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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

To Lead or Not to Lead...

Choosing the lead story of the newscast is an important decision that you have to make every week as the producer. In my opinion, it's also one of the most challenging decisions we make throughout the day. The lead story is the very first thing your viewer is going to see in your newscast. You have a short period of time to capture the audience's attention before they decide to change the channel, so you better make sure your lead story is a good one! 

When the morning meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. there's a good chance you won't know what your lead story is just yet. After all, you have the whole day ahead of you and you never know what breaking news there could be. While it's never too early to start thinking of ideas for your lead, you have to remember to be flexible. No matter how close it is to 6 o'clock, don't forget that your rundown is never totally set in stone.

Throughout the day, all of the producers should be communicating about the lead story. This is especially important before we meet with Stacy for our afternoon rundown meeting. Some questions that you need to consider when choosing the lead are the following: Which story will our viewers care about most? Which will instantly capture the audience's attention? Which is the most important story of the day? All of the producers might not always agree on the lead story, and that's okay, but you must be able to justify why you think your choice should be at the top of the show. 

This Monday, we experienced what could be a producer's worst nightmare when our lead didn't make it on time. Luckily, Jackie was prepared and had already chosen an alternate lead story. However, changing the lead story doesn't just mean switching the rundown order. It also means writing an alternate welcome, which can be tough to do when you're under pressure and only have five minutes until the show airs. The situation on Monday made me realize how important it is to always have a backup plan. It's bad enough if you have a weak lead story, but it's even worse if your lead falls through altogether. 

Knowing your audience is really key when choosing a lead. At ATVN, we're primarily targeting USC students/faculty and the surrounding community, so we have to think about which issues and stories are most important to them. One of the hardest things to do is to separate your personal story preferences from what is best for your newscast. Generally, I tend to be much more interested in national or even international stories as opposed to the local ones. However, ATVN is a local newscast, so I always have to remind myself that the people who are watching our show are interested in seeing what is happening in USC and the greater LA area. 

Luckily, being a 22 year old student at USC myself, I think I have a pretty good idea of what types of stories are most important to a large portion of our audience. However, once I graduate and get a job in the real world (yikes!) it's likely that my audience will be more diverse, especially in terms of age. The more diverse your audience, the more important it is to consider which types of stories will appeal to different types of people. Your viewers are always the most important, because without them you don't have a show!

Even though we had a few hiccups this week, the show came together in the end without any big disasters. Hopefully now that Jackie and I have each had the chance to work as the lead producer and as the video/graphics teammate, we'll be even more prepared when next Monday rolls around! 

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