Kitchen sinks don’t make for good TV

Performing in front of thousands of people and talking to them live isn’t easy. It takes a lot of courage and confidence. One way you can build that is to be prepared - really, really prepared. Gathering the information you need to know the story forwards and backwards means you’re going to know a lot more than you can tell in 90 seconds. Still, it’s not wasted. It’s what gives you the confidence to inform so many people at once.

Today’s story was about the Alameda County Grand Jury’s report on the public transit train system known as BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit. The report detailed tons of problems with the system, including homeless people riding the trains all day, people getting into fights and doing drugs on the trains, scofflaws jumping over gates and not paying their fares and, most alarming of all, a huge increase in the number of robberies and assaults with victims being injured on the trains. Customer surveys show BART has lost the confidence of the public and ridership is down.

This story easily fulfills the three key elements I tell my students to look for in a story:

  • So what (what difference does it make): If people are abandoning one of the main forms of public transit - that’s a huge deal. Why spend all that tax money on something people don’t use?

  • Real people (the people living the story): BART riders.

  • Show me, don’t tell me (video): trains and people on the trains.

The first step, before talking to anyone, was to understand the story. If you click on the report above, you’ll see it’s 148 pages. No way I had time to read it all, but it was still my job to understand the important parts. This is a common challenge for TV reporters - how do we condense a HUGE report like this one into a 90-second story? One way is to get a really sharp focus. This means you’re going to have to leave out some stuff. But that’s OK, because a story told clearly, that focuses on one or two elements, always trumps a vague, meandering story that covers a bunch of stuff and none of it well. I chose to focus on the crime.

My first interview was with the president of the BART Board of Directors. When I contacted him, he told me he had interviews already set up with competing stations and when would I like to meet. Here’s what you always, always want to say - “now.” Trying to plan for later opens you up to unforeseen events that can ruin your day. Push to get what you can get for sure; nail it down. The competing stations were just down the street from KPIX, so I went there, and set up my camera outside of their offices. Hey, it’s a free country, right? The point is, whether it’s to get the jump on the competition or to have something shot early in the day, now is always better than later. You’re in control once you’ve got the interview on tape.

Take a close look. This is one reporter, using both hands, to hold three mics. Nice guy to help.

Take a close look. This is one reporter, using both hands, to hold three mics. Nice guy to help.

Despite the reputation broadcast journalists have as cutthroat competitors, I’ve always found my professional colleagues to be pretty collegial in the field. No one’s going to share a scoop (they worked to hard for it), but they might help you out by watching your stuff while you go to the bathroom or holding your microphone. That happened today. Fellow reporters who I hadn’t seen in 50 weeks offered to hold my mic.


  1. Having a sharp focus is the only way to tell a coherent, appealing 90-second TV news story. Even if that means sacrificing some elements of the story. Resist the temptation to throw everything in there. Kitchen sinks don’t make for good TV.

  2. Now is always better than later when it comes to shooting interviews. Don’t wait. Something could go wrong.

  3. Play nice. You help people now, they’ll help you later.