Lesson Plan: TV Newscast Producing (Week 2)

Breaking News

Breaking news is the lifeline of any local newscast.  Viewers want to know that when they turn on a show, they will get the most up to date stories and information.  Ideally, every show should start with some kind of breaking news.  If there is no breaking news, it would be considered a slow news day.

The definition of breaking news, is anything that is new, or developing, or happening at the moment a newscast comes on the air.  Of course, some stations have a different description of breaking news.  Often, stations label a story breaking news, even though the story happened 8 hours earlier.  When they do that, they are not being true to the viewer, and in the long run, they lose viewership because the audience loses trust in the anchor team.  They also become frustrated because what’s being sold as breaking news, simply is old news.

Let’s say you are producing a 5pm newscast.  A fire is raging in Queens, and the fire started at 2pm, but is still not under control at the start of a 5pm newscast.  That would constitute as breaking news, even though the fire started hours earlier. It is breaking news because there is still an active scene, and the fire is still ongoing.  In this scenario, a producer would have a reporter live at the scene of the Queens fire, and that would be the breaking news lead to the show.

Timing of Breaking News

No matter how much you practice and no matter how much you study or research, you can never know exactly when breaking news will take place.  Most producers’ shifts can be anywhere from 8 to 9 hours, sometimes 10.  They plan, and plot the perfect newscast rundown – spending hours searching for stories to include in their show.  But when breaking news takes place, depending on the severity of the story, producers are prepared to toss much of their newscast in the trash, in order to make room for a breaking news story.

The value of a news producer is seen, not in the perfect construction of a show rundown.  Anyone can build a show rundown.  It is the calm, and ease in which a producer handles breaking news.  It is a producer’s communication with the anchor team, and the show’s director, that makes or breaks a live newscast.  

In Class Exercise:  Observe newscasts over the period of a week.  Isolate a breaking news story, and how effectively the anchors conveyed details of the breaking news story to viewers.  Were they nervous?  Did they sound informed?  Was there video?  Did the anchors continue to update viewers on the breaker throughout the newscast?  Or did they only do the story once?