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Veteran broadcast journalists share tips on story structure

By Brittany Collins

Structuring an investigative news story is important. Not only does it help prevent confusion for viewers, but it also allows the reporter to get creative when putting together various elements of the story.

Solly Granatstein from The Weather Channel, Brendan Keefe from WXIA-Atlanta, Chris Vanderveen from KUSA/9News Denver, and Matt Goldberg from NBC 4 Los Angeles discussed story structuring tips during a session at the IRE Conference in Philadelphia.

Here are some of their top tips:

Find a good character. Sometimes it’s hard to identify your main character until after you’ve gone through your production. However, it doesn’t hurt to have an idea about the central character from the start. The main character will help the story flow and strengthen the narrative, especially if he or she can add emotion to the story.

Establish the story and stay focused. Decide early on your approach to the story. This will make the writing easier. When you’re logging, know what you need in order for the story to stay on target. Don’t allow your mind to wander to other ideas; this could make the final product confusing.

Build a moment. Build in the “applause line.” When you do this, it generates suspense. Writing around the character’s emotion engages the audience. Then, once the character has a “moment,” let that breathe. If a moment in your story doesn’t work, it could be because of bad video/audio, a lack of context or poor editing.

Less can be more. Our common enemy is information overload. Facts should work to enhance your theme. Sometimes too many details can hurt your story. A good story comes from writing around a character. After that, add details such as statistics and numbers in logical spots.

Write to the video. Visualize the story before you shoot it. Never write a single line until you know what you’re showing. It’s important for the audience to see exactly what you’re talking about. Use your standup to make the story more engaging. Get creative and think outside the box.


Brittany Collins is a senior broadcast journalism student at Florida A&M University. She has won an SPJ Mark of Excellence award for best non-fiction magazine article and an SEJC award for best TV hard news reporter.

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