Types of News Stories

In television there are several different types of story formats we can use to communicate information.  Below you will find explanations and examples for each of these types of stories.  We’ll start with the simplest and work our way up to the most complex.

In addition to watching the video examples you should pull up the News Story Types running order in Inception in order to see how the reporter formatted the corresponding scripts.

READER

Read on camera be an anchor.  No videotape or full page graphic.  May or may not have an over-the-shoulder graphic.  Usually no longer than 20-25 seconds because there are no visuals.  Because there is no video, we rarely do readers at CNW.  I did manage to find one, but really it would have been better if we had added some graphics.

VO (VOICE-OVER)

Similar to a reader except it includes video. The anchor starts the story on-camera.  Then about 5 to 10 seconds into the story video appears on screen. Normally natural sound accompanies the video.  The natural sound plays under the anchor’s voice.  The story ends with an on-camera anchor tag.  VOs generally run 20-45 seconds.

I had a devil of a time finding a video voice-over.  I had to go back to spring of 2015 to find one. The complete story is 38 seconds. The video runs 25 seconds. (Technically it’s not a straight VO because it has the nat pops at the beginning and end. That would “technically” make it a VO/SOT our next type of story.) But this should give you an idea of what a VO should look like.

SOT (SOUND-ON-TAPE)

This story format again begins with the anchor on camera. The soundbite is a piece of an interview, which the anchor introduces.  The soundbite should have a “lower third” graphic indicating their name and title or name and subject matter.  Again, the anchor tags the story on camera. Soundbites can be visually boring and should be kept to a length of 10-15 seconds.  The total length of the story, which includes the story intro and lead-in to the SOT and the story tag, generally runs 25-45 seconds.

We don’t run SOTs very often.  There’s generally some kind of video or graphic that could run with the story which would make it a VO/SOT (our next story type).

While I don’t have the anchor intro, lead-in and tag the following video is an example of the SOT by itself.

VO/SOT (VOICEOVER/SOUND-ON-TAPE)

A VO/SOT is a combination of the voice-over and sound-on-tape.  Different newsrooms have different names for this story format.  I’ve heard it referred to as a V-O-S-O-T, or as a VO (v-oh)-SOT (sot) or as a V-O/Bite.  It doesn’t matter what the name is, the structure is the same.

A VO/SOT starts with the anchor on camera again.  After a few seconds we cut away to the video (voice-over).  At the right moment the anchor stops talking and the soundbite comes up with a lower third graphic.  There may or may not be video after the SOT.   The anchor tags the story on camera.

The strange thing about VO/SOTs is they can be SOT/VOs, VO/SOT/VOs, or even SOT/VO/SOTs.  You can combine the voice over and the soundbite in different order.

This Ironman competition story is a VO/SOT/VO

In this Men’s basketball example the VO/SOT is followed by a full-screen graphic.

PKG (Package Report)

In all the stories so far it’s the anchors who get the glory.  Even though you went out and shot video, got a soundbite and wrote the script the anchors read it on air and the viewers don’t know how hard you worked.  With a package story you get some on-air recognition for your work.

A package story is called that because the story is “packaged” together.  There is video and audio and the reporter narrates the story.

Once again, those (damn) anchors start the story.  You must remember to give the anchor(s) something interesting to say to lead into your story.  If you save all the good stuff for your package and give the anchor something boring to read, no one will stick around to watch your package.

The anchor lead should be interesting and set up what your package story is about.  The anchor intro also needs to introduce you, the reporter.  It could be something like “Terri Reddout introduces us to a basketball player who dreams of becoming a candy maker.”  What you want to AVOID is a reporter intro like “Terri Reddout has more.”  Of course you have more.  That’s a reporter’s job to get “more” info.  Plus that last reporter intro does nothing to set up the story other than indicating who’s voice we’re going to hear in the package.

Once the anchor finishes reading the story intro the camera cuts away to a file containing your pre-edited story.  The reporter’s voice is heard over video.  There will be soundbites. The story could include graphics.  If the reporter appears on camera during the story it is called a stand-up or bridge.  Stand-ups/bridges are generally used in the parts of your story where you have weak video or no video.  They can also be used to summarize a story or indicate what’s happening next.  A stand-up or bridge need to move the story forward.  It is NOT a way for your to just get your pretty mug on the television screen!

Once the story runs, we return to the anchor in the studio who tags the story.

Package stories are generally the most important and longest stories of the day.  A package story generally runs 1:00 – 1:30 without the intro and tag.  Special reports or feature stories can run as long as 3 minutes.

