Television’s need for pictures can be a two-edged sword. Great pictures can make a story memorable, because viewers remember what they see longer than what they hear. But a lack of pictures can turn an important story into a throw-away anchor reader, giving it less time on air and leaving little impact. So TV’s bias in favor of video often skews the content of newscasts. It’s why we get more coverage of house fires than budget melt-downs on local TV news. What’s to be done?
One strategy when faced with a non-visual story or a story that would typically be told with predictable images is to think of an analogy that can bring the story to life. What does this situation or process remind you of? Ask your sources for ideas. Can you compare it to something that people are already familiar with?
One of my all-time favorite stories illustrated this way explained the physics behind a NASCAR crash. The driver survived because his car hit a wall with a glancing blow, not head-on. WGHP’s Bob Buckley showed what happens when a tomato hits a wall the same way–splat for a head-on collision, but only a split skin for a glancing blow. Trust me, it was both visual and memorable.
The same basic strategy–comparing something you can’t really see to something you can–helped NPR produce a memorable story when the earth’s population reached seven billion. Instead of relying on the usual images of babies and crowded streets, NPR found a great analogy and produced a video to illustrate it online.
The reason this strategy works is that it employs what I like to call the velcro theory of news. News is just information unless it sticks to something you already have, at which point it becomes knowledge and understanding. Try using an analogy for a non-visual story, if you haven’t already. And please point us to more examples of stories that put this principle to work so we can share them.