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How TV journalists write for social media

SocialMediaKristen Wilson spent her college career working on design and magazine projects, but her first job out of school put her on the front lines of WTVA’s social media presence.  Wilson is a Web producer for the NBC affiliate in Tupelo, Mississippi.  She says the best way to master social media is by observing your audience in action.

“Always have a picture with your posts, and it helps sometimes to add a small tease with a little more information so people can know what they’re  getting into before clicking on the link,” Wilson said. “People just don’t care about certain things and you kind of learn about your audience that way- it’s fun to see how your audience changes.”

Over time, Wilson says she’s realized just how sharp the social media audience can be, too.

“I know that if there’s a drug arrest, people will get upset about the use of a picture we use that has multiple drugs on it. If the story doesn’t involve marijuana they’ll say, ‘Well why is there marijuana in the picture?’.

Understanding the make-up of your audience is also important, according to Wilson, and analytics programs make that much easier.

“It breaks it down as far as are you reaching men more, or women more, or what age group?” Wilson said, “And right now, you can see that we have heavily more women, but the men’s percentage has increased, so I’ve tried to put things out there that they might be more interested in.”

Of course, reporters also interact with the social media audience and reporter Chris Tatum says most journalists should already have the skill they need to write excellent social media posts.

“The one thing that always works across the board, and I can’t say it enough, is good, simple, clean, writing and crystal clear communication is never out of style,” Tatum said.

But Tatum says some suggestions for creating better social media content just don’t make sense.

“Forcing words into sentences just because they are searchable will not work for television news because we still have to speak a clean language that’s simple.  That’s why I don’t think TV stations are making great use of social media,” Tatum said. “I think they think they are, but no one has been able to come up with a good solution of how to combine [the writing styles] – they’re almost competitors trying to be friends.”

Tatum does value the “social” in social media, however.

“People make stories, information doesn’t make stories,” Tatum said, “Human beings connect to other human beings.”

For Wilson, it also comes back to the people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

“It’s a learning thing.  Social media made me conscious of what the audience is looking for.”

Thanks to WTVA producer intern Christina Jones for contributing to this post.

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Slow News Day

“Lawn Chair Larry” Walters wasn’t the first man to take flight via balloons. Walters had an accidental predecessor a few decades earlier in the small town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine on September 28, 1937 with a group of bored news photographers who decided to shoot a story on a slow day.

In late 1937, a company by the name of Dewey & Almey of Cambridge, Massachusetts had recently got into the business of manufacturing latex balloons that can be inflated to a diameter of ten feet and were designed for weather observation. The public relations representative of Dewey & Almey sent a press release about the new balloons to Phil Coolidge, a photographer with Paramount News and the wheels started spinning in Coolidge’s head over the possibilities of these balloons and how they could be used in a story.

Phil Coolidge along with his father and fellow newsreel photographer, Jake Coolidge, hatched up the idea that sending a photographer aloft with a few of these balloons would make for a novel angle for shooting film of the local scenery. “House hopping with weather balloons” was the tentative name of the special feature, and he needed a shooter who was both small and light. The plan was to attach a dozen or so of these balloons to a harness, and then send the photog aloft to a height of 100 feet, with the harness and balloons being ultimately anchored to the ground via a rope tied to a car bumper.

al_mingalone

Al Mingalone

A telegram was sent out from Coolidge to Paramount’s New York office reading: MAKING BALLOON JUMPING STORY MONDAY ORCHARD BEACH GOLF CLUB. HAVE LIGHTEST WEIGHT CAMERA MAN WHO WANTS TO JUMP MEET ME AT EASTLAND HOTEL.

Assignment editor William Montague picked up the telegram and showed it to Al Mingalone, the smallest cameraman Paramount had on staff .  Mingalone after reading the telegram, asked Montague, “What are jumping balloons?” Montague ignored Mingalone’s question and told him, “Take the Bell and Howell Eyemo hand camera and the big Akeley camera for ground scenes.” With that, Mingalone was ordered off to Old Orchard Beach, Maine, for what would be what he admitted to be the strangest assignment of his career up to that point.

