Last month, we discussed the choices a storyteller (reporter) must make in gathering the raw material for the story including TOPIC, FACES, INTERVIEWS, B-ROLL.
These first four choices allow the reporter and the photographer to choose the building materials for the story. We continue here with four more options and a Teaching Technique for you to use with your classes.
If the same raw material is given to three reporters, the director will get three different versions of the same story. Why? Because the reporters make different choices in scripting and editing.
Soundbites are also called SOT’s (pronounced as an acronym like ATM). These are the pieces of sound from the recorded interview in which the interviewee is giving an answer and the reporter wants the audience to hear the information in that person’s own words. SOT’s are lifted off the interview recording and edited into a package along with the reporter’s voice which links it all together to tell a story. Choosing the right SOT’s is a critical decision. So how does a reporter make this choice?
Step 1 is to log the interview recording. Some people prefer to do this by writing down every word on the recording and who said it. Others list only the first few words of a question or answer, put an ellipsis, and the last few words so the reporter can remember the content. I recommend logging every word. This is time consuming , BUT many times the whole answer will be too long and the “good part” might be right in the middle.
The “good part”….what is that? The “good parts” are where the person being interviewed says something the reporter can’t say or says something better than the reporter can say it. Consider the following interview skeleton:
Q: How many years have you worked here?
Q: Where did you work before?
Q: Tell me about the day you saved Joe’s life.
Q: That took a lot of strength.
Q: What do you want our viewers to know about this?
Think about what information would have been given in each of the answers. The first two are short, factual answers. I would refer to them as “little A’s”—little answers that the reporter can and should incorporate into the reporter’s voice track in the story. On the other hand, the last four answers are more likely to be longer and contain information and wording that cannot be given by the reporter. These last answers include a first person account of what happened, an explanation, and advice or opinion. I refer to these answers as “big A’s”—not necessarily big in length but in their huge importance as building material for this story.
Once the reporter identifies the Big A’s and Little A’s, there may be a need to trim the Big A’s down to just a few words or a sentence. It is legal and ethical to only use part of what a person said as long as the context and meaning are unaffected.
Finally, remember when choosing what to put in the reporter track and what SOT’s to use to let the reporter EXPLAIN and let the person interviewed EXCLAIM.
The reporter will have to sequence the big A’s. This sequence may not always be the same order in which the person said them. Many advise reporters to arrange with the strongest video or sound first in order to get the attention of the audience and make them look at the screen. For example, starting a story with an unusual sound that is related to the story (collected by an alert photographer in b-roll) such as the angry voices of a protest group or the clanging of a blacksmith’s hammer on metal can be used to draw the audience ear and thus their eye into the venue of the story. A story can also open with an SOT rather than b-roll or reporter. For example, a big A in which the mayor says “I will not stand for this. I vow this will not continue!” with great volume and emotion will get the audience attention and arouse curiosity as to what has drawn such a strong statement from someone.
The reporter should also arrange the material to save a surprise. Don’t give it all away at the beginning , especially in a feature story. One of the best examples, I can give is a story about a robbery at a store in which the clerk resisted and fought back causing the would-be robber to flee with nothing. As the story unfolded, the video and the reporter revealed that the clerk was eight months pregnant. It was an okay story without that surprise…but that surprise added a WOW moment and was not disclosed at the beginning.
Once the main building blocks (big A’s and b-roll) have been sequenced, the reporter is ready for the next choice.
Which is the bigger factor in a package story—the video or the audio? That’s a toss-up and I’m not sure there’s a correct answer. I do know the reporter should write to video, but I also advise that the audio script be finalized before the video track. The two are not inseparable as you’ll see in the section on editing coming later. So, although the reporter considers what good pieces of video are available and writes to incorporate those good pieces, I contend that composing the audio track is the first step.
The reporter will use background information gathered before and during the interview (little A’s) to compose a reporter track that will connect every block into a logical train of thought. The reporter may write an introduction if there is no strong SOT or sound to use, but mostly the reporter writes to explain and transition from one SOT to another. More is not better when writing the sound track. Ban phrases like “when we asked….the mayor said..” Learn to write a bridge that connects to what came before and introduces what is coming. Pack the track with facts. It is not always necessary to say who the person is that is going to talk next. A lower third super can usually accomplish that.
Many reporters, especially new ones, think every story must have a stand-up in which the reporter faces the camera and talks directly to the audience. This IS a useful tool on occasion. However, the reporter MUST remember the story is NOT about the reporter and should resist the desire for face-time. There are three valid reasons for including a reporter stand-up in the story. The stand-up can be used to establish credibility—that the reporter was at the event and really knows what went on. A second reason can be to show the location to the audience—the reporter is on the scene of a hotel fire and the smoking building and extent of damage can be seen in the background. The third reason for a stand-up is to allow the reporter to demonstrate something related to the story—the reporter is buying a lottery ticket as part of a story about what lottery money goes to benefit. Ban the strolling reporter who walks toward the camera in a generic location giving facts from little A’s.
The easiest style of editing is “cuts only”. This is a procedure in which pieces with audio and video are simply laid side by side in a line. Audio and video change from one block to another at the same time. When a “cut” happens, it’s an abrupt change in both sound and picture. This is the easiest editing to do. Unfortunately, it’s also the least effective in storytelling.
“Brick wall” editing is much more effective. In this type, the breaks in audio and video happen at different times. For example, the viewer starts to hear the principal’s voice BEFORE they see the principal or the viewer starts to see the footage of the winning touchdown as they hear the last few words of the quarterback describing what led up to the play. In brick wall editing, a second audio track allows the use of natural sound from b-roll to combine with reporter’s voice for even more staggering of the breaks.
A reporter who scripts a story and the editor who pushes the buttons (often the same person) can use this staggering of video and audio to advantage by arranging natural sound to punctuate the reporter track and b-roll video to reinforce what the reporter is saying. Brick wall editing allows the story to capture the eye and the ear and KEEP them.
There are no great stories…only great storytellers who make great choices in TOPIC, FACES, INTERVIEW, B-ROLL, SEQUENCE, WRITING and EDITING. Now, tell your stories.
Going from interview to script
Divide class into groups and provide each group with a full transcript of the same interview printed in a rather large font and double-spaced. On another sheet in regular font, provide background information on the topic.
Each group cuts the transcript into pieces and lay the Big A (see article)pieces on the table or floor in the sequence they want to use them.
Next students write the reporter track (using background information and Little A’s) and insert those pieces between the Big A’s.
Each group will then read their pieces in order orally to the class. Other members close their eyes and just listen. Group members take roles so that one voice is the reporter, and difference voices are heard for the different SOT’s.
Invariably, the stories will all take different forms from the same interview transcript because of the choices made by the groups.
Discussion follows about which was most effective, why, and what video would be used where. Students realize that there is not just one right way to tell a story and also the importance of choices.
This technique allows concrete experience with lifting pieces from an interview and combining them with the reporter’s track. Of course, this can be done by providing footage of the interview and having groups to actually script and edit, but using paper pieces is a quick introduction to the concept and allows the teacher to assess whether students are in fact making good choices.
Janet Kerby is a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education specializing in broadcast journalism. Janet’s extensive teaching experience and award-winning program at Roane County High School in West Virginia provide the background for her current work in teacher training. Janet has developed an online graduate course Teaching Broadcast Journalism and is currently teaching that course as part of Kent State University’s online Master of Arts Degree–Journalism Educator Specialization.