This is Part 4 of our five-part series, Building Viewership with News Topicals. Read Part 3 here. News topicals can take many forms. Some creative services directors and topical writer/producers say recording the main news anchor sitting behind the anchor desk works best for their station. Others see value in shooting their news anchor in […]
This is Part 4 of our five-part series, Building Viewership with News Topicals. Read Part 3 here.
Some creative services directors and topical writer/producers say recording the main news anchor sitting behind the anchor desk works best for their station.
Others see value in shooting their news anchor in the newsroom, cinéma vérité style.
And other stations try to feature real people and sound bites, along with reporter teases from the field.
What works best? That depends on your station, your production capabilities, what materials news can provide, your cellular setup and editing capabilities.
But all agree the secret to capturing viewers’ attention is to avoid getting in a rut and becoming formulaic.
Dax Dobbs, marketing director at KXAN, Nexstar’s NBC affiliate in Austin, Texas, likes his team to shoot the main news anchor with a field camera. “I like to have them standing up in the newsroom, makes them look a little more urgent.”
Using a field camera allows flexibility as to where and how the talent can be shot, an option that Don Mashburn likes.
“Light the anchor and shoot it anywhere, walking, talking shots,” says Mashburn, who does the topicals at WSMV, the Meredith NBC affiliate in Nashville.
Many say that the process of creating news topicals should start with a triage of what elements you have to work with — a checklist as Russ Nelligan, creative services director at Hearst-owned ABC affiliate WCVB Boston, describes it.
“What do I have tonight? Do I have great sound? Terrific. Do I have great video? Terrific. You are unlikely to be doing the same thing every night. And so therefore, just look at what you have and take best advantage of it.”
Dobbs says having emotional sound bites have the greatest impact.
“Officials? No one’s listening. Find those people who have something authentic to say. That’s critical. It can’t be: ‘Two people hurt; I’ll have more at 11.’ ”
Reporters out on the scene of a story can provide a compelling topicals, Mashburn says. “It works best when the reporter can talk about their story, but then be concise.”
Joany D’Agostino, creative services director for WDBJ, Gray’s CBS affiliate in Roanoke, Va., also likes to field reports. “I talk to them. We decide if we like what we have, the reporters shoot it, and my producer puts them together.”
But getting reporters to cooperate can be a challenge, says David Hershey, creative services director for CBS O&O KTVT Dallas.
“They’re busy, but if they have a good story, we want them in the topicals.”
Bonded cellular links are making it easier to do topicals from the field, says Sean Garcia, creative services director at Cox’s ABC affiliate in Orlando, Fla.
“These days with technology, cell-phones and backpacks, you can jump into the photographer’s camera and grab it there. The technology allows you to get it in a variety of ways.”
The obstacles of busy reporters and old technology must be overcome, says Hershey, so that they can be included in the topicals, “which air in primetime, which will get more eye balls for their story. Promotions is the priority.”
Garcia says topicals in any given market on any given station tend to look the same. “They’re three stories, there’s a weather tease. We’re very formulaic,” he says.
“I tell my team: ‘If you have one great story, do the topical with one great story. Got two, do two.’ Try to break the repetitiveness of what these are because they become wall paper, and people scan over them.”
Nelligan agrees. “If you are always doing things the same way whether it’s anchor-driven or even if it’s reporter-driven, look to break form, get the attention of the viewer in a different way.”
The pros say no matter how well-written and produced the topicals are, the further away from the newscast they air, the less effective they’ll be.
It’s been the standard practice for years, to air late news topicals throughout the network programming in primetime. But some creative services directors say the best time to air topicals is right before the newscast.
“The only places you should be running a topical, in my opinion, is the half hour before your newscast,” says Garcia.
“If you ran that same promo two hours before your late news, chances are most people aren’t going to remember it.”
Says Hersey: “If you watch our air, you’ll probably see more topicals air in the last half hour leading into the late news.”
Although Dobbs is clear that he thinks topicals running throughout prime is an opportunity to reach different audiences, he concedes that “a topical that airs 10 minutes or less prior to a newscast, is extremely important.
“It’s that last chance to have someone make a decision to stay up that extra amount of time to watch the newscast.”
Monday: How Facebook is changing topical news promotion at some stations.
NOTE: Adam Wurtzel, promotions producer at WZTV, Sinclair’s Fox affiliate in Nashville, sent me a note about this series on news topicals.
“It gave me a creative jolt all across the board. Looking forward to reading the other parts of the story and seeing more video examples. I wanted to share one of our topicals from last night, which was inspired by your article.”