Before he left for Maine, Mingalone called his wife Angelina to tell her where he was going and that he was going to “hitch-hike on a gang of balloons.” Angelina told her husband bluntly, “You come home right now, Mister M.” He protested that it was for a newsreel story and she replied, “I know you don’t drink.” Mingalone didn’t bother to tell his wife the balloons were to be filled with hydrogen…she had seen too many photographs and newsreels of what happened to the Hindenburg. His three kids on the other hand, begged for their father to remember to bring some balloons home for them when he was done shooting his story.

At the Old Orchard Beach Country Club, Mingalone met up with Jake Coolidge who greeted him with, “Hello Picard.” Without letting Mingalone get a word in edgewise, Coolidge went on, “Wouldn’t it be funny to see you with a flock of balloons tied to your rear, making pictures over somebody’s back yard only to be shot at with a rifle for trespassing on private property! It’s always open season on flying freaks.” Jake Coolidge had no idea what was about to transpire the next day.

The three cameramen went out to the beach alongside the Atlantic Ocean and inflated one of the balloons to see how much weight one could lift. With his camera and the harness plus Mingalone’s own weight, the balloons needed to lift 165 pounds. By the time they were done experimenting, it was starting to get dark and windy. The beach location ended up being vetoed due to the wind—if something went wrong, the next dry spot of land was Europe. The shoot location was moved to the next day and at a golf course a few miles inland.

At the golf course the next day, Mingalone was strapped into a harness tied to a bumper of a car with a hundred feet of line and Phil Coolidge started to inflate balloons and tie them to Mingalone. One of the spectators at the golf course was the priest of a local church, Father James J. Mullen. Jake Coolidge had invited Father Mullen to come watch since he was interested in aviation and newsreels. Much ribbing went on and Mingalone was told there was nothing to worry about since a priest was present. While they were kidding at the time, they didn’t realize how true their joking was to become. Jake also brought a rifle along. Someone asked him what the rifle was for and Jake replied sarcastically, “I’m going to shoot some golf.” He handed the rifle to Father Mullen. Jake also handed Mingalone a pair of scissors in case of trouble. Mingalone though it was more ribbing, but put them into his coat pocket anyway.

After twenty-six balloons were inflated and tied to Mingalone, he jumped and rose twenty-five feet into the air. Not high enough, so two more balloons were inflated and tied on. Mingalone’s next jump brought him to 100 feet into the air, but the winds caught the balloons and he started to spin wildly. The three of them decided that Mingalone needed to be 300 feet up to stop the spinning—and that more balloons needed to be added.

Two hundred feet more of cord was tied between Mingalone and the car bumper. By this time, the harness was starting to chafe and Mingalone was getting tired.

“The devil with it.” said Mingalone in exasperation, “this time let’s put on a load for a decent jump and get it over with.” Jake inflated five more balloons and tied them to Mingalone’s harness and he jumped and started to rise.

As Mingalone rose above the country side, he wound up his Eyemo and started to roll. Seconds later when he was 100 feet up, he felt a jerk. He looked down and saw the rope had snapped. Mingalone kept on rising. He recalled what happened during his ascent:

“I’d entered the lower bank of a quick rising fog, and couldn’t see a thing. I tried to pull myself up the ten feet to the balloon lines. Part way, cramps grabbed me and I stopped. A sudden squall struck. I was jerked backward and dropped to the end of my harness. My camera fell free. Having lost twelve pounds of ballast I shot skyward again. My clothes were wet. The air was cold and raw. I must have been about 700 feet of the ground.”

Jake, Phil and Father Mullen ran for the car and took off after Mingalone. They caught up with the flying cameraman thirteen miles away at Biddeford, Maine. Father Mullen happened to be a sharpshooter, so he started to take pot shots at the balloons. He managed to hit a couple of them and the balloons started to slowly sink towards the ground, taking the frighten Mingalone down with them.

Drifting closer to the ground, Mingalone started to scream for help. The balloons started to drag him across a field, but Mingalone couldn’t free himself from the harness. He only finally managed to stop moving when the lines to the balloons were caught in a tree. Two brothers who were helping the Coolidges at the golf course caught up with Mingalone and helped him out of the harness. They tied the harness and balloons to a nearby tree since Mingalone wanted to keep some of them for his kids. When they turned their backs, a gust of wind came up and took the balloons skyward.

