So many times, reporters will resort to the Person on the Street interview to fill out their stories. Unfortunately, so many times, the people included in the story are just random people who agreed to be interviewed. They don’t have any relationship to or knowledge about or passion for the subject - they’re just there to fill time and allow the reporter to say, “See, I found out what people think.” Yes, the reporter found out what some people think, but what those people think isn’t serving the viewers.
The person on the street you want to include is someone whose sound bite will enlighten the viewer or with which the viewer can identify. After all, that’s really the purpose - to present people who represent the viewers.
Today, my story was a preview of the Democratic presidential debate. Pretty straight forward, and my producers encouraged me to get some people on the street for the story, in addition to the political expert. So I included that in my three necessary elements for a story:
So what (what difference does it make): this debate included two candidates from the Bay Area. This fulfilled the newsworthiness criterion of proximity to the audience.
Real people (the people living the story): this could be any voter but I wanted to make sure I pushed harder than just anyone on the street. So I found people who were attending a watch party. That elevated their expertise and relevance to the story. They weren’t just people who might cast a ballot, they were participating in the process and would provide information the viewers would more likely find enlightening.
Show me, don’t tell me (video): this was a tough one because my story was a preview of the debate - when I went live, it wouldn’t have started yet. So, file video of the local candidates would have to suffice.
The advantage we have in television news over radio and newspapers/web is we can show what’s happening right now, as it’s happening. Don’t ever give up that advantage in your live shots. It doesn’t take a whole lot to notice what’s going on around you. Once you figure it out, tell the viewers, and show them, too.
Here’s the live intro I had written for my live shot before I actually got to the scene:
It’s no secret the Bay Areas tilts Democratic... and this watch party shows it. Last night... about a hundred people were turned away because the room was full. The folks here expect the same tonight.
What’s different about the debate tonight is we have Bay Area candidates participating.
A former Clinton and Obama administration appointee tells us... each one will have a different strategy for success.
But after I got on the scene and saw all the glasses of champagne, I realized this was going to be a real party. So I included that in my live intro. I also saw people lined up outside, fully one hour before the debate was even going to begin. So I included that, too. This is not rocket science. Notice, and then show and tell. When you do it, you’re maximizing the way television can take the audience to the scene in a way no other medium can.
Lots of students ask me what they should minor in - what’s the best subject to know well, after broadcast jouralism, of course. Political science and economics are usually what they’re thinking about. I think a language can be a real boost. As a reporter, sometimes you need to communicate with people who can’t speak English. When you can speak their language, you’ve got an advantage over all the other reporters on the scene who can’t. This was my first story of the day, and this man had relevant information.
You’re never to old to learn new tricks. Don’t ever think you know it all. There will always be people more experienced than you who can share their tips with you. I began the day working with my KPIX colleague Joe Vazquez. He’s been in the business for decades. I have, too. But today, I learned something from him. He was working a story and talking to passersby. One man offered to get in touch with Joe later in the day if he found out more information. Here’s how the conversation went:
Man: Do you have a card?
Joe: Hey, let me text you my contact information.
Man: OK. Here’s my cell phone number.
Do you see what Joe did there? He got the man’s phone number without having to ask. That is brilliant. As a reporter, you never want to wait for people to call you back. You want to call them when you need the the information. The only way to do that is to have a number to call. Joe showed me a great way to get those numbers.
Real people aren’t just anyone. They’re people who have an interest in the story. That’s who you want to talk to because their information will enlighten the viewers.
Live shots are your chance to show and tell. Notice what’s going on and let the viewers experience it, too.
“Hey, let me text you my contact information.”