K image. This is done by using additional pixels to recreate the fewer-pixeled original image. To do this, the television guesses at what should go in those extra pixels; often the result is an image slightly sharper than 1080p, but still softer than true 4K UHD. So while upconverting results in a good picture, and possibly a better picture than you would have had with regular HD, most people won’t reap the full benefits of their new 4K sets until they watch UHD programming.

What Does This Mean To My Future Journalism Career?

When you graduate and begin working in the field of broadcast journalism, presumably some time in the next few years, you may work for a broadcaster that is making the switch to 4K UHD. If not, it’s likely your employer will do so eventually. In the meantime, UHD TVs and cable/satellite providers will be upconverting your video.

So I Should Get Ready for My 2160p Closeup?

Yes, but not just you. Remember that everything shot in 4K and, to a lesser extent, upconverted to it, will be seen in greater detail. If you currently intern at a TV station, some of the journalists you work with might remember the transition from standard definition to HD several years ago. At that time, many on-air reporters and anchors were advised to rethink their makeup strategies. Some stations even hired skincare experts to advise on-air talent how to improve their look in HD.

While you don’t need to do anything that extreme, you should be prepared for a very sharp picture if you plan to work on-air. When shooting video for class, experiment with closeup shots in different angles and lighting situations, so you can get an idea of how you look your best. You can also try different kinds or amounts of makeup. If you can borrow a 4K UHD camera, you’ll have an even better idea of how things look in the new medium.

Practicing Recording Video in 4K

Shooting video in UHD (if you have the opportunity) is a good idea even if you don’t plan to be in front of the camera yourself. Future photographers and editors will need to know what works and what doesn’t when shooting in 4K. A few years from now, you might be capturing video both indoors outdoors, at varying times of day or night, in varying weather conditions. You’ll need to use the right lighting techniques and camera angles to capture images for UHD. Remember that too-harsh lighting, combined with too many pixels, can result in an image that’s either too blurry to see clearly or downright blinding to view.

If you don’t have access to a UHD camera, see if your school has a 4K TV where you can stream UHD, so you can see examples of video shot in 2160p. Also check your phone, or your friends’ phones—many new cell phones can now shoot 4K video. While most phone cameras won’t have half the features of a dedicated video camera, you may get some ideas about shooting in UHD.

Don’t Forget To Prepare For Space/Bandwidth Constraints

Remember that whether you take video with a dedicated video camera or a cell phone, you’ll need a decent amount of storage space for any video longer than a few minutes. Because UHD uses so many pixels, it uses a lot more storage space than HD. If you can shoot in 4K, consider investing in a larger memory card than what you have currently.

Also be prepared for slow upload/download speeds when working with UHD in a future broadcast journalism job. Hopefully this will improve as internet speeds become faster. However, after graduating, you may work at a station that’s still improving its technology for 4K or waiting for its ISP to offer higher speeds. This might mean that you’re asked to upload only a few minutes of video at a time, instead of sending back fifteen minutes of cover video for the producer to pick through. You may also be required to do more editing in the field so you can just send back the final 30- or 60-second package.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

The Upcoming FCC Spectrum Auction: How The Broadcast Landscape Is Changing

FCC spectrum allocation
It’s no secret that the way we watch things is changing at a rapid pace. While 77% of adults say they regularly watch TV via cable or satellite, in the past decade, TV streaming services have gone from largely nonexistent to almost half (46%) of American households using services like Hulu and Amazon Prime, with that number jumping up to 62% when we look at millennials, according to Nielsen.

Broadcasters once had a monopoly when it came to TV news. Increasingly they are one source among many with the proliferation of streaming news and internet news radio. So what does this mean for how the FCC currently reserves spectrum space and the amount is reserves for TV stations?

What is the Spectrum Auction?

According to the FCC, the broadcast spectrum Incentive Auction was planned to address the nation’s changing media needs as the amount of spectrum space reserved for television begins to become obsolete as less and less Americans watch TV via cable or satellite. As the use of wireless devices (mainly cell phones and routers) has increased exponentially in the past ten years, the available wireless spectrum remained static—there is only a finite amount of spectrum. Broadcasters, like TV and radio stations, as well as wireless providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint, all have a license with the FCC to broadcast on a specific frequency; each can use a limited amount of spectrum in its region.

