So why won’t you cover MY story?

Used to hear versions of this every day when I was still working the field. How come you’re covering THAT story? Why don’t you do some GOOD news? I called your station and they won’t cover (insert grand opening of brother’s store, daughter’s ballet recital, whatever…here).

So I’m about to give away some dirty little secrets and (if you listen carefully) some pretty solid tips on how to get a bit of broadcast news coverage. All of the following is pretty much verbatim in answer to a request from a member of my husband’s church. She had a friend who was opening a fitness center. From any angle (except a few of mine) a non-news story. One word. Boring. But here’s what I suggested.

If I knew how to make the media do anything, I would. But there are ways to get to the top of the pile for consideration. Realize that every day every media outlet has hundreds if not thousands of requests to cover events. The trick is to make it topical – current and of interest to a wider audience. Make the media WANT to come.

My first thought was…oh no (remember, I’m a slug) not another fitness center. THEN I saw it was located right next to Donut King and got a chuckle out of that. Also…seeing that one of the classes has already been featured on ABC (nationally or locally????) is a plus. There is interest in anything new and unusual.

So…you need to plan your strategy, remembering even then that it is hit or miss. And even if you do get a call saying they may come to do the story…a breaking news story will cancel any plans.

Do NOT push this as a grand opening. The interest is more in what is new and different. I don’t know the hours for your grand opening or if they would allow media in before (a day or two)…but you might consider aiming at the morning shows. There isn’t a lot of news happening at 5am most days, so if you offer a live crew an opportunity to send the reporter in to sweat it out and learn how to use the new gear or learn a new movement (reporter participation is good), then you may get a crew down. If you contact the Record you should have the same pitch…although they are more likely to cover a class after the fact than a grand opening. The business of news media is to provide information and to some extent entertainment…which is why I recommend selling the story in some way other than “a store is opening up.”

Send your first release out about two weeks before the event (email or snail mail). Follow up a few days later with a short phone call – “Hi, just checking to see if you got the information on the fitness center and their new (equipment) and (whatever the class is). If you’re interested in doing an early live shot, we’d be glad to have your crew test out the (class and/or equpment). Keep it short…and the best times to call are 5:30am-8:30am, then 9:30 to 11am, then 1pm to 4pm. Why? If you call during or near the time a show begins (with the exception of daybreak news) they won’t really be listening to you. If they are abrupt it may mean they are dealing with a lot of pressure due to breaking news or changes in the schedule. Yeah…lotsa stress in a broadcast newsroom.

Whatever you send out – KEEP IT SIMPLE. The “5 Ws.” Who, What, When, Where, Why. Plus a SHORT graph with your pitch.

All it took was a bit of planning…and the daybreak “happy talk” news show in the area bit – hook and line – and her friend’s store was a star for a brief moment in the market.

Lesson to remember: news departments don’t have to come to your event. Their job is to provide a service to a wider community…in the case of TV stations is is generally regional. Their job is to provide news and information that are meaningful to the lives of their audience. Your little store opening or dancing daughter only has meaning to a small group of people. In order to get your story to the top of the food chain you have to provide an angle that will make it more palatable to the assignment editor and of interest to a larger audience. Good luck with that.

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Story Idea 12.26.2010

…and the last one on a regular basis. In one week I’m back behind the teacher’s desk, whipping my minions into shape. This time as a long-term sub for an about-to-be-mom teacher. In photography – the art of freezing time.

So what’s in store for this week?

How bout something near and dear to home? Jobs.

I have students who graduated this past June who are still looking for a job. Heck, I have a few who graduated in 2009 in the same boat. And it’s not for not trying and it’s not for lack of the qualities that employers are looking for.

It’s for lack of jobs.

A universal problem.

Story idea: what is the average wait time for teens (or pick any age group) in your area to get a job?

Track a few teens. Keep an eye on them as they write their resumes (required in English 9 in my area) and send them out. Listen in as they ask teachers to be their references – and find out why said teachers agree. (I tell my students I will act as a reference for ALL of them…but I will tell the truth. It is up to THEM to decide if they want to use me as a reference.)

Make a list of places your trackable teens send their applications. Tag along for job interviews. Talk with (potential) employers about what they are looking for in an employee and why your teens do or don’t make the grade. You may be surprised to learn the teen is wonderfully qualified…but there are just too many choices out there for employers.

Oh…don’t forget up front to get permission from your subjects and their parents (if under 18).

Chow.

Story idea 12.19.10

Just read this Washington Post story, thanks to a link from KipCamp, part of the Kiplinger Programs.

Now there’s an interesting story idea.
Sitting is bad…

A study earlier this year in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that among 123,000 adults followed over 14 years, those who sat more than six hours a day were at least 18 percent more likely to die than those who sat less than three hours a day.

So what are we doing with our children? Our students sit at desks for a good portion of their school day. Unless they are lucky enough to have a P.E. class, they are behind the desk for just about six hours daily in high school.

And this is all part of tradition and law. The legal aspect includes requirements by most states for a minimum number of minutes, hours, days in school. In California that magic number is 175 days (down from 180, thanks to budget woes).

