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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Fight to Save Your Lead


My heart sunk when our ATVN reporter Drennon Kimpton called me to share that our lead story was falling apart. It is amazing how easy it is, as a producer, to become so personally invested in our vision for the broadcast. Drennon was covering the story about the five teenagers who were killed in a fiery car crash, after driving home from Knott's Scary Farm. I imagined that the final product for this lead story would pull at our viewers' heart strings through emotional interviews with the victims' classmates. 

However, my ideal lead story quickly crumbled. Drennon said police officers were guarding the entrances of the two high schools that the teenagers attended. Despite her best efforts, she was not able to physically get on either campus to interview students, teachers or staff members. 

For such a sensitive news story, I did not want to air a news package that simply reported the facts. I wanted ATVN viewers to feel the loss of this mourning community and to feel inspired to raise awareness about underage driving laws. Because of Drennon's limited access to individuals who were close to the victims, I told her to do her best to save the story. However, once I got off the phone with her, I instantly switched gears to develop a "Plan B" lead. Though I was hopeful that Drennon would eventually return with great sound bites, the fear of her potentially returning with nothing substantial overwhelmed my decision making. 

I consulted Faith Miller, the Executive Producer for "Team Monday," and we decided to make the news about gay marriage our new lead. The Supreme Court rejected five gay marriage appeals from Indiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin. I worked with the assignment desk to research and book an interview with an LGBT activist in one of the five states. We could not book a Skype interview in time, so one of our multimedia journalists conducted an in-person interview with the USC LGBT Resource Center Director. Unfortunately, the sound bite was not passionate enough to open our show. 

Just when I started to panic about what story would make the lead, Drennon returned to the newsroom. She was able to attend the official media press conference about the case, where she personally interviewed a CHP officer and the Assistant Superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District. Drennon did not quit! She committed to creating a strong news package, and even got an excellent standup at the hospital where the 16-year-old driver is being treated. 

Producing on Monday made me feel incredibly lucky to work with such devoted journalists! Drennon reminded me that sometimes, we need to latch on to our great leads and fight to make them work! This is especially important when our lead is local, has a compelling story, and addresses a communal issue, such as public safety on the road. I am so proud that we saved this news package, and I look forward to fighting for great stories in our next show!

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