Accurate AND understandable

On most stories, TV reporters are like translators. They talk to experts who are well-versed in the subject being discussed (that's one language) but have to present the information to viewers who may have no idea what's going on (that's another language). Knowing what the audience does know, and more importantly, what the audience doesn't know, is crucial to telling a good story.

 A firearm receiver.

A firearm receiver.

Today I covered nearly a dozen proposals coming out of the California Legislature that would make gun control regulations more strict. One bill in particular had to do with requiring background checks on people who bought gun parts. The idea is that some bad guys can bypass the scrutiny of law enforcement that comes with buying a gun by instead buying the pieces that make up a gun. One of those pieces is called the receiver. It's where the trigger, hammer and safety lock go.

The firearms manufacturing engineer I spoke with knew this stuff forwards and backwards, using the precise and proper terminology for each gun part. I didn't understand a lot of what he was saying, and I knew a lot of my audience wouldn't either. So I said as much. There's no shame in saying what you don't know. In fact, it's a good idea to let the expert know the story needs to be understood by lay people, not the expert's colleagues. Negotiate with the experts you include in your stories. Tell them, "I know this is the way you say it, but can we simplify and say it like this?" The goal here is to be both accurate and understandable.

 The drive from the newsroom in San Francisco to the interview in Morgan Hill.

The drive from the newsroom in San Francisco to the interview in Morgan Hill.

Getting started on the story was a challenge. My first task was to review the legislature hearings being fed into the San Francisco newsroom from Sacramento. Once I'd waded through a couple of hours of bill discussion, I then had to figure out a story focus and which local person I'd interview. The firearms manufacturer who came through for me was in Morgan Hill, south of the newsroom - way south.

So once again, I was faced with a decision reporters have to make all the time. Was it worth it to drive that far to get the story? Could I still make deadline?  Would a better strategy be to stay in the newsroom making calls to see if I could get someone closer. For me, the answer is usually, "Get on the road now. Go with the sure interview, no matter how far away it is, instead of waiting and risking no interview at all."

The video upload process: from laptop in Morgan Hill to server in Los Angeles to server in the KPIX newsroom in San Francisco. A 1:30 story takes about five minutes.

Technology is what makes all that driving feasible for an MMJ. There's no way I could have made the return trip to the newsroom in time for deadline. So instead, I just sent the story back over the internet. It's not all that new a technology any more, but it's still pretty cool to see how it changes the workflow for a TV station. No longer do newsroom managers have to worry about who can drive the live truck to the scene in time. Now the question is, "Do you have a strong enough signal?" I did and so the story made it back in plenty of time. Still, watching the internet transfer process can be a little disconcerting. No sigh of relief until the counter gets to 100%.

Takeaways:

  1. Never forget for whom you work - the audience. Negotiate with the experts on the best way to tell the story so it's correct and the viewers understand.
  2. An distant interview in hand is worth two possible interviews close by.
  3. Technology is awesome, when it works. It's revolutionized and liberated how newsrooms operate by changing the logistics paradigm. In many cases, "how far" is now irrelevant.