Just under half a year of six hours daily seat time. And here’s tradition – way too many teachers teach the old fashioned way, with students sitting, listening, thinking (we hope), writing, on computers. Not active.

Story idea: check out your local laws and schools. What are the required times for attendance and how many teachers use that time to be the expert on the dais as opposed to allowing students to move around, be active and interact? Are there any teachers who teach using kinetics – dance, movement, whatever it takes to help students get out of their seats? Movement actually helps with learning, as this site advocates.

Is academia actually contributing to society’s obesity and health woes?

Oh – and I loved the (mostly) boys at school who took every opportunity to grab a handball and hammer the gym walls. Plus (of course) my bboyz who expend more energy in one weekly club meeting that most students do in a month.

Story Idea 12.5.10

Ahhh, retirement. I left the ranks of the living rat race at the end of May this year. No more early wake-ups, stress, always being a beat behind. Now I have all of the time in the world.

Sigh.

But…

…there are times I’m bored, overwhelmed with too much to do, procrastinating…and missing my old routine. Trying to fill the hole that was taken up by a job is challenging. Doing it in such a way that is meaningful and enjoyable, more so.

Story idea: what makes for a successful retiree?

Some folks invest so much of themselves into their jobs that when said job is history, they have nothing left to do but twiddle their thumbs. What should they do?

Some folks have outside interests that carry over into retirement and have lots to do.

What happens if one spouse retires and the other plans to (as in my husband’s case) keep chugging along for a few more years?

Retirement is, after all a goal we all aspire to. The end of our work life and beginning of a new life focusing (hopefully) on all of the things we put off. Successful retirement depends on successful planning…enough income, debt-free, worry-free. It also is dependent on good post-retirement planning. Which means, what the heck are you gonna do with all of that time.

I’ve seen cases where retirees just waste away because they no longer know who they are. I’ve also see them taken advantage of by friends and family, becoming free caregivers and babysitters to the extent they have no free time for themselves.

So how do you define a successful retiree…what makes them successful? How busy they are…or how happy they are? Figure it out…talk to some folks…and let me know. I’m still looking.

Story idea 11.28.2010

Let’s consider MOS for a mo…

Has a couple of meanings…in the olden days of film, it mean “mit out sound.” Then it evolved into “man on the street.” The current meaning. A series of uninformed random folks hunted down and nailed with a compelling stare and threatening hunk ‘o metal and demand for their opinion, but “keep short.”

I was never quite sure WHY we did these random snatches of sound. Perhaps because we were attempting to be democratic and allow our community’s voices to be heard. Maybe just to fill space. Who know? But….

Story idea: take the MOS, the man on the street to another level. Rather than skimming the surface, dive deep and get some real meaning.

If you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO poll the public, try to go for more than a snapshot and short sound bite…or if you’re the local rag, more than a thumbnail and single sentence. Give your viewers, your audience, some dignity and let them explain their opinion rather than just spewing it.

Typical MOS.
What do you think of (pick a topic).
Answer: It rocks!
or: I think they should ban it!

Duh…what have we learned here. I mean, LEARNED. Not much except one guy loves and and the other hates it. Whatever “it” is.

Now try again.
What do you think of (pick a topic).
Answer: It rocks!
Why?
Answer: Because…(reasons and personal connections).
Ditto the opposing side.

And while we’re at it…let’s get into “fair and balanced.” Uh, no – not that “fair and balanced.” The part that says we always have to balance everything…to the point where we are desperately pushing the deadline to find one – perhaps the ONLY one – person who opposes or thinks otherwise.

Think about it. An MOS is basically a poll…a survey. It is NOT a news story. Surveys are random. If you ask ten people a question and they all have the same response, it indicates something. Now to keep it “fair and balanced” you do need to make sure you are shopping for subjects in an area that representative of your community. (In other words, don’t expect an unbiased set of answers about Universal Health Care if you only go to the Republican Central Committee meeting in your county.)

And…should you be a high school student or teacher lurking around my realm…don’t just interview your buds, your friends. Get out of your comfort zone and go after the gang-bangers, the geeks, the gentry. Hit all of those segregated little clans in the lunch crowd. That way you’ll be sure to cover all of your bases.

Story Idea 11.21.2010

This week’s idea is once again geared towards the shooters on staff…still slackers and moving videots.

Everyone needs to sharpen up their skillset by setting up challenges to become a better visualizer. If all you ever do is the same ole same ole, all you will ever be is the same.

Let’s talk weather…windy weather. Not a gentle breeze. A gusty wind or stormy blast. How do you visualize THAT? (Hey, we’re back to seeing what isn’t there again!)

Story idea: how do you show weather when it is invisible?
Answer: show the effect of said weather, of course!

And this is where your excellent retentive memory kicks in. Every good camera(wo)man I know can pinpoint places where sunlight scatters, water puddles, and winds careen around corners. It’s all part of your repertoire…your bag of tricks. If the Desk So Wills, you have to know where to grab a weather scenic in less than 15. So while you’re out wandering the world on other assignments, your brain is busy clicking away and storing visuals for future stories.

