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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Follow The Leader

A lead story sets the tone for the entire newscast, so needless to say, it's important to start off strong.

It's not always an easy decision to determine, though. When chosing a lead, you must consider many aspects— What are people talking about today? What do people want to know? How do I appeal to my audience? 

Luckily, this is not a process I ever have to go through alone. From the very beginning of our day, my fellow teammates and our Executive Producer think about how we will begin the newscast. After going through all potential story ideas in the morning meeting, it becomes clear pretty quickly which stories are most prominent. From there, we discuss which story has most people buzzing the most.

Today, for example, we decided to lead with the Ebola news. I ininitally thought it was a good lead story because pretty much everyone in this country is freaking out about the virus spreading, and there were many elements that we wanted to include in our coverage. It was not a cut and dry choice, though, because I also considered leading with one of the few USC-based stories we were pursuing. Ebola ended up being the ultimate decision because it had the potential to set up our newscast to have a strong, informative tone. 

It's very important to consider who will be watching when you pick the lead. Since our main demographic is students in their twenties, we have to chose a story that will instantly appeal to them. This is not too hard for us to do, considering we fall in that demographic ourselves, and we simply have to think: What would I want to watch? Students do not have the longest attention spans in the world, so I have found it is usually helpful to pick a story with good visual elements and animated sound bites. 

When it comes down to it, you want to excite, rather than bore. You want to intrigue, rather than be predictable. You want to be relevant, rather than repeat the obvious. 

After all, the rest of the newscast does indeed follow the leader. 

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