Everything these days seems to be moving at a faster pace than ever before. Drivers run a credit card through a reader on the gasoline pump so they can get in and out of the station faster.
Airline passengers can print their own boarding passes at home, thus avoiding the lines at the airport. Some stores stay open 24 hours a day so customers can get what they want now. No one wants to wait for anything.
And television news increasingly turns to the live shot both as a way to bring the viewers the very latest and just for the sake of being live! News directors are so enamored with live shots that the technique is deployed more and more to give viewers the illusion things are happening now!
Creating the live shot
The challenge for the reporter in a live shot is to sound and look smart, often with little information. Many times, a reporter will screech to a stop at the scene of a fire, riot or other breaking news event and be expected to deliver a live shot as soon as the photographer fires up the camera and cranks up the antenna. With little time to report and none to write, the reporter must learn to compose on the fly, working from a few notes scribbled onto a note pad.
This requires superb thinking and writing skills. Rarely will a reporter have time to write something out. What the reporter must do is learn to write sentences in his or her head and then deliver them while making at most a few glances at hand-held notes.
Unfortunately, many reporters open their live shots by either repeating what the anchor has said in introducing them, or they tell the viewers what they can plainly see for themselves. These soliloquies often begin" As you can see behind me .... "
Even when severely pressed for time, good reporters strive to bring something new to their report, something not obvious to the viewer.
Let's say you roll up to the scene of a fire. With one sweep, the camera can tell viewers about the size of the building, how many fire trucks are working, and if injured people are being treated. Try to find out something that will make the live shot memorable. Is it a historic building? Have arson investigators been summoned? What is inside that might have ignited the blaze?
Press yourself to work quickly, drill yourself to simplify, learn to write "in your head" from your notes and you will be able to execute a good live report.
Tips for crafting a professional live shot
Stand slightly angled to the camera. This invites the viewer to look beyond you and will make your gestures and references to what's going on seem more natural. Facing the camera straight on looks confrontational.
Focus intently on what you are doing and saying. Enunciate your words precisely. Tune everything else out - noisy equipment, people at the scene yelling or waving.
Get right to the point - tell what's new first. This is counter to what most television reporters do - they set the scene first, often repeating what the anchor has said. But putting the news first makes the live shot more compelling and succinct.
Above all, explain. Tell the viewers why and how. Avoid lapsing into truisms. Make your live shot substantive and memorable by telling viewers something they don't already know or that isn't clearly obvious. Give some background; guide the viewers to what will happen next.
Refer to your notes by glancing down at them. Viewers expect to see a notebook. After all, you are a reporter. Outline very briefly your main points and the beginning, middle and end of what you are going to say. Avoid reading your notes; instead, make a very brief outline and use your thumb as a place mark.
If the anchor already has said it, we don't need to repeat it or to confirm it. ("That's right, Chris.")
Remember to pace yourself; don't race in an attempt to attach urgency to your report. Listen intently to people you are interviewing.
Make your movements purposeful. Many reporters have been told that movement, any movement, gives their stand-ups a dynamism missing from a stand-up in one place. So they employ what's called the "walk to nowhere," a stroll from point A to point B with no purpose other than to be moving. Think of your stand-up as your moment to explain, to demonstrate, to teach.
Practice, even if you only have a few minutes.
The clip-on mike is less intrusive and allows you to be more natural than the hand-held stick mike with the pie-plate station flags. And no need to shout - your mike will pick up your voice fine and will catch much less background noise than your ear can hear.
Conclude by saying your location, your name and your station in the format your station prescribes. "In Placerita Canyon, I'm Jimmy Joe Meeker, KTV News." Resist the temptation to add "now back to you in the studio." Where else would we go? To a cartoon? Besides, the "back to you" phrasing abruptly shifts our communication with the viewers to a private conversation with our colleagues.
Hold your gaze steady on the camera. Keep that gaze for a few seconds after you think the live shot is finished. The anchor may come back with a question, and even if not, if you look away quickly, it distracts the viewers, who naturally want to know what stole your attention so quickly.
Refrain from scratching any part of your body.
Live shot conflicts
Going live means we must confront challenges of balance, fairness, and accuracy.
Going live does give the viewers an immediacy that is lost in a taped package. But going live also has many potential problems for the reporter. For one, we have far less control over what is broadcast than we do when we tape something. If someone we are interviewing live curses, for example, that's the way it goes out over the air. Other potential problems:
Claims made on live television cannot be verified.
Bystanders waving or shouting can distract the viewers.
Many politicians, business leaders and sports figures know how the media works and are very skilled at staging events.
How do we fairly represent the other side if they are not standing right next to us? It's up to us to provide that balance and fairness.