Thursday, February 26, 2009

REPORTER BLOG: Every Day is a New Day

Elizabeth Lowry

Each and every day in the newsroom I learn something new. I don’t know if it’s because every day is a new day, new news, new challenges. If things didn’t go smoothly for the newscast today, you gotta learn from it and let it go. Tomorrow is a brand new day with a clean slate. Today I learned the importance of picking the most newsworthy story. The story that is going to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of viewers is always the story you want to go with.

I was doing my research, trying to pick a story that was of interest to me, not exactly taking into consideration what would be best for my viewers. I wanted to do a feature story like the Eating Disorders Awareness Week or how the Athens community is reaching out to citizens that are struggling right now by doing a soup kitchen. But I was soon reminded that morning at the news meeting, that I would not be able to do the stories I looked into doing. We unexpectedly were short on people, and four people had called in sick that day. So...rather than having two news reporters, we only had one, me. Considering this, I had to do what journalists refer to as a “hard news story.” This is a story that viewers need to hear, and is going to have the greatest impact on them. Recently, in the Athens community, most of the hard news stories have been about the budget cuts, considering the country’s state of current economic crisis.

Finding Focus
Well this week when I was a news reporter I was assigned to a story that I was not particularly interested in doing…not at first anyway. But I was soon reminded, it is most important to do stories that are going to hit viewers pocketbooks. How is this story going to affect them financially? Hence, I was assigned to a city council committee meeting on Monday evening.

Every story must have a focus, and for any package, it is most important to have the focus on ‘real people.’ Explain the financial status of whatever your story is about and most importantly, get the reaction of real people. I completely missed the point of my story. When I covered the committee meeting, I was supposed to target the water and sewer rates. Instead, for my story, I gave a broad overview of what the committee meeting was about. I overloaded my viewer with too many random issues council is worrying about, and filled the story with numbers and statistics.

I also had video but it was nothing that anyone would want to watch for more than a couple of seconds. All of my video was BORING, buildings and still images. So, there I was with boring video, too many numbers, and irrelevant facts making it hard to keep the viewer’s attention and even harder to keep them interested. And this was supposed to be the lead news story!

I was so caught up in the story and all the information at the time I was conducting interviews, doing my stand-up, calling people for valid information (including the water and sewer rates), and then writing and editing my script…I completely forgot the most important part of my job as a reporter…which is, relating and being in touch with my viewer. My job is to put myself in their shoes, what do they want or need to be informed about? What is going to be most interesting to them?

I also was so caught up in getting interviews from people in professional positions (Nick Carr, Safety Director of the Athens Water Plant, and Nancy Bain, third ward Athens city council member), that I forgot to get the most important interview of all…an Athens citizen who is going to be affected by the change in the water and sewer rates.

The Lesson
At the end of the day, I learned a very valuable lesson. Like anything in life, the newsroom is no different. You can’t change what you have already done, but you can learn from it so you don’t do it again. And that’s exactly what I am going to do. No more boring video. It is soooooo important to have ONE focus on your story and not overload your viewer with TMI. If they can’t follow your story, then why even have a story in the first place? I learned that the focus of my story not just for this story but for any hard news story, is to find out how it is going to affect the average viewer, and in turn, go out and get a real viewer and interview them.

I could have asked so many people if they were aware of the potential increase in the rates, rather than writing about how much money it is per 1000 gallons and yada, yada, yada, which no one really follows (let’s be serious.) I could have asked someone about his water bill, and how is he going to feel if the bill increases? Are they going to be able to afford it? And even more importantly, were they aware of the potential increase? My job is to make those viewers who aren’t aware, aware of what’s going on in the world around them, because I am a journalist. And the best journalists in the world, are aware and in touch with their viewers, so if I want to be the best, if I want to do my best at this job, then I need to do just that…and if I don’t? Well, there will be about a million others waiting in line, who will.

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