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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Ongoing Doesn't Have To Be Boring


Breaking news is an interesting phenomenon in the newsroom. I have quickly learned that breaking news is something that is never (and I mean never) joked about. There is a deep superstitious energy that surrounds these two powerful words, making it so that, even the most innocent mention of ‘breaking news,’ almost guarantees its occurrence. Unspoken rule #1 of producing: if you talk about breaking news before it has happened, you will most assuredly be blamed for “jinxing” the entire newscast.

Yesterday, I was lead producer and, once again, there was no breaking news. I never thought I would say this, but I was secretly hoping for breaking news, especially towards the middle of the day, when I was still hard-pressed to find a lead. I was grasping for something – anything – to breathe a little more life into my newscast. Nevertheless, as the lead producer, I did my best to make the show as interesting as possible, despite a mostly slow news day. Although we were reporting on some news items for the first time, the majority of our show became rooted in developing ongoing stories, including the missing Malaysia flight, the Fort Hood shooting, the Oscar Pistorius trial, and the turmoil in the Ukraine. The crux of the problem here lies in making topics that we have been covering for days, weeks, or even months still interesting. This may not be easy, but it is certainly not impossible. The best way to reinvigorate continuing stories is to identify the latest, most up-to-date information and video. This means tracking the evolution of these stories thrughout the day on the wires and Bitcentral. However, in order to be able to recognize what is new vs. old, one must have a deep understanding of these stories, which means keeping up with the news on a regular basis. 

Since we cannot assume that our audience is doing their due diligence to maintain an awareness of current events, we must also provide a solid background on each story. To do so, I made it a point to give each big, ongoing story multiple lines in the rundown. I also allotted enough time for us to provide coverage that is both encompassing and compelling. There is a fine line between recapping the necessary background and repeating ourselves over and over. We must always remember that our duty is to advance the story. When dealing with complex stories, like the missing Malaysia flight, it becomes ever more important to establish clear lines of communication in the newsroom, so that everyone understands our take on the story TODAY. For example, with the missing Malaysia flight, we went over how long the plane has been missing, how many passengers were on the plane, etc., then we delved into the most recent news of the signal that was found that may be from the plane’s black box. Furthermore, we imbued the piece with a humanistic element by showing how this promising lead has restored a sense of hope to many of the grieving families.

Luckily, I work with a team of reporters, producers, and MJs, who are knowledgeable and talented and, therefore, able to bring my elaborate visions to life.

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