Why the Auction?

Wireless carriers have pressured the FCC for years to allow them to broadcast on the 700MHz frequency in the name of better coverage for cell phone users. In May of 2014, the FCC adopted a Report and Order, setting up rules for the auction, which is expected to be held in 2016. Currently, broadcasters can apply for a “reverse auction” where they volunteer to either stop using the frequency, or move to either a Low-VHF channel or a High-VHF channel (depending on where the broadcaster is starting from) in exchange for financial incentives. (VHF stands for “very high frequency,” and refers to the area of the spectrum used by a broadcaster.) In some cases, broadcasters will share spectrum space with another broadcaster. This gives other wireless users the opportunity to bid on new frequencies or shares of spectrum.

Can Broadcasters Opt Out?

Broadcasters that don’t want to move are not required to do so. Participation in the auction is voluntary and requires an application with the FCC. Keep in mind that most radio and TV stations are owned by larger conglomerates that will most likely make the decision of whether or not to participate.

If you graduate and begin a job in broadcast journalism in the next year or two, you may find your TV station is in the middle of repackaging. Repackaging, sometimes called repacking, refers to the process planned to follow the incentive auction, where the FCC reorganizes the stations remaining on-air so they take up less space on the UHF (Ultra-High Frequency) band. This frees up space for cell phone providers, while allowing TV and radio stations to continue broadcasting with a slightly smaller area of coverage.

It’s important to note that other nations are already moving in this direction, but their focus has been on radio rather than TV. AM (or medium wave) radio was the first target in Europe. The assumption was that you can still listen to AM “stations” via a mobile device or website. Now, in Norway, FM stations are scheduled to go off-the-air too.

How Does Participating in the Auction Affect Broadcasters?

Choosing to stop broadcasting entirely probably strikes most broadcasters as an awful idea, or a sign of failure. But this is the digital age, and many stations are seeing viewers move online. For small, independent stations with very low on-air viewership, especially those struggling financially, going off the air could be an opportunity. The organization may have to give up its call sign, but it can rename itself and produce packages for its website. The financial rewards from the auction could even allow the organization to improve its quality of production by buying new equipment, investing in social media marketing, etc.

What About Repackaging and Sharing Space?

Stations that apply for repackaging will most likely lose some coverage of their current area. However, the FCC rules specify it won’t allow a station to reduce its population served by more than .5%, so these changes should only result in minor audience losses. Viewers watching on cable will not be affected.

It’s important to remember that even when .5% equals a large number of viewers, all is not lost. Viewers who lose the station’s on-air signal can still watch video on its website, as most broadcasters post at least their most popular stories online and on social media.

What Can You Do?

Think about ways you could use digital strategy as a journalist, and how these might become more important if your future employer chooses to repackage. If you currently have an internship with a TV or radio station, ask if any decisions have been made about applying for the auction. If you learn that your station is considering applying, ask what digital strategies will be used to make the transition smooth for viewers.

Technical Considerations

Aside from the intentional shrinking of the audience, there will likely be technical difficulties during the transition. Part of your digital strategy should include having social media messages ready to go if your station temporarily goes dark (“We are currently experiencing technical difficulties, but will be back on the air soon. In the meantime, watch video from this morning’s newscast here….”). You’ll also need planned responses to people tweeting “I can’t watch your station any more, you jerks!” (“We’re sorry our signal no longer reaches you, but you can still watch our most recent newscasts on our website at….”)

