Getting the local or school angle on a national story is an essential broadcast journalism task.
Although our information here is based on radio broadcast journalism, it applies equally well to video news gathering strategies.
The Local or School Angle on Community, State or National News
People in your town don't much care about the weather in Eastern Europe. Your town is where they live. And students in your school do not care about new rules at that high school across town. Students at your school want to know about changes that affect them. Media news departments everywhere-newspapers, television and cable, the Internet and radio-all look for what is commonly called the local angle. Their readers, viewers and listeners want to know how decisions made and events that happen elsewhere will affect them here at home. Here at home for you is your school, hence the school angle.
Today we have unprecedented access to news and information about events in our communities and around the world. The Internet offers us local and regional daily newspapers, the latest wire service reports, magazine articles on every conceivable topic and informative websites that exist only online. We can search the Internet by topic and find the latest information on any subject of interest to your fellow students, teachers and staff and members of our community.
We can find this information, decide that it should interest our listeners and simply rewrite it for broadcast as we practiced in our last lesson. But as reporters we have a responsibility to do more. We can call a credible source here at school or elsewhere and ask that source to "talk about" that news item as it relates to you here at your school and in your community.
What sorts of topics would make obvious school angles? Some typical of those we find would be stories with teen angles, education angles or those about your community. But they don't have to be that obvious. We can find school connections in stories that appear unrelated at first glance. Conversely, stories about your school, your fellow students, the teachers and staff or the community are not school angle stories. A school angle story has relevance for your school. Your job is to discover that connection and share it with your listeners.
And whom do you talk to? Some typical sources at school might be administrators, sponsors, counselors, social service staff, nurses, coaches, students in leadership roles (student government, club officers, etc.), teachers and secretaries. Your least reliable sources would be students selected randomly. We call that sort of interview vox populi, vox pop or man-on-the-street. All they can give you is their uninformed
opinion. Avoid wasting time collecting these.
We can ask anyone almost anywhere what these stories mean to us. Sometimes we talk to the story's original source or some other source off campus.
An off-campus source might actually be an easier assignment than one on-campus. Here's why. We call teachers, counselors and administrators all the time. They're very busy people. Teachers are usually teaching. Counselors often have students in their offices. Administrators are ... well, doing whatever it is administrators do. Here a call from a high school radio station news reporter is not much of a novelty. So most of our reporters can tell you getting hold of a credible source here on campus can be difficult.
Off-campus sources, particularly those whose job it is to deal with district, city, state or even national aspects of the issue at hand, may put media calls on a very high priority. And, believe me, they don't get calls from high school TV or radio news reporters every day! Some are just delighted to give our listeners an earful. As detailed in an earlier chapter, we had a student reporter email the original source on a national story, a man in South Carolina. The student emailed our phone number and the correct time our Advanced class meets. The next day that student got a call from South Carolina!
The point is this: don't be afraid to call or contact a long shot. You might get a pleasant surprise. Of course, you don't have to call the original source on a national or state story. You might just call someone in the school district's central offices. The district's communications (public relations/media) offices handle media inquiries for most departments. You might call them, or you could take advantage of your insider status and call the department directly. I sure would.
Any local business or government agency is fair game for a phoner. If the story is state or local, you can very easily call the local office of the state agency or the local source of the story. Get the school angle straight from the horse's mouth. Impress your friends.
Teaching suggestion: Telephone interviews broadcast on television are not as common today as they once were. You're more likely to see fuzzy Skype images. But even national broadcast news organizations still have the occasional phone/slide voicer. It's an established tool, so you can teach it to your video production students and use it on the air-frequently, if you like. Remember: get the information to the viewer by whatever convenient method is at hand.
Doug Potter is a retired high school teacher. During his 30-year teaching career, he taught drama, English, writing, broadcast journalism and radio and video production. His proudest achievement is Pueblo Magnet High School's KWXL-LP, one of only two FCC-licensed low power FM radio stations in Tucson, Arizona.
Doug earned his bachelor's degree in radio/TV at Arizona State University and his masters in drama at the University of Arizona. He's been shooting and editing film and video since 1968. Drawing on years of research and teaching experience, Doug developed the Writing in Stereo program and the MicWriter (“mike writer”) broadcast news writing model for use in his radio broadcast journalism classes.