Live reporting in the field should be defined by Murphy’s Law: What can go wrong will go wrong. I cannot count how many times I have been on an active scene and right before a live hit, everything I was going to reference in a walk-and-talk quickly goes away. All the firetrucks and police pull away and the crime scene tape is taken down. Now your scene is a nonchalant neighborhood where nothing looks afoot.
Or, cue the noisy train or carload of people driving by screaming that they want to be on TV. And, let’s not forget Mother Nature. All of a sudden your perfect hair is going any way but the right way, and with the microphone in one hand, you are batting the hair out of your face on live television.
Despite all the variables, there are still ways to keep your cool when going live.
HAVE A PLAN B
Sure, that walk-and-talk showing off where forensic teams are collecting evidence is great. Everyone wants to see a scene unfold on live TV. You plan to show viewers, but just before your 5 p.m. live shot, the crews close up shop and leave. It is a ghost town.
Because this scenario can happen so often — sometimes once a week — always have Plan B. Maybe instead of a walk-and-talk, you can now reference just a certain spot: “Crime scene investigators focused a lot of their attention here in the yard.” Or, simply tell viewers, “Just minutes ago I looked on as forensic crews gathered evidence. They were here for seven hours focusing on this area.”
FREE YOUR HANDS
I have my bullet points in hand on my smartphone and the other hand holding the microphone. Not a good combination when your boss tells you to be demonstrative or perhaps show a wanted poster for a suspect. Make it easy on yourself: Use a lavalier mic attached to your clothing.
It will free up at least one hand and lessen distractions. Enough said.
DON’T MEMORIZE YOUR SCRIPT
Reporters who commit to memorizing a script often stumble. Try not to memorize what you are going to say; this will help you come off as more natural and make you more adaptable to your scene. All you need are two or three bullet points in your mind of what you want to convey.
KEEP IT CONCISE
A live shot should rarely, if ever, be more than 10 seconds. Viewers lose interest seeing a talking head, and the more you go on, the more it comes off as rambling. You want to convey to the viewer where you are, why you are there and what is going on right now. For example, “Right now, fire crews are still working to put out the flames here at this home on Elm Street.
They’ve been battling the blaze for two hours.” Or, “The suspect is here at the jail tonight. I spoke to him right after his arrest; here is what he had to say.”
AVOID THE BLACK HOLE
It is inevitable you will be sent on a live shot where it is you in front of a dark building, jail, etc. In TV we call this the black hole. You could be live in an alley and I wouldn’t know you were at city hall. Now what?
Broadcast lighting can only do so much at night. First, come to work wearing something that is not black or gray. You will immediately stand out. In a situation like this, also try to aim for a prop. Is there a search for a suspect? Hold up the flier police are handing out.
Sometimes the prop might not be obvious, like using the darkness to your advantage. You can say, “It was this time of night when the woman was grabbed off the street. You can see, the area is not well lit. You can barely see 10 feet in front of you.”
Jacqueline A. Ingles is a multi-platform reporter for WFTS in Tampa, Fla. She writes, shoots and edits her work. She previously worked for KXAN, WCTV and MTV News. A native of Chicago, she received a master’s in broadcast journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and graduated summa cum laude from Loyola University-Chicago.