Considerations for All Journalists

Whether you work for a station that repackages or not, a solid digital strategy will help you reach viewers as they spend more time online. This means considering factors such as length of packages, whether you should add more in-depth coverage of a topic online, and how you engage with viewers on social media. When you’ve developed a plan to reach viewers both online and on-air, you’ll be better prepared for a job in broadcast journalism, and if you work for a broadcaster that repackages, you’ll be better able to transition smoothly.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

FCC Updates To The Contest Rules Better For Broadcasters, Viewers

FCC logo

On September 17 of this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) updated its Contest Rule, allowing broadcasters to post contest “rules and regulations” solely online if they want. Adopted in 1976, the Contest Rule previously required broadcasters to show the rules on air (although extremely small print was quite acceptable) for television. Radio broadcasters were forced to have announcers read the rules on air.

An Important Rule, but Historically Problematic

The idea, of course, was to ensure audience members understood the rules of the contest and odds of winning before spending time or money trying to win.

The FCC’s goal to protect consumers was valid, but in practice, the Contest Rule had issues. Radio announcers would state the rules on air but it was never guaranteed that the audience would be able to write all of the rules down or fully comprehend them.

Then there were the TV ads, flashing the rules and regulations in print so small only a mosquito could read it for roughly two seconds. Not only were audience members still uninformed, but broadcasters had to deal with an influx of inquiries from people who didn’t understand the rules.

Most Rule-Reading Has Been Happening Online for Years Anyway

It’s little wonder that once the internet became mainstream in the late nineties, broadcasters started posting rules online, in addition to hurriedly rushing through them on air. For the last decade, anyone interested in reading the legalese—or suffering from insomnia—would probably go straight to the broadcaster’s website for rules about a particular contest.

So What Does This Mean for Broadcasters?

The upshot of the FCC’s decision is an improvement in entertainment quality for audience members, and less time wasted on illegible graphics for TV stations. Broadcasters only have to tell the audience where rules can be found online.

In television ads, rules and regulations often filled much of the lower third of the screen, prime real estate for station logos or related advertising (“Shop at Joe’s Mini-Mart for additional chances to win!”). A website address for contest rules can be delivered in one line, leaving much of the lower third of the screen free for other uses. Radio advertisers can now use almost the entire time slot for the spot (30 seconds, 60 seconds, etc.) to talk about the contest or related products. “Contest rules can be found at www…” can be read in less than five seconds, while auctioneer-style rule announcements used to suck up ten seconds or more, depending on the contest.

How to Make the Most of the New Legislation

It’s still important to make it clear where rules can be found; confusing viewers or rushing through an overly long address will only lead to phone calls and emails that take up the staff’s time, plus viewers might get annoyed or complain on your social media pages. A link on the station’s website is the easiest idea—the URL is probably not excessively long, and consumers can easily Google “WXYZ TV” if they can’t remember it. Make sure the link is very visible on your home page so viewers don’t have to hunt for it.

Posting links on your social media once a day or more is also helpful. Or you can make a page for the contest itself, either posting a link to the rules or adding the rules to the page’s description itself. Contest pages are also good places to answer questions and keep viewers engaged with the contest, so make sure your station’s social media handler keeps up with it. If questions come up frequently that aren’t clearly addressed by the rules (and sometimes legalese is hard for the average person to understand), you can make a FAQ section to address them.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

5 Ways Journalism Has Changed Since 2000

Contessa Brewer on camera

In a time where one is connected to the world through an object small enough to fit into the palm of his or her hand; where audience experiences are just as (if not more) important as the information they acquire; and citizens armed with smartphones over firearms are overthrowing governments; it comes as no surprise that broadcast journalism has transformed since the year we once referred to as “Y2K” or the “Millennium Bug” year (a bug more representative of a global computer malfunction that threatened to shut down everything from cash registers to power stations than a roach in the kitchen). Not only did we survive, but our media has completely transformed into a ever-evolving, amalgamated, and fluid entity that is no longer necessarily seen as one primary medium between governments, corporations and “the people” or “audience.” Here’s a list of five of the most noteworthy ways this has happened.

Citizen Journalism/Crowdsourcing

Social networking platforms have completely changed the media landscape for not only the journalists, but also the audience. Having access to the world from your personal account has made way for audience members to become a part of the information being put out into the World Wide Web. This, of course, means that news sources are now not just those who are experts in the topic at hand but regular citizens who may have been at the scene of the news and uploaded footage from their smartphone to Facebook or Twitter. Provided the original footage is identified and vetted, it can be a great source for broadcast journalists and the use of these amateur videos, images and personal accounts are now very commonly used in their news stories.

