Tip of the Week | Remember how you felt
Written by Jason Lamb
I’ll go ahead and say it: over the last few months on several assignments, I’ve felt overwhelmed. Going to a rally? Be ready for live hits at 4 p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and a package for 10 p.m. Oh, and in between that, please Facebook Live the whole rally that will suddenly turn into a march. Don’t forget to interact with your live viewers, respond to their comments, call them out by name. It’s enough to make us all go crazy!
TV news crews have never had it easy. We lament that it’s hard to find the time to tell a good story. We’ve all been there. The struggle is even more real for MMJs who add on the responsibilities of traditionally two-person crews (I still don’t know how you folks do it!).
This isn’t a post to complain about all that; news consumers want to know what’s happening now and finding a way to deliver it to them will always be our goal. This post is about our focus — what it always has been, and what it always will be: informing people by making people feel something.
This is certainly not a new idea, but when the rain is pouring down, a Facebook Live stream is coming up, with two miles behind you and three more live shots ahead of you, it may seem like a goal that’s harder than ever to achieve. But you’ll be well served if you remember just one thing: It’s still important to pay attention to what you’re feeling in the field, and how you’re reacting to what you’re seeing.
It’s always been our job to be the stand-in for the thousands of people who aren’t where we are. Communicating those feelings is a part of that responsibility. We still have to make time for what’s required of us (I’m not saying we should ignore things like Facebook Live), but if we spend too much time scrolling through comments on our live streams, we’ll miss our reactions (and other people’s reactions) to the moments that happen right in front of us.
Shortly after the shooting that killed five law enforcement officers in Dallas, photojournalist Catherine Steward and I were covering a Black Lives Matter rally that spontaneously turned into a march around Downtown Nashville. At one point, a server at a restaurant chain stepped outside to watch. I asked her how she felt about the march, but the best part of the interview wasn’t what she said, it was when she turned around (and in so doing, revealed on her shirt where she worked).
I won’t spoil the surprise. If we weren’t paying attention to what her shirt said (or my own reaction when she turned around) that moment probably would have never made it into our story. Feelings are intangible things and sometimes I don’t communicate them in the best way, but it’s important to pay attention and try. If you feel something when you see something the first time, chances are your audience will too. Remember that feeling. Write it down if you have to. Refer back to it when you’re writing your story.
Just last week, photojournalist Angie Dones and I faced another rally and march. This one was protesting an officer-involved shooting that killed an African American man. This march was much shorter, but there were two other key differences: We were on Facebook Live during the entire event (posted above), and the protestors effectively shut down a Nashville City Council meeting in progress. It was a rapidly changing story with a ton of demands on both social media and television (the protesters were marching and disrupting the city council meeting throughout the 6 p.m. newscast).
But one thing struck me as I was standing there in council chambers as elected leaders were suddenly being yelled at during their own meeting: “What are they going to do about this?” You could see that question in the council members faces. If police arrested and hauled out all the protestors, it certainly might create more long term harm and division between the two groups. But on the other hand, the council members couldn’t allow a group to just come in and bring their meeting to an end. It was a thought that came from paying attention to my own thoughts and feelings as an unprecedented scene played out. We wrapped up our Facebook Live coverage and put our package together for the 10 p.m. show, where I included that very thought in the script.
Who knows what the next big thing will be? Facebook Live hasn’t even been available to everyone for a year. Whatever it is, news organizations will adapt to it and we’ll incorporate it into our daily coverage. But if we remain focused on the basics by paying attention to our own thoughts and reactions along with those of the people we’re covering, our stories and our jobs will remain as relevant and impactful as they always have.
Jason Lamb is a reporter for WTVF NewsChannel 5 in Nashville. He is the recipient of the 2016 NPPA Photojournalism Award for Reporting, along with six Emmy Awards during his time at NewsChannel 5. Previously he was a reporter for KTUU-TV in Anchorage where he received a national Edward R. Murrow Award for Writing. Originally from Beaverton, Oregon, Jason graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism.