Writing - The Focus
Be Curious and Explore
Look for information about your subject from several sources. Put in some study time and read as much as you can about the subject. Build your background knowledge and make a special effort to talk to people who are most informed and involved. Don’t do formal interviews, but rather just listen to what people have to say. Get contact info on those who are most plugged in and follow up with them.
Finding the Focus
To find the focus, and cover
the story in-depth, you have to really know your subject. The military motto:
“Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted,” applies to journalists as
Ask yourself, “What is this
story all about?”
Sort through the information and highlight the parts that help answer this question. What’s at the heart of the story? Find out the central point. It’s most important that you decide on a focus before you start reporting. But keep yourself open to other possibilities that could unfold during the reporting process.
The focus defines the purpose for the story. Ask yourself why you care about it and why the audience should also care. The story should answer the question, “So what?” Ask this question several times.
Developing the Focus Statement
Find the answers to 4 questions:
- What’s the news in the story?
- What’s the point of the story?
- How can I tell the focus in a sentence?
- So what?
Review the points that fit your focus, which is information essential to helping the story make sense. From your background research, list the facts that you expect to use. Consider the video and audio elements that you might include. Choose sound-bites that fit the focus, but follow the basic rule: don’t use SOTS if you can say it better. The best SOTs are those that offer opinion, reaction, experience or emotion. They add insights and perspectives, not just facts. Also, keep the SOTS short – about 10 seconds at the most.
Posted on August 17th, 2011 by Deb Wenger
Jason Lamb is a Murrow Award-winning TV news writer from Anchorage, AK. He says that a key component to writing a compelling news story is taking time to determine the focus.
“Beyond just the story ‘subject,’ a focus tells you what person, object or theme you’ll be dealing with during your story,” Lamb says. “You can start thinking about your story focus while you’re still on your shoot, or even before it starts. When you write your story, if a line of reporter track or a sound bite doesn’t fit your focus, you should probably throw it out.”
While he’s in the field, Lamb tries to “take off his reporter hat” to take in the scene around him for a few moments.
“What would a normal observer – without the wireless mic, tripod and camera – say or think about what they’re seeing or hearing? Sometimes you can get some great lines for your story, just by taking it all in,” Lamb says.
Armed with his focus, his observations and his video log, Lamb is now ready to write.
“When I write, I try to set up the moments I’ve identified with a line of reporter track, providing some context or an observation about what the viewer is about to see, then I let the moment play out, without talking over it,” says Lamb.
Lamb is making an essential point.
“Good writing is as much about what you choose to write as it is about what you don’t write. There are no words I could say that would be more powerful then letting viewers experience a mother kissing her dying four-year-old boy. I think it’s important to not say anything in those cases – and let the natural moment play out for the best impact.”
When he does want his words and video to work together, Lamb says he’s careful to avoid saying exactly what the viewer is seeing in the video.
“For example, I was writing a story about a police officer memorial, and I wanted to write to a shot of a sign on a storefront in the small town that read, ‘CLOSED IN HONOR OF TONY AND MATT.’ Instead of saying in my track, “Several stores closed so they could attend the memorial for the fallen officers,” I wrote, “Honor is something that causes people to put their normal lives on hold for just a moment.”
Lamb says that makes his writing less redundant because the viewer can already see that the store is closed. Instead it gives the viewer additional insight on the theme of “honor.”
For many writers, crafting a strong ending is a significant challenge. Too many take the easy way out and end the story on a sound bite. Lamb says he tries to come up with a powerful closing line that gives people a sense that the story is over.
“Reporter Boyd Huppert has a good trick for coming up with closing lines, and it’s worked well for me: Your closing line should make people say to themselves, ‘Ain’t that the truth!’”
It sure is. Thanks, Jason.