Essential TV story elements

Some stories are just made for TV. They scream, "Please tell me." Those stories usually have all three basic elements I tell my students to look for:

  • So what (what difference does it make)
  • Real people (the people living the story)
  • Show me don't tell me (video)

Today's story had all of those, in spades. Every year, the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County puts on a Junior Rodeo in Woodside so young equestrian aficionados can show off their horse riding skills. For the past 40 years, the event has included a Pig Scramble, where about 15 piglets or pigs are let out in the rodeo ring and about 50 children try to catch them. Grab a pig, win a trophy. But, this year, for the second year in a row, a group of animal activists protested the event, calling it porcine persecution. So look at the elements we've got for a TV story - they're pretty hard to beat:

  • So what (what difference does it make): a decades-old event is being threatened by protesters. This is the controversy - two opposing views - that provides the newsworthiness.
  • Real people (the people living the story): the people hosting the event and the people protesting.
  • Show me don't tell me (video): pig scramble!

"If you didn't get it, you didn't get it." Even a minor adjustment is worth it to make sure the shot looks as good as possible.

"If you didn't get it, you didn't get it" is another truism I relay to my students. Sure, it sounds obvious, but in TV reporting, it means you have to get the right video and audio in the field. A missed shot or crackly audio is not going to improve once you return to the newsroom to edit. Even the most experienced MMJ might have to adjust the camera or microphone mid-interview in order to get it right. Sometimes it's a huge pain to get it right, like when you realize five minutes into the interview you aren't recording. Ouch! "Can we start over again?" Other times, it's a minor adjustment, like the example in the video above. Regardless, if you don't get it right in the field, it's not going to suddenly get better in the newsroom. .

Once again, the smartphone came to the rescue by getting me a shot I couldn't have recorded otherwise. As mentioned in other blog posts, a smartphone is quickly adaptable to the moment. In this case, it provided the standup with action in the background I simply couldn't get with the Sony camera, because of time and because the fence was too high to shoot over. Shoot the standup right now, or miss it. Here's the entire raw video. Notice what the smartphone allows me to do:

  1. See what's behind me in selfie mode
  2. Adjust the iris on the fly
  3. Shoot over the fence
  4. Get as much sun on my face as possible

One of the more common words you'll hear as an MMJ is "no." No, you can't park here. No, you can't shoot here. No, no one's available to talk to you. No, no, no. Young reporters must become inured to this. It's hard, but remember, it's not personal. The majority of people simply don't understand what we do. So, most of the time, it's best to not take the first "no" as the final answer, especially if you're not talking to the person who's got the authority to make the final decision. When I arrived at the Junior Rodeo today, the first person I ran in to was obviously upset anyone would criticize his group's event. When he told me "no media allowed," I asked, "who should I say is preventing media coverage of this event." (Don't take the first "no" as the final answer.) Eventually, I made my way up to the top guy in the organization and interviewed him for the story. 


  1. Know what makes for a good TV story: compelling video, controversy, people willing to stand their ground.
  2. No matter how embarrassing it is or how long it takes, always make sure you get the video and audio you need for your story. "If you didn't get it, you didn't get it."
  3. Your smartphone is your friend when there's just no time for the big camera.
  4. Don't give up when the first person tells you "no."