Thinking Of A New Book — One-Man TV Newsmaking

Published On February 7, 2011 | By Mike Carroll | Shooting News, The Next Book

Buoyed by the reader response from my first book Naked Filmmaking about how I make films as a one-man filmmaker without a crew, I have been thinking about writing another about how I do TV news as a cameraman-reporter-writer-editor. It would tell the inside story behind the story — how I am assigned stories or come up with them on my own, then my process of shooting and conducting interviews, followed by my process of deciding the best way to tell a story and how I chose to write what I write. It would be intended for journalism students and anyone interested in how TV news comes to be what you see at home on your screens at 5 or 6 o’clock.

For the camera and computer junkies out there, of which I am one of them, I would also explore covering news with the traditional 25+ pound Betacam-type news camera, as well as using one of the new 2 to three pound HD camcorders about the size of your hands and the Canon 7D and shooting an HD DSLR for news — which I have been experimenting with.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier postings, more and more stations across the country are expecting reporters to shoot and edit their own stories and for photographers to step up and start pounding out their own scripts. This book would address all of this and how to do it — or, at least, how I do it.

It’s early days and I’d appreciate any thoughts, interest or reception to such a book. If I press forward it would be the fall at the very earliest before the book would be ready for publication.

Below is a sample from one of my recent writings about the changing trends in TV news and what journalists in newsrooms across the globe are having to learn to adjust to.

Also, a recent story I did that illustrates the point of shorter, more expeditious storytelling.

Be looking forward to hearing from you.

TRT – Total Running Time

One of the first things you learn in TV news: How long a story can run.

When I first got into local TV news back in the 1980s the average run time of a news story was 1:45. By the 1990s it was 1:30. Or “a buck 30” in news jargon.

By 2010 the new rule was: 1:15 – and not a second over.

The bottom line for this: the audience’s attention span is shorter.

People have more options for getting their news and information – not just the local TV news channels, but also the constant bombardment from 24 hour cable news channels and the Internet. If the story isn’t holding a viewer’s interest they hit the remote and go to a competing channel. Constant flipping. Viewers in their 30s or younger may simultaneously be surfing their iPhone’s, iPad’s or laptops. If they’re younger than that they might not even bother with TV at all, getting all of their information from websites.

There was a time when any decent-sized city had two or more daily newspapers, one that would come out in the morning and another in the afternoon. In the 80s and 90s, as more and more people turned to television for their primary source of information, most newspapers with smaller circulations folded, leaving cities with only one newspaper and three or more TV stations to provide their local news. Not to mention local radio stations giving news updates hourly or on the half-hour.

By the beginning of the 21st century the question was being asked: would printed newspapers would last at all? This is still up in the air.

Fighting for their very lives to remain relevant, newspapers are posting their stories online as soon as they can, not waiting for the next day’s printing. Since newspapers are comprised of printed words they are ready-made for the users computer screens, iPhones, iPads, etc., etc., etc.
In addition to posting up-to-the-minute print and photo news, they are now expanding into adding video clip segments — in effect, broadcasting over the Internet — and giving TV stations new competition.


TV news stories today have to be more direct and more concise. Lean, mean and no fat.

USA Today was the first newspaper to take its cue from TV news by making printed stories shorter and quicker to read. Now, ironically, TV stations are taking their cue from USA Today.

The full circle begins its next revolution.

To the outsider 1:45 and 1:15 may not sound like much. 105 seconds down to 75 seconds. 30 seconds, so what?

By comparison, though, try looking it this way:

You have a comfortable weekly grocery budget of $105 to feed your family. Times change and you are reduced to only having $90 to feed your family. You tighten your belts and limit yourselves to what’s really important. Then a new edict comes down limiting you to only $75 to get your family through the week. Now you really have start slashing, cutting every corner to make ends meet.

It’s the same way in telling a news story: you still have a whole story to tell, but you only have 3/5 of the time allotted to convey the information to an audience.

You have to really learn how to count the calories of a story. What is nutritional? What is fat? What ever you don’t have to have, you learn to cut right off the top. Skim the fat.

The key point to all this is: TV news is all about time – and using the little time that you’ve got as efficiently and effectively as you can.

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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

One Response to Thinking Of A New Book — One-Man TV Newsmaking

  1. Mike says:

    Shawn- Thanks for the comment. I’m busy at working on a draft for the book on news. I’ll make official mention of it later, once I’m a bit more confident about the shape of the book.
    On your question regarding Naked Filmmaking whether the book covers how to cover a scene so you get all of the shots you need for editing? — Yes, I do. I go into great specifics about sound, wireless mics, where to place them on men and women, even the types of clothing they should wear — cotton, it’s quiet. On shooting, I discuss a wider shot, a master of sorts, and then moving in. I’ve shot my films hand-held — it allows actors more freedom. They don’t have to worry about hitting marks, I adjust my camera to them. And how I prefer shooting in telephoto so that I always have over-the-shoulders so that we feel that the actors are in the same scene together. Shooting in close-ups makes editing much, much easier. I edit based on the actor’s performances, not on a storyboard plan. By working in tight close-ups you can do this. The editing takes longer because you are judging so much more — their faces, eyes, everything. But the close-ups, and that I am always shooting over an actor’s shoulder means that I always have the full-on face of the actor I am focusing on to look at, study, explore — which the audience benefits from.
    Does that help?

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