The foundation of any TV newscast is its packages.
That's because, if they are done well, packages have all the elements that bring a story alive: good pictures, interesting sound bytes, and a well-written script. If any of these elements is weak, the story may be downgraded (to a VOSOT or even a VO) or kept short. In other words, the quality of the video and the sound bytes often determines the length of a package. But even great video and excellent sound bytes do not always guarantee a long package; it depends on what else is going on in the news that day. Even on slow days, packages rarely run longer than 90 seconds.
For this example, let's walk through a package on how a drought is affecting local crops. Before leaving the newsroom, reporter Emily Goodwin has scheduled interviews with two subjects. The county extension agent, Jay Price, can meet for an interview at his office at 9 a.m. to provide statistics about crop failures and how farmers are coping. At 10 a.m., she is slated to interview Mark Stewart, a local blueberry and peach grower. That interview will take place at his farm, where her videographer expects to record footage of irrigation sprinklers, farm machinery, and shriveled crops.
Good organization is essential in putting together a successful package. In fact, most reporters understand the fundamentals of their stories before they actually produce the package. They may not have every detail pinned down, but in this example, Goodwin knows there will be two interviews, footage from the farm, and the opportunity for a stand-up; this is part of the story where the reporter appears on camera and addresses the camera directly. A discussion of how to create a good stand-up follows, but for now, know that the reporter plans to be on-camera during the package.
The first interview is a snap; most county extension agents are familiar with reporters and have been on-camera a number of times so the interview is relaxed yet informative. Goodwin jots-down notes, listening for a good sound byte. Halfway through the interview, Price mentions that federal aid may not be coming this year, saying "The federal aid program is out of money, and even if there's any money at all, it won't get here for a good six months. We're looking at bankruptcy for a lot of really good people."
Although the interview continues, Goodwin had mentally flagged that quote. It's good, informative, and lasts about 12 seconds (perfect for a sound byte). Note that she doesn't immediately halt the interview once she has her workable byte, as there may be more to come.
When finished, she thanks the extension agent, the videographer gets a few quick shots of her talking to the agent (to use as cutaway footage if needed), and they head to the farm. On the way there, Goodwin may review the footage in the news vehicle or, if she brought a small audio recorder, will listen to the interview to time any potential sound bytes.
The next location, Mr. Stewart's farm, reveals a number of shooting possibilities: idle farm equipment, irrigation sprinklers spraying the crops with water, and fruit that may not be saved despite the farmer's best efforts. Goodwin talks to Stewart for a few minutes while the videographer shoots some cover footage. Included in this footage are several shots of Goodwin and Stewart walking among the crops.
The interview is shot beneath the peach trees. Stewart is passionate, near tears, at the thought of losing this year's crop. Again, Goodwin listens intently, silently counting the number of workable sound bytes. She identifies four, all of which are between 10 and 15 seconds, that bring a human emotion to the story.
As the interview ends, they thank Stewart and then Goodwin turns the videographer loose to finish shooting. Goodwin sits in the news vehicle for a minute, writes a few notes for a stand-up, and rejoins the videographer. They shoot several takes of the stand-up; this is standard as the videographer never knows when a part of the tape will be wrinkled or "drop out." Goodwin presents the stand-up as a bridge, which will occur in the middle of the story.
Back in the newsroom, Goodwin confirms that the producer still wants 90 seconds for the package. She then times the sound bytes: one from Price (12 seconds), two from Stewart (10 seconds each), and her stand-up (13 seconds). Note that her stand-up is logged as a sound byte, as she will incorporate it into her package just like any other SOT from the field. Her list is:
Price-'The federal aid program is out of money, and even if there's any money at all, it won't get here for a good six months. We're looking at bankruptcy for a lot of really good people." -12 seconds
Stewart (1) - "The way the crops have been affected, I've had to layoff half of my field crew. They're gone. I don't know when I'll get them back. "-10 seconds
Stewart (2)-"I don't understand why we can't get help. That's why we pay taxes into the government, to help us out. Ain't they got any money for us?"-lO seconds
Goodwin- "The workers are gone because the crops may be a total loss. Right now, the only movement in the fields comes from the automated sprinklers. But even these sprinklers can't make up for lack of rain."-13 seconds
As a visual medium, television allows flexibility in building news packages. One way is to emphasize the best video images first, thus hooking the viewer into watching the story. A number of news directors advocate putting the strongest video within the first 5 seconds. This plays to the strength of television, as compelling images are unmatched in other media.
Another strategy is counterintuitive; instead of concentrating on the pictures, the reporter builds the audio track first. This is useful for novice reporters who have difficulty hitting their allotted time. With the preceding four bytes, let's arrange them as follows: Stewart (1), Goodwin, Stewart (2), and Price. Adding the bytes together gives us a running time of 45 seconds out of the 90 seconds possible. This leaves 45 seconds of airtime for Goodwin to tell the story.
The next step is to link the bytes together with bits of narration, which Goodwin will record onto an audio track. During editing, the bytes (and their accompanying video) will be interspersed with the audio segments. For this example, Goodwin writes her narration like this:
Narration (1)- "Usually, the peaches and blueberries at this farm are ready to pick by now. But there's not enough rain. And it's killing the crop."-lO seconds
Stewart (1)- "The way the crops have been affected, I've had to layoff half of my field crew. They're gone. I don't know when I'll get them back."-lO seconds
Goodwin-"The workers are gone because the crops may be a total loss. Right now, the only movement in the fields comes from the automated sprinklers. But even these sprinklers can't make up for lack of rain."-13 seconds
Narration (2)-"The drought started three months ago, sending farmers scrambling to find either water or money. Right now, they can't find either." -10 seconds
Stewart (2)-"I don't understand why we can't get help. That's why we pay taxes into the government, to help us out. Ain't they got any money for us?" -10 seconds
Narration (3)-"But unlike past years, the agriculture department's relief funds are already gone." -7 seconds
Price- "The federal aid program is out of money, and even if there's any money at all, it won't get here for a good six months. We're looking at bankruptcy for a lot ofreally good people." -12 seconds
Narration (4 )-"While the outlook for federal funds is bad, the extended weather forecast is even worse. No rain is expected for at least two more weeks. And as the drought continues, farmers like Mark Stewart say the irrigation may only save a fraction of their crops. For News 20, I'm Emily Goodwin."-18 seconds
Once the audio track is laid down, the editor lays video and natural sound on top of the narration segments. The end result is a 90-second package, complete with field footage, interviews, and a reporter's stand-up.
Most reporters use a hybrid of these two strategies. They are aware of their best video, plus they position their audio clips to tell a cohesive story. With practice, broadcast journalists create the package's narrative structure as a holistic combination of video and audio.
©2010 Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved. "Broadcast News, Writing, Reporting, and Producing, Fifth Ed." by Ted White and Frank Barnas. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit elsevierdirect.com.