Jake Coolidge came up with Father Mullen. He ordered Mingalone to shake hands with “the guy who shot you down.” Jake also added, “You’d better go to church next Sunday.”

Mingalone’s only worry at that moment now was his camera. “Where’s my camera? You know Father, I ground out some beautiful stuff breezing along up there!”

The Eyemo was found in a field a half-mile from the golf course. Caked with mud, it was no worse for wear. The exposed film inside was unharmed and used in Paramount’s next release.

Nineteen years later Al Mingalone would be working as a television news photographer for ABC News and looking back to that odd story in Old Orchard Beach, reminiscing about the slower-paced and less hectic newsreel era.

3 great tips for better TV stories

KARE-11′s Boyd Huppert is an amazing storyteller.  A workshop with him may be just about equivalent to a master class in TV news.  At the Excellence in Journalism conference, he shared some of the things he wished he had known when he first started reporting — here are Advancing the Story’s favorites:

FloodInvu1.  Keep interview subjects pointed toward the action.

TV journalists tend to frame interviews so that the interest or the action is going on behind the interview subject.  For example, we question people with the long line of protestors or the crumpled cars in the background of the shot.  Huppert says that’s a  missed opportunity.

“Action is only half as strong without the reaction,” said Huppert. Check out this story and note how the interview with the neighbor is framed to keep his and the viewers’ focus on the action.

2.  Natural sound is a story’s best throttle.

“Every story has a pace,” Huppert said.  “Nat sound is the throttle to speed up or slow down the story.  The quick bursts of sound in the helicopter rescue story pick up the pace.”

In this story about a farmer’s tribute to the love of his life, Huppert uses nat sound to slow it down.

“You can use it to reveal things you don’t have to say.  My advice is to use fewer words to leave more space for natural sound.”

3.  Use characters, emotion or concepts to focus the story.

Every story is better with a strong focus and Huppert defines it this way.  “Focus is the character, emotion or concept that holds together the disconnected pieces of the story.”

For this piece about gun control, Huppert and his photographer got the assignment too late to attend the legislative hearing, but they turned the problem into the solution, using the concept of debate to make the ongoing discussion in the hallway the focus of the story.

And as always, Huppert’s great writing is evident.  Be sure to listen for the last line of the package.

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Chicago Video Crew spends the day in Madison for CBS Gamechangers

As Autumn fast approaches, Go To Team Chicago is in full swing traveling throughout the Midwest covering all sorts of sporting events. Today we were in Madison, Wisconsin to shoot a basketball camp run by Wesley Matthews of the Portland Trailblazers. I grabbed my 5D and headed out early that morning from Chicago and made the trek north to the capital city of Madison.

Wisconsin Video Trailblazers Portland NBA Madison interview Gamechangers Chicago CBS canon 5D basketball  Chicago Video Crew spends the day in Madison for CBS Gamechangers chicago video crew

Wisconsin Video Trailblazers Portland NBA Madison interview Gamechangers Chicago CBS canon 5D basketball  Chicago Video Crew spends the day in Madison for CBS Gamechangers chicago video crew First thing on the agenda was to interview Wes in his old high school gym where he first became a basketball star, leading his team to their first ever State Championship. I sat him in the bleachers in order to get a natural look, as if he was just hanging out and talking about the good old days. I rigged up my Diva 400 as a key and rested a LitePanel among the bleachers to give him some fill. I threw the 70-200 lens on my 5D to get the maximum depth and we were ready to roll.

 

Once the interview was over we grabbed a bunch of b-roll of him coaching the campers as well as some footage of his pick-up game with the other counselors. We also interviewed his mother about his journey from high school all the way to the ranks of the NBA. We grabbed some more b-roll and signage and concluded our day trip to Madison!

Wisconsin Video Trailblazers Portland NBA Madison interview Gamechangers Chicago CBS canon 5D basketball  Chicago Video Crew spends the day in Madison for CBS Gamechangers chicago video crew