This Whipsaw Brewery package has a reporter stand-up close.  Please note the package tag.  It should be your location, your name, Central News Watch.  In this case it should be At the Whipsaw Brewery, Kyler Roberts, Central News Watch.  It should NOT be something like “I’m Kyler Roberts for Central News Watch at the Whipsaw Brewery” or any other combination.  If the location isn’t important, the drop it and just say your name and Central News Watch.  This story with anchor intro and tag runs 1:55.  The story itself runs 1:30.

This “Pregnant I” story about the lead in the musical Mary Poppins is a feature story that runs a bit longer than 1:30.  The story with anchor intro runs 2:27.  The package itself runs 2:13.  This story does not have an anchor tag because we ran it at the end of our newscast and only had enough time to say goodnight.  Note the use of natural sound.

This profile story of a CWU women’s basketball player is a package, but because the reporter who put the story together is also anchoring the intro does not contain a reporter identification nor does the story end with the “location, reporter name, Central News Watch.”  Why?  Because it would be silly if the story ended with “Jake Nelson, Central News Watch” and then we came back to Jake in the studio. The video story itself is 1:28 long. The story with anchor lead and tag runs 1:38.

In-Studio Report

On certain stories, reporters will be asked to be in the studio to report their story.  In this case, the anchor(s) start with an introduction to the story.  At the end of the intro the anchor introduces the reporter by saying something like “Chris Tofferson joins us in the studio to explain how this new system will impact homeowners.  Chris…”

During that transition line both the anchor(s) and the reporter will be on screen.  When the reporter starts the story he/she then is brought up full screen.  The reporter introduces or reads the copy for the story.

The video story can be a package, a VO, a VO/SOT, a SOT or even a graphic reader.  Reporters end the segment several ways.  The most common way is to say “Reporting live from the studio, (first and last name), Central News Watch.”  

If we are using the split screen or two-box transition, then both the anchor(s) and reporter will be on-screen together.  The anchor(s) can ask a question of the reporter, the reporter answers and then tosses it back to the anchor desk.

No matter how the reporter in the studio portion ends, we will go back to the anchor(s) for a story tag.

In this example, the reporter is in studio and reads the script for a VO/SOT.

In this example of an In-Studio report, reporter is only talking over full page graphics.

In-studio “hits” are generally used for major stories or stories that don’t have a lot of video.  That’s because you have to have something for the anchors to say, something for the studio reporter to say and then something for the anchors to say again.  So, if you have a lot of information that needs to get across, a in-studio hit is a good option.  Likewise, if you don’t have a lot of video, but you do have a lot of info an in-studio report is also a good option.

What type of story format you use depends a lot on what else is happening in your newscast, how much video you have to work with, as well as where your story comes in the newscast.

Out in the “real world” you might do a VO version of your story for one newscast, a studio hit for another newscast and a package for a different newscast.  We’ll explore how and why we choose the format we choose as the course unfolds.

As-If-Live

At all medium and large markets,  going live is a given.  Technology advances make it easy and affordable for even the smallest markets to go live from the scene.

  All you need is $1500 to buy something like this little gizmo.  It works with your smart phone to send out a live feed.

Back in the 80s when we did live shots from the state fair it took two engineers, a big truck and at least two days to set it up and test it.  Now, all you do is pull this gizmo out of your backpack, connect via your cell phone and you’re live from down the street or up on a hillside.

Despite all this, there are times when you can’t go live, so we do something called an As-If-Live.  Basically, it’s something that looks as though you are live, but you’re not.  You’ve recorded the reporter “wrap-arounds” while out in the field.  You edit the wrap arounds to the front and end of your package and you’ve got a AIL.

Here’s an example of an AIL from Hailey Higgins.  Hailey works as the Southern Bureau Chief for ABC4 News Salt Lake City.  She also happens to be a former news director for Weber State News back when I taught in Utah.  (Pay attention to how she uses natural sound.)

So, the anchor probably said something like, ” Hailey Higgins is at Southern Utah College where the memorial is being built.  Hailey…” What you don’t want to have your anchor say is “Hailey Higgins joins us live from…” She’s NOT live.

When you actually do this you’ll want to record yourself for about 10 seconds before you start talking.  That way they can do a split screen or two-box with you on camera.  At the end finish and then stay on camera as if you can hear the anchor talking to you. We don’t see this staring into the camera stuff in Hailey’s story because she was kind enough to edit it out.

AILs are just for Southern Bureau Chiefs.  Simone Corbett did an AIL when she reported on the Red Sands Project.

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