Social Networking

The use of social networking platforms aren’t just a means for citizen journalists or simply for journalists to use second-hand footage from them, but are now a significant part of journalists’ roles. In an era where news is now instantaneous and ubiquitous, news that is only broadcast during the show’s timeslot is almost obsolete. Journalists are now communicating news around the clock via Tweets or status updates to generate interest in their on-air broadcasts as well as using the responses and feedback to shape their stories. Networks are also making sure to broadcast their shows via numerous social networking platforms during and after on-air segments and simultaneously incorporating social media feeds into their on-air shows. And social media also provides a great means to measure viewer impact.

Multimedia/Multi-talented Journalists

With the Internet, came immediate access to information. And with smart technology, came ubiquitous information that blurred the lines between producer and consumer. Consequently, print media suffered financially and broadcast information became prevalent and multifaceted. This meant that journalists needed to adapt to many new technologies and avenues without an equal amount of staff to help them. More often than not, they are required to pitch stories, go out and shoot them, edit them and present them whilst simultaneously using their social media to generate interest and discussion for them online. So getting in touch with all facets of delivering news stories like camerawork and editing programs will be a huge plus if you’re looking to get hired in broadcast news today.


What was once a broadcast news show tailored for a target audience at a specific time slot in a specific location is now tailored to reach a much wider audience without limitations on time. As previously mentioned, the consumer or audience member has now also become the producer and actor—having the ability to access and produce information in their own time without having to wait for it—as seen with podcasts. Radio news can now be downloaded at the user’s convenience and companies like NPR that have taken advantage of such a portal are now at the forefront of their industry. On that note, what used to be the acronym for National Public Radio is now just known as NPR, due to the idea of “radio” being quite archaic for many people—a clear example of how companies are changing and adapting to the new milieu.


In 2011 and early 2012, five out of fifteen months from YouTube’s most searched term of the month was a news related item. In the seven days following footage of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the twenty most viewed news-related videos on the site all focused on the tragedy and were viewed more than 96 million times. This new kind of television news has made companies like Vice News a force to be reckoned with. What originally began as a niche print magazine (Vice Magazine) then expanded to Vice Media, consisting of divisions including a website, film production company, record label and publishing imprint. Vice News became the company’s current affairs brand and their daily content consists of articles on their website and videos on YouTube. Vice News provides documentaries and original news series but the Vice Media brand has diversified through the platform with multiple channels categorised into subgroups like food (Munchies), music (Noisey), or technology & science (Motherboard). The main Vice YouTube channel alone (not inclusive of their sub-group channels) gets an average of 26 million views per month with an estimated yearly earning of $1.2 million. A true exemplar of heterogeneity, Vice Media are now looking to release a new cable channel in 2016 that’s being programmed in conjunction with A&E Networks called Viceland, as well as a nightly news program called Nightly Vice, expected to debut on HBO later that year.

In summary, it all comes down to these three words—Convergence, Diversification, and Connectivity. News is no longer linear and broadcast technology no longer falls under two categories. For broadcast journalists and the news industry as a whole to flourish in this transformed news landscape, embracing and adopting these three things are imperative.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

2016 Elections And TV’s Need For A Millennial Social Media Strategy

Donald Trump speaking at a presidential rally

According to a 2015 Pew Research report, almost two-thirds of Millennials (61%) view news on Facebook, more than any other news source. Only 37% say they acquire news from local TV. By contrast, Baby Boomers consume news from local television at almost the same rate that Millennials get news from Facebook (60%) and Gen Xers fall in the middle, with 51% getting political news from Facebook and 46% from local TV.

A Wide Array of Political News on Social Media Keeps Millennials Engaged

Not only are Millennials more reliant on Facebook and other social media sites for political news, they also see it throughout the day at high rates, as opposed to a few times a day on a local news affiliate. Twenty-four percent of the age group said at least half the posts in their feeds were related to politics. (To be fair, it’s unclear whether all those posts are from legitimate news sources. It is possible users were counting memes of Donald Trump jack-o-lanterns, shares from The Onion, and other humorous content about politicians.)

