Tips for Stand-Up and Live Reporting

Some really good, basic advice about stand-ups and live TV reporting comes from Joel DeSpain, an award-winning former TV reporter who has done scores of live-shots.

“When it comes to live-shots, keep in mind there are no checks and balance: no producer, no editor.  Make sure what you say is accurate, that it is not going to place lives in danger, and be sure to speak in such a way as to not create undue alarm.

Also, do not try to memorize large chunks of copy.  Have an outline, think through the information you have, and calmly present it in a way that there’s good flow to your presentation.  Try not to do “live for live’s sake”.  Have something to show your viewers that provides good reason for why you are there.”

Susan Siman, an anchor at WISC-TV in Madison, repeats the tried-and-true warning to assume the mike is always on and the camera is always live.  She says “it’s a mistake everyone will make once.  The moment you think you’re safely in a commercial break or waiting for your live shot, and say something you think isn’t going on the air, will be the moment it DOES go out”.

Live reporting on radio takes a different set of skills.  You are your listener’s eyes and ears.  You have to tell the listener what you’re seeing.  Just as the good radio sports announcer translates the action on the field to a word-picture you can imagine, you must practice the skill of describing what you see when you are on the scene of breaking news.  Sometimes it’s not what you see, but what you smell or sense.  Even TV viewers seeing a live-shot of a broken gas main can’t get the sense of “how bad it is” unless you tell them.  With radio’s ability to allow you to create “theater of the mind”, comes the responsibility to practice your craft, and learn to capture the details of a scene that make it compelling.

Years ago, veteran newsman Joe Goezer at KFIZ-AM in Fond du Lac would broadcast a live radio report from the 4th of July fireworks at Lakeside Park.  It’s a shame tapes of those broadcasts don’t exist, because they’d be a lesson in how to describe something so visually compelling, using only words.  Goezer said he felt as though he was the eyes and ears of people in nursing homes, hospitals, or people who just couldn’t be there, but would enjoy knowing what it was like.  His broadcasts illustrated that you can use one sense, sound, but still involve the senses of sight, smell, and even taste.

Jenna Sachs, an award-winning reporter at Fox 6 TV in Milwaukee, says “the best stand-ups involve showing something.  Try to incorporate movement.  Make sure your stand-up actually moves the story forward – don’t just shoot a pointless stand-up because you have to have one”.