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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Making Art on Air

Late every Monday night after shadowing the almighty EP, Brad Streicher, I hunch over my computer to crank out some package ideas for my producing shift on Tuesdays.

These ideas do not just instantaneously pop into my mind. I research to find what story ideas are worthy enough to voice in the morning meeting. 

Every Monday night, I do the following: scan the CNS budget, browse all the local news outlets (KNBC, KABC, KTLA, LA Times), skim the network websites (CNN and FOX) and find what’s #trending on twitter.

Looking at the CNS budget gives me a forward look at what will be happening in the community the next day. Most of the time, the items on the budget are pretty dry and boring. So, if I find a topic on the budget interesting enough to cover, I will incorporate other elements into the package to beef up the story. Sometimes, I find an expert at USC to bring the story back to home or find an organization in Los Angeles knowledgeable about the topic. 

Browsing through stories covered by local news outlets helps me brainstorm ideas in the Los Angeles area. In addition, although networks might cover stories a bit ambitious for a college student-run news station, they help me find national or international events that could be developed into a local angle. 

After I list ideas for packages, Dream Team Tuesday shares ideas in a Facebook group chat. Starting at around 9PM, my phone starts buzzing from alerts on the Facebook Messenger App. Each member sends links to stories, items on the budget, and gives comments on other producers’ ideas. This routine conversation the night before our shift is beyond helpful for our morning meeting. Every time we step foot into the edit bay, we know exactly what we are going to cover. The meeting is more efficient and we are able to send out reporters promptly for their stories. 

In the last three weeks of live shows, I notice the best story ideas come with great B-ROLL. Sometimes, I can come up with a good story idea, but when the B-ROLL is limited, the story cannot be best told in the form of a package. This makes the reporter frustrated..the producers frustrated…everyone frustrated. When there is limited video to put on the air, it makes it a tad difficult to put together a package for the newscast. Also, if the story idea is too ambitious or narrow, the reporter really struggles. Sometimes, this leads to a package being broken down into smaller elements. When this happens, it becomes a huge bummer for everyone. A producer allots time for a package in the rundown, and the poor reporter spends all day frantically trying to put together a piece that simply can not be turned into a worthy enough package for air.  On the other hand, when story ideas are clear and well thought out, the reporter and the producer have a much easier time. When the story contains multiple elements and voices, there is a greater chance the piece will take up a minute and thirty seconds of airtime.

Our story ideas create the show. If producers or reporters do not come with ideas to the meeting, we can not put together a newscast. It is essential for our team to come prepared each morning with interesting ideas. Sometimes, late at night, crouching over my laptop keyboard, yearning for more Zzzz's for my sleep-deprived self, it can be easy to come up with a mediocre story idea. But, if I come to the meeting with OK package ideas, I will help put together an OK show. It is critical for our team to come to the morning meeting with story ideas that we find interesting. Most likely, if we are interested in the topic and want to learn more, other students will too.  

Producing is helping me creatively brainstorm story ideas for the Tuesday show. I am no longer thinking on a surface level. Instead, I am learning to expand stories to help our show share new information about what is going on in our community. I think it is easy to just repeat stories already done by other news outlets. But, each week, I am working on finding new angles so our audience will learn something they did not know before watching our show. 

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