The report goes on to show that Millennials are less aware of broadcast news sources like MSNBC and NPR, and more aware of online sources  like Buzzfeed and Google News.

Where Does This Leave Local Television for the 2016 Election Cycle?

Is this cause for concern for TV stations that rely heavily on political ad spending in election years? Not necessarily. In April, Carl Salas of Moody’s told The Los Angeles Times he predicts 2016 will see a 20% increase in spending over the 2014 mid-term election spending of $2.9 billion. He added that he thought about two-thirds of that money would go to television.

Other political ad spending analysts agree. In July, The Cook Political Report predicated total TV ad spending for 2016 would hit $4.4 billion.

That’s not just going to national networks, either—a July Washington Post article pointed out that older viewers are more likely to vote. Research firm BIA/Kelsey’s senior vice president Mark Fratrik is quoted as saying that local news viewers tend to be voters—all the more reason for political spenders to buy time on both local and national TV.

Should TV Stations Focus on Older Viewers?

Since Gen Xers and especially Baby Boomers are more likely to both watch local news and get political news from television, it might appear that the simple solution is to focus on older viewers when planning political coverage for the 2016 year.

This strategy isn’t difficult to implement. While you should cover all the issues of both local and national news, you can also run special reports on issues that are primarily of interest to older viewers—a package detailing where candidates stand on Social Security, for example.

That doesn’t mean you should abandon hope of reaching Millennials. They may be less likely to vote, but the 18-34 age demographic is still important to advertisers, as they’re less brand loyal and more likely to try new products. And since they’re more active on social media in terms of their news consumption, broadcast journalists are increasingly using social media itself to measure the impact of their reports.

How to Reach Millennials with Political News

Facebook and other social networks are the ideal places to reach Millennial news consumers. If you can engage with younger viewers on social media, they’re more likely to watch your station when they do turn on the TV for news. And try experimenting with newer streaming video social media networks like Meerkat and Periscope which can add an extra dimension to a news story, allowing journalists to provide behind-the-scenes commentary that wouldn’t fit on TV. You can also earn ad revenue from pre-roll ads when people view videos of political news online, and even more revenue if they visit your website.

While political issues that affect older Americans may be a good idea for special reports, your social media posts should focus on issues of interest to younger consumers, like unemployment rates and student loan debts. Did a political candidate just announce he or she has a plan to reduce higher education costs? Get the package from your national network and retweet it, asking followers what they think. This kind of engagement will help you earn ad revenue online thanks to younger viewers, while still collecting on-air ad dollars for the 2016 election cycle.

Institutions like NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism program are training the next generation of multimedia journalists (MMJs). Students learn how to become content creators, with an eye towards cross-platform distribution. Usually a local news story shouldn’t be posted “as is” on social media. Instead, it needs to be crafted to meet the expectations and needs of a different audience. One reason why so-called “explainers” have become popular is that they can be viewed on a smartphone or a similar device minus any sound. That’s exactly what Now This did recently with a powerful Halloween-themed story.

Online Radio And Millennials: Stats And Trends

Internet radio player


Over the past fifteen years, there has been nothing short of a sea change in how different generations listen to radio, While most radio listeners used to find a radio station by just a twist of the tuning knob, new data is shining light on the fact that more and more young listeners are finding radio stations through a click of the mouse or the automatic download of a podcast. According to the State of the News Media 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans 12 and older tuned in to online radio in the previous month. In the past five years, the percentage of people who listened online has almost doubled, rising from 27% in 2010 to 53% in 2015. Simply put, the face of radio is changing dramatically with the rise of online stations and streaming services, but what does this say about the new generation of listeners?

