Let's shoot my credibility right off the bat. I can pretty much write a Hallmark movie. I have watched a few through the years as part of my membership in the "aging demographic" many of their advertisers target, so I'm very qualified. Here's the plot rundown, and I would prefer it star Kelly Martin or Erin Krakow if possible. They can bring it home, big time, with warmth...
*Girl (probably a widow) gets sent by her boss from the city to a postcard-ready small town to close down a local business, or to help on the family farm after Dad has a heart attack.
*She bumps into her former boyfriend, probably a widower with a super cute-yet-annoying child, there is a mild disagreement, they argue, but they eventually (whew!) get on the same page. Happy ending. Pass the cocoa. All of this "action" happens with the most annoying soundtrack underneath it, telling us how to feel each step of the way.
SO, you know what else? I can probably draw up a rundown for a lot of high school broadcasts. I do this not to offend, but to challenge. So here we go.
*Lead story: Disease of the Month. A profile of someone in the school, or connected to the school, who has a serious illness, or has been a bad accident. These stories can be very touching. But please consider this: Why NOW? Why are you covering it now? Is there "news" to report? It may sound heartless, but some of these segments verge on exploitation for the sake of making a show seem "serious." What the people you profile have gone through is very, very serious. Just think about that "Why NOW?" thing.
*The Local Organization. You know the one. The non-profit group of do-gooders who are helping the poor, the suffering, the disenfranchised in your town. They are probably having a 5K and you are probably covering it. You are probably interviewing the fundraiser...er...the Executive Director, or the media relations person, who say all the usual things about their mission and why they need support. You might get some folks at the 5K to talk about why they run for the cause. Hope it doesn't rain on race day. A thought: Don't do PR stories for local groups.
*Sports segment: We are WINNERS! If you have a successful team, they are guaranteed to be on your show. We will see them scoring points, dominating, with cheerleaders and fans chanting and cheering. It is a story that takes place on hundreds of campuses every year. So what is your unique angle? What am I going to see and hear that I have not seen and heard before? Just because you are covering a sports team does not let you off the hook--dig deeper. Bring me something new, something I have not seen or heard before. Note: One of the best sports stories my students have ever produced was about a sister school in our town that was on a horrible, long losing streak. Their players, coaches and fans were inspirational. It made me, as a viewer, re-think what a "winner" really is.
*Funny Guys. You know, those guys at every school who are just so clever. The problem is, being truly funny to viewers who are not on your TV staff is a bit of a challenge. Humor is HARD. These segments often rely on two minutes of bad acting and set-up for a punch line that is just not worth the journey. Or they are a pale copy of something on SNL or YouTube. Instead of producing a humorous segment, how about finding humor in the people you cover? Find funny characters in the real world. Cover something quirky and offbeat that will amuse your audience. There is certainly a place for lighter fare on a school broadcast, but nothing is worse than "funny" that isn't that funny.
*Featured Teacher. A safe, predictable profile of a teacher with a heart of gold, probably full of boring b-roll of said teacher sitting at a desk, standing in front of class, typing on a laptop, plus supportive bites of admiration from a few "A" students. This one fails to answer the "Why NOW?" question, and does not meet the "tell me something I don't know" test. Extra points for showing clever posters, mottos or desk ornaments. Instead of covering the "good teacher we all love," go further down the hall until you find a teacher often misunderstood, or ignored, because they are not as dynamic, or quick to draw attention to themselves. Scratch beneath the surface and you may have a great story about someone not so popular, but maybe more interesting.
Okay, okay, I will stop. You probably hate me by now, and I would not blame you. But before you leave a comment below that puts me in my place, can I say one more thing?
My kids have done ALL OF THESE more than once. We are totally guilty of committing cookie-cutter journalism. My challenge every time we pitch stories is to shoot down this stuff. Or lead the kids to understanding they are not pitching anything new.
Oh, and on our recent show, we did a really sweet story about a person with a disease, and by golly, we covered a local non-profit. And we had a segment that was supposed to be funny. It happens. Sadly, it happens all too often.