Meetings are TV poison, right? Who wants to look at BOPSAT (bunch of people sitting around talking), anyway? The truth is, meetings may be lousy video but avoiding them is no solution. If you don’t go, as Johnnie Cochran might have said, you won’t know. Tim Blotz, anchor/reporter at KMSP-TV in Minneapolis, says meetings have much more value than most TV newsrooms will admit.
Many local television newsrooms long ago gave up the practice of gathering news. For the most part, they react to it. They put a dozen wire stories on the air every night under the banner of “breaking news” when in reality, it’s perhaps something else that’s broken. We’re all guilty.
When I first started in radio news more than 20 years ago, my news director sent me to a different city and county government committee or sub-committee meeting every night of the week. Sometimes several meetings a night. Were they boring? God, yes! Did I learn a lot and report even more? YOU BET!
Any practitioner of politics and government will tell you that this is where all the work gets done and where all the real news of what’s happening in a community gets discovered. By the time any issue gets to the full County Board or City Council, it’s old news. This kind of method reporting, in addition to developing relationships and good sources, is the bread and butter of our newspaper brethren, but long ago forbidden by television consultants and TV news directors as “too boring.” After all, why attend a Public Safety Committee meeting when you can follow the newspaper story of the level three sex offender who just moved in up the street? How do you think the newspaper found out about it?
In an effort to try to get back to learning more about what’s happening on important issues in our community, I’m now returning to how I did things back in my radio days. For the past two months, I’ve convinced my bosses to let me leave the TV camera behind, and attend a number of small government meetings with nothing more than my note book, business cards, and a big bag for documents. It’s been tedious, but from it I now have a long list of potential story ideas. From these meetings, I’ve been able to gather not only some big stories, but I’ve been able to beat my competitors and educate my viewers all at the same time. Isn’t that what we really got in this business to do?
There’s an awful lot to be said for sitting in on boring committee meetings. I’m blessed that I have a management team that understands this is the only way I’m going to get to these stories. If I can pull this off, they deserve high credit–they already do.
While meetings are a great place to find information, they’re still challenging to make into good TV. Consider these strategies:
Bring it to Life
- If the fact of the meeting itself is important, make the meeting the focus of your story.
- Find a central character to help you tell what happened. Share the experience of the meeting with the viewer through the eyes of that central character.
- Shoot plenty of close-ups and reaction shots to bring the event to life.
- In writing, use specific detail: how long did the meeting last? What was the atmosphere in the room? Was it hot, cold, crowded, sparsely attended?
- Explore the whys as well as the whats. Why did people come? What was their stake in the subject? How will it affect them?
Narrow the Field
- Find a focus. Ask, “What is this meeting really about?”
- Select, don’t compress. Just because a meeting has a long agenda doesn’t mean that everything on it belongs in your story.
- Plan ahead. Find out what is on the agenda and get video shot in advance, or pull existing tape. Create graphics ahead of time that outline the choices to be made.
- Show viewers something that adds to their experience and helps them understand what is at stake.
Preview and Review
- Instead of building a “meeting story,” create a preview piece about what will be discussed.
- Focus more on people who will be directly affected by the results of the meeting than on the officials involved.
- Report the results, briefly, once the meeting is over. You might even re-use some of the video from the preview piece. Get reaction from people affected.