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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Three Newbies, Two Funerals and One Crazy Monkey


Stacy often says, "An experienced producer can look at an iNews rundown and visualize the newscast."

It doesn't take quite as much experience to glance at our white board and know that what makes our evening show will look nothing like the stories we mapped out at 8 a.m.

Team Thursday kicked off our morning meeting yesterday with one confirmed reporter package in progress - and a CNS budget crammed with far too many interesting, potentially newsworthy events for us to cover.

We simply didn't have enough journalists - or a generous enough time slot on TrojanVision - to report every story we felt was relevant to our viewers. However, this gave us the flexibility to let stories we selected develop on their own, based on turnout at events, the variety of interviews we were able to book and the quality of footage our multimedia journalists brought back. Nothing was really a "make-or-break" story or a source of excessive anxiety.

Nothing, that is, aside from the two memorial services we were building our show around. Both were top national news stories based in Southern California that had direct ties to the USC community. Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who was often referred to as a "hero" or "legend" by fans, was a USC graduate himself; and San Bernardino sheriff's Detective Jeremiah MacKay's life was taken by the same man suspected of shooting and killing one of our own, former USC security guard Keith Lawrence.

Our Executive Producer began coordinating our coverage of Buss and MacKay's Thursday funerals early in the week, emailing news updates and media access instructions to my two fellow producers and myself. By Wednesday night, we had a pretty good idea of how we wanted to organize these two stories and who we wanted to assign them to; and by the time our morning meeting started on Thursday, we had a reporter on her way to San Bernardino for MacKay's memorial and a multimedia journalist's name confirmed on the press list for Buss's memorial.

But aside from these two "chunky" stories? We left plenty of room for change, movement, replacement interviews and alternative angles all the way until 6:30 p.m. This was tough for me, as the web and graphics producer, because I had to make sure to only tease stories that I knew for sure would make the show - nothing screams "amateur" like Tweeting "Tune in to @ATVN at 6 to hear what students think about Buss's death!" and then having no student reaction in the newscast. I was also coached by our art director, Faith Miller, to order graphics that were broad enough to accomodate last-minute changes in the script, but specific enough that they offered more than the cutline. Lastly, I kept an eye on the web stories that relied heavily on elements from corresponding newscast stories, in case the latter was floated - although most stories function as stand-alone pieces, some web articles that are meant to accompany a reporter package cannot be completed without photos, video footage, press releases or interviews collected by the reporter.

Fortunately, Irene and Tiffany both delievered, and the web team was able to publish the first edition of our "50 Parks Initiative" story before Irene even returned to the newsroom because she texted me photos of key press releases. Unfortunately, several of our less experienced multimedia journalists did not work as well under deadline pressure, and a handful of stories that I thought were significant news events wound up floated or getting pared down to copy stories. I started my (very, very long) Thursday convinced we'd have in-depth Prop 8 coverage in our newscast, as well as a gas prices VSV featuring at least three people. Neither materialized by 5 p.m.

What didn't disappoint me was our final kicker: a monkey-racing-on-dogs story the production team fell in love with at 8 a.m. - and still loved at 6:30 p.m.

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