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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Putting Your Best, Most Popular Foot Forward


"So, what's your lead?" It's the question that could bring me to tears one day and leave me jumping for joy the next. Picking the lead story for your newscast is one of those pesky unpredictable tasks you face in the newsroom as a producer. Some days, the answer might be obvious. Some days, the answer might be a little unclear. It all depends on what news you have for the day and who you have to get it all put together! 

Today was a day when we had a lot of good, chunky news stories. We had reporters out and about getting video and interviews on the day's most important events. Despite the range of stories to pick from, one really popped out to be our lead. It was the continuation of Seal Beach massacre story that broke Wednesday. We had a reporter head to the small OC town immediately in the morning. No need for a morning meeting rundown, our reporter just headed straight to the scene.

It was clear that the Seal Beach story was our lead. It had enormous emotional pull and affected an entire community that had never experienced anything like what they saw in a few short hours. When picking a lead story, you need to pick something that is going to be of interest to a large group of people. People could be interested due to personal investments in or relationships with the story topic. People could be interested because they are going to be affected by it. People could be interested because it's just down right shocking. This story had all of these elements.

Now, once you have your lead picked, don't think you are in the clear yet! PLENTY of unforeseen obstacles might come your way before showtime. What happens if breaking news hits? Half of campus is on fire? President Obama announces his resignation? Well, looks like you might have yourself a new lead, huh?

Tonight we experienced a different kind of obstacle. Tonight we experienced...TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. My least-favorite type of obstacle, might I add. We were five minutes to showtime, and we were just finishing up our last check on the lead story. We are two minutes to showtime and we are starting to send the video over. ONE MINUTE to showtime and we get our first error message for the video transfer! Fastforward (what seemed like twenty minutes of agony) three minutes later after trying to send the video over and over, we were finally able to send the video... but by that time, we had already floated the story and moved to a completely new lead to get the show started. This is an obstacle I can't ever learn to cope with.

So, try to have a back-up story ready in case the lead falls through. It's also nice to have a back-up, back-up JUST IN CASE more unforeseen obstacles head your way! It's a funny world we have all chosen to fall into, isn't it? But life wouldn't be NEARLY as interesting if we always got what we wanted!

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