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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Producers

Murphy's Law in the Newsroom

Murphy's Law is an age old superstition, but that doesn't make it any less relevant to modern times- especially in a newsroom. Interviews fall through. Stories don't pan out the way you imagined. Workers don't show up.

So, then what?

Every news day there are a million possible things that could go wrong and, chances are, one thing or another is going to throw off those initial plans you made in the morning meeting. This is why it's absolutely essential to have a backup plan from the first moment you step foot in the newsroom at 8a.m. until the broadcast ends at 6:30 that evening. 

Don't get me wrong, Plan B is never as appealing as that initial grand plan you had in mind when you arrived in the newsroom at 8a.m., bright eyed and bushy tailed (alright, maybe more along the lines of well caffeinated and, hopefully, well rested). Nonetheless, I can assure you that the day will progress in a more relaxed manner if you can resist putting all of your eggs in one basket. Sure, you have a great story that you're dying to lead with, but you never know what could happen throughout the day to completely flip that plan upside down (breaking news, lack of B-roll, technical problems, etc.). 

The necessity of a back up plan is what makes the morning meeting so integral to a problem-free news day. Not only is this the time to figure out what's newsworthy in today's current events, but it's also the time when you need to prioritize your stories and figure out which stories are going to receive the most attention because they could potentially lead your newscast. It can be easy to fall into the trap of investing a lot into one great story, but you always need to find an angle for other stories that will fit your expectations for a lead story…just in case. 

Naturally, back up plans are especially important for those top stories in your show, but they're also necessary in every part of the newscast. Do you have one MJ coming in later that is absolutely perfect to cover that great story? Well, now they're sick (car trouble, family emergency, etc.) and you need someone else to shoot that story. Hope you had a backup plan! Not even the graphics teammate is immune to the powers of Murphy's Law. Did you just spend 30 minutes thinking up a wickedly clever full screen or OTS graphic only to have all the details change in one seemingly innocuous AP News alert beep? Oops, hope you can think up something else now that it's crunch time!

If it can go wrong, it will.

In the spirit of Girl Scout Cookie season, take a pointer from those enthusiastic elementary schoolers: always be prepared. No one in the newsroom is safe from Murphy's Law.

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