Online Listening is Evolving, Too

First off, not only are more listeners enjoying radio online, but they’re using a bevy of different devices to listen to it. Smartphones are the leading way to listen— 73% of the online radio audience surveyed said they listened on their phones in 2015, a 13% increase from 2014. Desktops and laptops are still significant in the field, with 61% of respondents saying they listen to online radio via one of those devices. However, listening on traditional computers is still down 6% from 2014, when it was at 67% and it’s likely that mobile listenership will continue to grow.

In terms of what people are listening to online, it is generally a mixture of streaming audio services like Spotify and Tidal, user-controlled radio stations like Pandora, and the vast network of podcasts that cover seemingly every topic imaginable.

Even ‘Drive Time” Listening in Cars is Affected

For years, the “drive time” periods in the morning (usually between 7 and 8 AM) and evening (generally 5-7 PM) when people are driving to and from work have been coveted by advertisers on local and national radio. Trapped in their cars, unable to take their eyes off the road for other activities like reading emails, texting, or watching video, drivers are a captive audience for radio commercials.

But with more cars coming outfitted with online radio capability, more and more drivers are choosing online stations over traditional ones. As of January 2015, 35% of people surveyed said they tuned in to online radio in their cars, a growth of 14% over 2013, when only 21% listened while driving. In 2010, only 6% reported listening to online radio in their vehicles. At this rate, the meaning of “drive time” will likely change as more listeners choose internet radio over local and national radio, or simply load up a podcast they downloaded before getting into their car. And traditional radio stations are definitely getting the memo as prestigious institutions like WNYC starting to rebrand themselves as audio entertainment venues.

How to Reach Online Listeners

In March, a article noted that online listening skews younger, and is most common among 12- to 54-year-olds. More than three-quarters (77%) of listeners between the ages of 12 and 24 listened online in the past month, vs. 61% of 25- to 54-year-olds, revealing a distinct generational gap in listening habits. Barely more than a quarter (26%) of those older than 55 listened online. And while listeners in the younger age range often lack the financial resources to purchase a car with internet radio, that’s not stopping many listeners from streaming their favorite stations and artists through their car speakers via a cell phone connected to a car audio system, with 55% of those in the 12- to 24-years-old group saying they had done so.

So what are younger listeners listening to on internet radio? News geared to younger viewers, like entertainment and sports, is generally a good bet for online radio, although this can vary somewhat depending on your online station’s format. That doesn’t mean you should ignore hard news, but most Millennials aren’t going to mind if you spend sixty seconds on the latest Hollywood divorce or sports scandal.

Online Radio Advertising

In terms of how advertisers can use this data to maximize their reach with younger listeners, it’s likely that more companies will focus their online radio advertising sales efforts on products that will appeal to a younger demographic, particularly 18- to 34-year-olds during drive time and teenagers after 7 PM. The good news is that Millennials are more opposed to paying for subscriptions than listening to ads: According to data from Strategy Analytics, 89% of internet radio listeners prefer ad-supported online radio to subscription models.

A CRN Research Report about Millennials shows that 75% of the group prefers ads about things that interest them. That’s another benefit of online radio—you don’t have to rely on an Arbitron report to get a vague idea of who listens to what and what products/news items they might enjoy. Take advantage of one of the best benefits of online radio—require your viewers to sign in before listening to music. Most listeners don’t mind signing in for free, ad-supported radio; you can use their listening history and/or answers to questions asked during account sign-up to allow advertisers to better target them. This doesn’t just keep your audience interested—it’s also a huge benefit to your advertisers.

On a closing note, with services like Sirius XM, Pandora, Spotify, and the newly minted Tidal and Apple Music increasingly crowding the online radio market, it remains to be seen how much room for growth the industry can support. In the case of podcasts, it can sometimes seem like there’s no ceiling in sight, with a handful of new podcasts popping up everyday. And podcasts enjoy a particular advantage over both traditional and online radio in that you do not need radio or wireless reception to listen, which you can do anywhere you please. On the flip side, recent NYTimes article about Millennials’ predilection for streaming media argued that when Millennials start a family, they are more likely to return to a traditional cable service. Whether this trend will carry over to internet radio is something we’ll be closely watching.

Learn more about the School of Broadcast Journalism at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.