In this case, think back to times you’ve been heading somewhere on a windy day and something danced past your vision and almost made you hit the brakes. A pile of leaves twisting a ribbon of orange into the sky or crawling along post-haste like crabs across the pavement. A corner where the unaware meet the hat-snatching, umbrella busting, hair ripping winds. That’s where you should head for this assignment.

The basics are: NO staging. Like a wizened hunter, take up position, set your shutter on high speed and aim. And wait. Sometimes it is better if you don’t go after the game, but let the game come to you. (It also helps if you plan your visit for when folks are heading out and around that corner or when the neighborhood hasn’t had leaf pickup yet.)

Did I hear someone ask, why set the shutter on high speed if I’m shooting video? If this is your first time playing with shutter speeds, give it a shot. Shoot once with shutter on 30fps, then ratchet it up to say a 1000th. Once you’re back in house, pop the video into your computer and play both clips back. There is a definite difference…the high speed clip is crisper. And should you decide to go with slo-mo, you will still have that crispness and not a blur as you would from same ole same ole. (For a real old fashioned visual trip, try shooting in a snow storm on high speed…WOW!)

Another great idea, brought to you by a sleepless mind…

Story Idea 11/14/10

This is for you photogs out there – both the frozen in time types and sound and motion shooters. Do a photo essay on what is not there – try to shoot a series of shots of light and shade without substance.

What brought this on? Waking up the past few weeks the sun has cast shadows on my closet door…that move from high to low, from focused to wide. Almost minimalist in style.

Ties in with a video I shot while in Portland this past spring. Shadow of train and man in window on wall. Mesmerizing. Rhythmic. Compelling.

Story idea: shoot what ISN’T there…

Here’s an example…on a recent vacation up the coast of California I visited all 21 of the missions that established Spanish dominance here. Ducking through a door in the Carmel mission I saw and snapped a photo of a shadow on the wall.

It looked strangely like an angel, with wings unfurling. Then, as I fully emerged into the hallway, I saw what cast the shadow – a workman on a ladder with a shop light behind him.

The image impressed me and even after seeing that it had a real-world basis, stayed with me.


Here’s a couple more, shot at a 50th wedding anniversary party. The obvious shadow of photographer on wall…and then the repetitive pattern of balcony railing mirrored with its own shadow.

In these days of decreasing light and lengthening shadows, see what you can find. At my former high school it was the long shadows cast by students walking at daybreak to their gym classes. Leaves dancing an intricate flurry on a wall or the ground. Maybe even a dog trying to catch a shadow.

Asides from the aesthetics of shooting shadows…there is a real world application in shadowing those who prefer to remain anonymous…adding intrigue to portrait photography…and mystery to movement.

Story Idea 10.18.10

With election day coming up, I’m working with my husband on educating our youngest on how to make an intelligent decision when she goes to the polls.

Where should she get her information before marking her ballot? Friends? Mentors? The media? All of the above?

Story idea: how DO folks arrive at their ballot choices? Is it based on careful thought or impulse? Does it tie in with their moral/spiritual beliefs? Is it based on rumors or gossip they’ve heard…on advertising? Do they vote a straight party line?

Our goal is to – first – have our daughter consider her own beliefs. What is important to her AND why is it important? Then the homework begins. Yes – listen to everyone, but listen for FACTS. Not opinions. The world abounds in opinions. It can get confusing. But if all you’re dong is listening to other folks’ opinions, they are the ones marking your ballot. Not you.

Next – in our state, California – read the election materials send out by the state/county – whoever prints it up. The arguments for both sides of the initiatives are presented as well as a neutral analysis of effects and costs.

This is not true of candidates though – so research becomes even more critical. When she reads the paper – watches TV – cruises the internet – she needs a mental list of facts she wants and needs to get those answered. What are the candidates stances on issues important to her. Does the candidate follow the wishes of his constituency or his or her own values. (Either is acceptable if you know your candidate and constituency.) What kind of person are they? (What is their track record as a politician or person – are they HONORABLE?)

Yeah – lots and lots of questions. That is IF you are gonna do it right. The little marks you put on paper can make a difference – what kind is up to how well you did your homework.

Fishing for jobs…

…is hard in these times. I have students who graduated a year ago who are still looking. My 18 year old daughter has been looking to no avail for five months.

So while waiting on the mezzanine of the Stockton Hilton today, I was nearly run over by several hundred folks who lined up to pick up applications for jobs in – Alaska. Seems an old tradition lives on. Back in the late 60’s many of my college mates did summer stints up in those northern waters, working the fishing boats and processing plants, making enough cash to tide them over through the school year.

The face of this era’s potential employees has changed – primarily Filipino, probably 70% male, young (18-30). They want jobs and are willing to travel to get them. And they’re from all over the state. Plus, a few (at least) are repeat customers who’ve already spent time up north. The others, youngsters with a sense of combined foreboding and adventure, are slowly completing their applications and turning them in.

What place does this have on a VJ blog? Well if you aren’t curious and you don’t ask questions, you will never find the story. I began grilling folks after I saw the first few dozen downstairs and continued until my curiousity was sated. If I didn’t have to watch a table full of tech gear and registration papers I’d be out wandering the crowd shooting tape (another rule of the road: never leave valuables unattended).

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