TV news has a lot of lingo: pkg, vosot, breaker, flash cam, presser. That last one is short for press conference, a staple of news coverage. Smart public relations folks will know to call a press conference because when all the media shows up at once, they only have to tell the story one time. That's good for the organization holding the presser, but is it good for journalists? It can be if you make the extra effort.
Today's story was a press conference held by the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks. It wanted to publicize $6.5 million from state taxpayers coming to the city to spruce up three landmarks. It was the typical dog and pony show, with a bunch of politicians thanking each other about what a great job they all did to make this happen. That's not news. The news is found in the three elements I tell students to look for:
- So what (what difference does it make): $6.5 million is a ton of money. How, specifically, will it improve the parks?
- Real people (someone who's living the story): someone who uses the parks and wants to see them improved.
- Show me don't tell me (video): whatever's wrong with the parks now that will be fixed.
The easy way to do the story would be to show up at the press conference and cover what the politicians said. The better service to the viewers is go to each of the places that are scheduled for improvement and talk to the people there about what they think of the plans. That's always the better course. It's tempting to only cover the presser, but that limits the information to what the organizers want to put out. Instead, the diligent reporter not only holds the authorities accountable at the presser, but also heads out into the community to see what real people think of the issue.
So I called the public relations person for the Department of Recreation and Parks and nailed down the locations for each of the improvement projects and drove to each one. Once I got to each place, it was easy finding people to talk about what was needed and what was already working right. As you might expect, no one was upset at the idea of improving the parks they were using, but it still provided better insight than just attending the press conference.
Beginning reporters might not be familiar with a device that's common at press conferences called a mult box. That's another bit of TV lingo that stands for multiple outlet box. It's a way for the press conference organizers to make it easier for all the broadcast news people to get audio. The way it works is the speaker's microphone is plugged in to one end and the MMJs plug in their audio recording cables to the other end - one audio in, multiple audio outs. Without a mult box, each news team would have to get audio individually. This way everyone gets it clearly and at the same time.
I began my day shooting a different story, an HFR (another bit of TV lingo that stands for Hold for Release, which means, shoot it today and air it later). I had to come in early, but what a pleasure to get to shoot video at Coast Guard Island in Alameda. This is something even the most experienced TV news people will tell you never gets old: access to places regular people can't go. In this case, I got clearance to go onto the base and then take a tour aboard one of the Coast Guard cutters.
Logistics are a huge part of the MMJ's life, because if you plan right, you make deadline; plan wrong and your day is infinitely more difficult. Today began in the East Bay but finished in San Francisco with a bunch of stops in between. This map shows the trajectory. I used Google Maps to plan it all out, making sure I went in the proper order to each location to make the trip as short as possible. Yet another example of how your smart phone is your friend - use it to save time traveling.
- Good reporters don't end with the press conference; they know that's only the beginning. Our job is to tell the viewers what else is going on, not just what the event organizers want us to hear.
- The mult box is your friend.
- Plan out your day geographically. It'll save you time, which you always need right before deadline.