Credibility can often be a problem in medium-sized markets, where communities are too large for listeners to be personally familiar with most of the people or places making news, yet the resources of the station rarely allow for a newsroom staff of more than half a dozen reporter/anchors (if that) -- and this small staff often means few stories are produced and listeners perceive a "reporting gap."
One way to restore station credibility is to make the cast resemble the network hourlies, regardless of whether your station replaces the hourly with a local cast or does a 90-second local after the hourly.
High story countThe hallmark of the network style is high story count. Listen to a network hourly and notice how many different events are related. This variety gives listeners a sense of completeness....they feel they know all the major stories. This feeling helps build trust between your listeners and the station, and it gives your newsroom credibility.
A 90-second cast should aim for seven stories. You might be wondering, "My staff is so small to begin with, how am I to get seven different stories?" Odds are you're already taking some of your stories from press releases and the local newspaper. The two or three stories you've taken haven't exausted their source....there are still plenty of press releases on your desk and dozens of pages left in the newspaper. Certainly there are stories your listeners want to know about.
Short story lengthOf course high story count means short story length. A 90-second cast with seven stories works out to an average of 13 seconds per story. This doesn't mean every story should be 13 seconds....rather, important stories should be given adequate time (20-25 seconds, though certainly no more), but less important stories need only a sentence or two. For example, let's say city council has been in a dispute with the mayor over cuts in the police budget. This story has been in the news on and off for a couple of weeks, and today at City Hall council members are holding a special meeting with the mayor to reach some sort of compromise. Here's all you need (and it runs roughly 7 seconds):
There should be some variation in story length throughout the cast...don't give listeners five 7-second stories followed by three 20-second ones. But there should be some progression, with the more important, longer stories at the beginning of the cast and the shorter, less important stories towards the end. One way of producing variation is to stick a 20-second-long humorous or feature story near or at the end of the cast.
- MIDDLEVILLE CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS ARE HUDDLING WITH MAYOR JANE SMITH TODAY, WITH BOTH SIDES HOPING TO RESOLVE THEIR DISPUTE OVER POLICE CUTS.
Tape and the network styleYou might think it impossible to incorporate much tape into a cast with such a high story count, but listen to the hourlies, which often have half a dozen or more tape pieces (both actualities and voicers/wraps). There's little difference in editing actualities for the network style. Keep them under 15 seconds or so, as you probably would for a more discursive style. The difference is in the copy surrounding the act. Two sentences in front, one sentence at the most (and quite often none at all) after.
For example, let's say the governor is proposing eliminating parole for those convicted of using a firearm when committing a crime. Your State News Network has fed you a 9-second cut, which runs as follows:
Here's a script to make the cut fit within your time constraints:
- IF YOU USE A GUN WHEN COMMITTING A CRIME, YOU SHOULD DO THE TIME...AND THAT MEANS ALL THE TIME...BEFORE YOU ARE ALLOWED BACK IN SOCIETY.
This entire story runs 18 seconds. In summary fashion it includes the important facts: the concept behind the governor's proposal, an actuality, and that the legislature would have to pass a bill for the proposal to become reality.
- PAROLE COULD BE A THING OF THE PAST FOR CONVICTS WHO USED A GUN IN THEIR CRIMES....THAT'S IF GOVERNOR DOUGLASS GETS HIS WAY.
- Douglass act...OQ: "IN SOCIETY."
- LEGISLATORS WOULD HAVE TO APPROVE DOUGLASS'S PLAN.
For voicers and wraps, station reporters should be instructed to keep stories short (though reporters often have difficulty with the concept of limiting the time their voices are on the air). For voicers in general...and network tape in particular...edit the cut down to 20-25 seconds. Start either from the beginning or, even better so long as the story remains coherent, with the second sentence of the piece, and continue for 20 seconds or so until there's a natural break (which there usually is). Leave off the lockout. In other words, transform the tape into what's often called a "correspondent's" cut.
If you leave out the first sentence of the original report, the information should be incorporated into your lead-in. You do not need to identify the reporter at the front....the differences in the sound of the voice will tell listeners there's a new reporter. When the cut ends, get out of the story only through identifying the reporter, such as:
Cutting down wraps is far more difficult, and often wraps can't be coherently reduced under 30 seconds (especially if they contain a 20-second-long actuality). Nonetheless by editing voicers and wraps down to 20-25 seconds, you'll be able to include several pieces of tape into your network style cast.