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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

What Makes Something A Lead Story

The first thing anyone will ask after watching your show, whether they actually saw the entire newcast or not, was how did you cover the lead story on that particular day?

For me, that pride erupts in the crafting of my lead story, the one moment where every single viewer has their full attention on the screen awaiting the delivery of worthwhile news. From the moment I bike into the newsroom just before 8 a.m. in the morning, my mind focuses on how the heck are we going to start off the nightly newscast.

After shuffleboarding ideas up and down the newsdesk, our staff typcially revels on two to three main stories that could constitute the lead. The ultimate deciding factor, one that is always debated between our staff, is the relevancy to our audience and what elements we have. 

See the thing about Rachel and Jillian that I respect so dearly is that they are neither afraid nor concerned about hurting my feelings, and that allows them to speak their mind on everything. This plays a huge role in organizing stories, especially right from the top with our lead story. 

We put so much time into finding our lead story, okay maybe like 20-30 minutes but that's a lot of time, because we want to make sure we get it right from the top. Once we have that final list of two or three stories, the fun really begins. As someone who is very "green" in terms of newsgathering, I tend to let the biggest national and international stories take center stage. 

I do feel that over time my lead story will hone in on the issues of my USC community and the issues that really matter to college students. Sure the international issues matter, especially when they involve issues of war, poverty or heinous crime. But in order to have a show that really matters, a term we throw around a good deal sometimes with no overt understanding, we have to provide in-depth coverage on things people are actually talking about --both now and the next morning with their friends and peers up and down Trousdale. 

Take time to make sure the lead makes sense. You will be so thankful that you take the initial investment into that top story. Obviously the idea of being a producer is both fun and scary, but nothing cements my feelings about this job more than the completion of a solid lead story. Typcially consisting of multiple INTROs, VOs and SOTs weaved togehter in a comprehensive element, the lead story needs to have a whole bunch of elements.  

Assuming all that goes well, and I learned that lesson the hard way a few weeks back, the rest of the show builds together like a layered cake. You put a whole lot more time into the final 28-minutes of live-air than the first 1:30, but its those first 90 seconds that make all the difference to the viewer, the people you end up spoon feeding all throughout the day.

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