After considering the major news stories of the day, the list of stories the reporters are working on and stories available from news services, the producer can start shaping the newscast within its overall mission.
Planning the Rundown
To find the day's news, the producer will get assistance from assignment editors, reporters, photographers, news directors and even community members. The producer must sort out the importance of the news and determine the best way to present it so that viewers enjoy watching the newscast. On the basis of the characteristics of news, described in another article, the producer will establish the rundown—the order in which the stories will be presented in the newscast. You will recall that news characteristics include conflict, uniqueness, prominence, impact, relevance, location, human interest and emotional impact.
The producer is responsible for ensuring that each news block stands on its own, with variety and careful pacing to maintain the interest of the viewer. The producer's first consideration is to plan the A block, the first news segment in the show.
The A block in a newscast always begins with the lead story, the most important news story of the newscast and, perhaps, of the day. If the story was featured in a previous newscast or will be important in a following newscast, the producer must find a different, interesting approach to the story. If the story is very high profile, it will likely be presented in a package. Will there be a live shot? Will a reporter introduce the package live and put a live tag on the story from the field?
If the newscast leads with a package, the producer will not want to follow immediately with another package but instead will choose another format to create an interesting variety. The next story may be a voiceover or an important story or update that the anchor reads directly into the camera.
On a day when strong storms or tornadoes are expected, the producer may lead the newscast with weather. A reporter may have provided a weather package, or the weather forecaster may do a live presentation at the beginning of the newscast, in addition to the normal time set aside for weather.
If a local, high-profile sports figure has been arrested, the producer might schedule the sports information for the top of the newscast.
The B block, or second news segment (after the first commercial break) may include a combination of news and lighter stories, again with variety in presentation format: readers, VOs, packages, live shots from the field and newsroom shots.
Depending on the format of the show, a 30-minute newscast will likely have three news blocks in addition to weather and sports, as shown top right. For a sample A block lineup, see Exhibit 11.12.
In Exhibit 11. 12, you can see the variety in news formats and get an understanding of how the producer works to keep the pace moving. With a live shot of a reporter in the field, use of graphics and anchor interaction with viewers, the newscast avoids getting bogged down in sameness. At the end of the A block, the viewer is given three reasons to stay tuned—the "triple tease."
At the end of each block, the producer hopes the audience will retain enough inter-est in the program to return after the commercial break. Previews of upcoming stories, or teases, planned and written by the producer, close out each news block and encourage viewers to wait for the coming stories.
Writing teases is an art: the tease must give enough information to spark interest in the story without giving the whole story away. The tease will usually be accompanied by video, and the producer must make sure the video achieves the same goal: sparking interest without giving away the story.
Experienced producers avoid using questions in a tease, because they're too easy to write and don't require imagination. A question tease is
not as strong as a straightforward tease.
Which of the following teases do you prefer? Why? See if you can write stronger ones.
U. S. athletes arrived in Beijing today, wearing masks. We'll tell you why—next.
Who is this masked man? Find out why our U. S. Olympic athletes are covering their faces in Beijing—next.
Question tease: "Why did this young man get stuck in this tree? The answer when we return."
Straightforward tease: "When this young man thought he was helping a neighbor, he found that he needed help. We'll explain when we come back."
The producer may use one, two or sometimes more teases at the end of a news block. Exhibit 11.13 is an example of a single tease designed to make viewers stay tuned through the commercials into the next segment. Each of the two anchors reads part of the tease, and the second part is covered by video.
Throughout the process of choosing stories and assigning them to appropriate blocks, the producer will note the expected run time of each story (see Exhibit 11.14). Either the producer or the assignment editor will inform reporters how much time they are expected to fill. As the show begins to take shape, the producer may realize that there is too much news and ask a reporter to forgo a news package and prepare a reader instead for a story that is not hard news. Or, the producer might realize that there are not enough strong stories to fill the time and ask a reporter to convert a planned VO into a package. Having too much news is sometimes called "running heavy," while having too little news is "running light."
The producer must be aware of the total time available for news in the newscast, or the news hole. The news hole can vary depending on how many commercial spots have been sold and whether the show has been shortened because of special events. The producer will consider the time it takes to get in and out of the newscast to commercial breaks and in and out of packages or live shots, which is usually a few seconds. Usually, the technical switches will take away about 30 seconds from the show, so the producer adjusts for this factor. The producer will also know how fast the anchor tends to read—the read rate. Some anchors generally read more rapidly than others, so the producer must take the read rate into account.
Before the newscast begins, the producer will know exactly which stories will run, exactly how much time will be allotted for weather and sports, and exactly how much time is set aside for teases, intros and breaks. Backtiming, or subtracting each story's time from the end time of the newscast, will tell the producer when each story should begin. In a simple example, if the newscast ends at 6:29:30 (that is, the newscast begins at 6 o'clock and is 29 minutes and 30 seconds long) and the anchors need 20 seconds to close out the show, the producer knows that the close must begin at precisely 6:29:10. In another example, backtiming might indicate that the B block should begin at 6:06:30. If the first segment is running long and the B block won't begin until 6:06:55, the producer will need to cut 25 seconds from somewhere, to get the program back on schedule. (See Backtiming the News)
Modern producing software makes timing the show much easier than it used to be. With a keystroke, the producer can get information on how much over or under schedule the show is running. It's much easier to hit the timing key on the computer and know that the show is over time or under time by 25 seconds than to see that the B block began at 6:06:55 instead of 6:06:30 and calculate the timing from that information.