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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Quiz: What Do You Do?

Having a Plan B is an essential part of producing a newscast, because the day you don't make a Plan B is the day that Plan A falls through. It never fails. 

For all you wannabe producers out there, let's do a simulation. 

Here's the scenario. You've sent out a reporter to do the perfect story on the perfect event: all the elements are there, and it'll be a game-changer for the quality of your newscast, so you put it in your A block. The only problem is -- it's based on a program that does not begin until 2:15. After struggling with what to do, you decide that your reporter needs to gather all of the elements she can before the program starts, so that she can be in and out as quickly as possible. Cool. 

But when 4:15 rolls around, you still haven't heard back from her -- and when you call to find out where she is, she doesn't answer. "We TALKED about this!" you scream to the skies. "She was supposed to be back by now!"

Around 4:30, your reporter comes scrambling into the newsroom, apologizing profusely for her late arrival and saying over and over again that her phone died. You know she's an amazing reporter with lightning-speed editing skills, so you tell her to get to writing the story. Besides, you have a million other issues to worry about: your newscast has far too many pink "OFFLINE" stories, far too few MJs to write/edit them, and you are far too stressed to think properly. 

Fast-forward to 5:57pm. Your newcast is about to go on air, but the reporter is still editing her package -- even though the package is the first story of your newscast.

"She'll be on time!" Tom says cheerfully when you call to figure out what the heck is going on. 

At this point, do you...

A.) Trust Tom and the reporter. After all, they've never let you down before!

B.) Keep calling every 20 seconds

C.) Scream into the phone, "JUST SEND THE DAMN PACKAGE!"

D.) Float the story

Well, to be honest, I've learned that the best answer is -- none of these. At 4:30, when you saw that your reporter had just gotten into the newsroom, you should have crafted a Plan B. You should have decided EXACTLY how you would reorder the newscast if it wasn't close to being done by 5:45pm. This would involve creating some "pre-floated" alternatives to the newscast, including a new Welcome and Cold Open in case the opening story had to be something different. 

Making a Plan B is such a vital element to producing a newscast that it really shouldn't even be called a Plan B. It's really an extended part of Plan A.

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