How To: Shoot a News Package

Most television news outlets stick to a standard process to put together a news package. Wouldn’t it be nice if you understood this process and could apply it to your video podcast, television program, or marketing video? Sure it would. Here’s how to do it.

In the internet age, the media isn't limited to the networks. Anyone with a camera and a good story can find an audience.

In the internet age, the media isn’t limited to the networks. Anyone with a camera and a good story can find an audience.

Pre-Production

A news package is only as good as what your covering, so the first thing you must do is find an appropriate subject. Depending on the theme of your podcast this might be self-evident (i.e. a podcast about comics would do a story on Batman’s death), but sometimes you’ll have to do some brainstorming to find an interesting subject.

So, how to choose a subject? Find something that gets your motor going. If you don’t find it interesting, odds are your audience won’t either. What kinds of news packages have had an effect on you? – Think about news packages you’ve seen that made an impression. If you can’t think of any, go to Youtube and search for TV news. You can also get inspiration from reading national and local news stories. Get the local angle on national news, or find a great human interest story close to home.

Local newspapers are an excellent source of story ideas. Find a small story that you think deserves better coverage, or attack a national story from a local angle.

Local newspapers are an excellent source of story ideas. Find a small story that you think deserves better coverage, or attack a national story from a local angle.

Contacting sources is usually easy. Most people love to be interviewed, even if they won’t admit it at first. Most times you’ll find all you have to do is ask. Of course, if you are trying to interview Brad Pitt or President Obama odds are there are a whole lot of people in front of you.

Once you have your sources put together a list of interview questions. Always research the subject matter. Try and find other interviews the subject has done so you aren’t asking the same questions they always get. Above all, leave room in your questioning for things that come up on the spot.

Production

Once you have a topic and sources to interview you’ll want to start shooting footage. There are three kinds of footage you’ll need for your package:

B-Roll: B-roll is incidental footage that relates to your subject. For example, a story about a local school could have shots of the school’s exterior, kids walking through the hall, etc.  A common type of b-roll is called an establishing shot. It is usually the exterior of a location of significance to the story. You can purchase your b-roll footage from sites like iStockPhoto or shoot it yourself.

Footage of your subject in their natural environment humanizes them. Make sure to get a few shots while you have them!

Footage of your subject in their natural environment humanizes them. Make sure to get a few shots while you have them!

Interviews: If possible, have your shot set up and the sound levels adjusted before the subject gets there. Your subject should have a drink availible in case his throat goes dry from the lights or nervousness. Don’t be afraid to look away from your list of questions and have a conversation. Look the subject in the eye. The more relaxed the subject is, the better the interview. Make sure to thank them when it’s over and offer them a copy of the finished product. You may need them again.

Setting up the cameras and lighting before the interview will keep your subject from becoming distracted or bored while you set up.

Setting up the cameras and lighting before the interview will keep your subject from becoming distracted or bored while you set up.

On-Screen Talent: Get shots of the reporter introducing, transitioning, or concluding the presentation of content within a story. These are sometimes performed live on-air over the final edit, but usually are recorded in the field. Try and limit these to two or three, as a narrative voice over  your b-roll will resonate with your audience more than a talking head. For the introduction try and incorporate pans, zooms, or dolly shots to bring people into the segment.

Here’s a good example of an effective and interesting intro transition:

[flv:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vI-3Fk5das&fmt=18  476 333]

Post-production

Now that all the footage is taped it’s time to start the edit. Editing is a complicated art and you’ll need at least a basic understanding of your video editing software to accomplish this

To begin, go through the interviews and find the best sound bites from each one. A sound bite is a small snippet of speech that has a high concentration of relevant information. Take these bites and organize them in a sensible order. Group bites that address the same subject together. Sketch a rough outline of how you see the story. If it helps you can start by asking the standard questions of Journalism:

  • Who is involved?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • How did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?

This list is purposely simplistic. Try and put the content of the story in a cohesive, logical order. Organize the interview clips on one track of your timeline in accordance with your outline. Go ahead and put your shots of On-Screen Talent on this track to, again according to your outline.

Next, record a voiceover for each main bullet point on your outline. Guide your audience through the story, and never assume that something about the story is common knowledge. A Martian who just learned English should be able to understand the major beats of your story. Review your b-roll and record any descriptions that might be needed. Import the audio clips onto your timeline. Arrange them on an audio track below your interviews and on-screen talent audio. Arrange them so that they don’t overlap. You now have your entire story on the timeline.

Now to cover your edits: Use your b-roll on top of your voice overs so the audience doesn’t see a black screen. Any jump cuts (cuts between separate moments in the same steady shot) need to be covered. Place your b-roll on a new video track above the old one to cover these.

Your final time line should look something like this (Click to Enlarge). Make sure there are no black frames!

Your final time line should look something like this (Click to Enlarge). Make sure there are no black frames!

Now, simply add any music you might use as well as any on-screen text or graphics you may need and export the project.

By no means is this meant to be a comprehensive guide. There are many techniques and style not covered. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how a news package fits together. Once you master this form feel free to experiment.

Any other tips for news reporting? Post them in the comments!

If you need coverage of your event in the Pittsburgh area or in Northeast Ohio, hire us!

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3 comments on “How To: Shoot a News Package
  1. Nick says:

    Just thought I’d add a couple of points, as a cameraman/editor from Australia

    * Golden rule I learned in high school (before becoming a news editor/cameraman) is ensure the story is written/read in a way that a 12 year old could understand what is going on.

    * Contrary to the guide, don’t use music unless its directly relevant. Its tacky for news items, and with online podcasting can create a heap of copyright issues. In my country, we’re allowed to use copyrighted tracks for legitimate on-air news items, but we do so VERY sparingly, and only if its directly relevant to the current item.

    * With news stories, try and do your interviews before shooting your overlay. Quite often, the responses people give you to questions can point you in the direction of the most relevant overlay. Example, if you’re talking to a doctor about a problem at a hospital, and they mention the problem is isolated to the Emergency department, you know what area you need to shoot the most, as opposed to generic exteriors of the hospital. When shooting overlay, start wide to establish, then follow with a mid shot, then something tight. Give your editors something to work with. Also, hold each shot for a minimum of ten seconds.

    * Lastly, if you’re going to be creative with your shooting, that’s fine. But shoot ‘saver’ shots as well. As in shoot a level-horizon shot of the building after you try that wicked zoom/pull focus maneuver off the 10th story window.

    Most of all, enjoy what you’re doing. 🙂

    • Bill Meeks says:

      Australia, huh? I seem to get a lot of clients from there. Agreed on most of your points. Wanted to mention that you can find a ton of creative commons music on sites like Jamendo, or you can make your own like I do.

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  1. […] this news package happen. Afterwards, I was in panic mode because my goal was to finish all of my Nat packages very early in order to finish my other packages. In the meantime, there was a story that I got a […]

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