Eric’s Blog

How “reporter involvement” works for audiences and why it’s making reporting on tough stories more difficult

One of the most interesting trends in working with clients in news and factual programming is the increased focus on “personal” storytelling and the technique of reporter involvement: the reporter “showing” something, describing something, in the middle of things as they are happening.

If the reporter is good at it, reporter involvement can be exciting to watch and makes for good television (even if it’s being seen on an online platform); description and a certain amount of “showing” always seem to work well for audiences.

Some reporters are simply “naturals” at this; they can easily figure out what to show and how to describe what’s happening beautifully for the audience. But for many other journalists, they don’t have a clue how to do that on camera, nor are they comfortable with it.

As more and more news organizations are asking their reporters to use this technique, here are a few ideas to do it more effectively for audiences, whether the reporter is a “natural” or not:

Techniques for effective reporter involvement include:

  • Strong, clear set-up within the first 15 seconds
  • Sets the scene: shows/tells what’s at stake, what we will see, what we will learn
  • Structured in a logical progression leading to a payoff (“what we learned”)
  • Makes interview partner comfortable – explains story and their role in it
  • Strong, well planned description and “showing” (interview partner or reporter)
  • Innovative visual approaches
  • No hesitation to let the reporter’s interests show
  • Recognize opportunities on location, i.e. “let’s look around the corner and see what we find”
  • Well thought out wrap-up related to set up
  • Short summary – what changed/what we learned

A good way to practice reporter involvement technique is to “describe while driving”… that is, in the car on the way to work, just keep a running commentary up on what you are seeing and experiencing. Other drivers seeing you doing will probably think you’re in a running conversation on a hands-free telephone and won’t give it a second glance. It’s a good way to build your skills and confidence.

I think there’s another reason more and more news organizations are leaning toward reporter involvement. They sense their audiences are getting fed up with the half-baked facts and out right misleading information on social media and in trends such as branded content and “native advertising”, the blending of factual content and advertising that are increasingly present online. The movement toward a reporter “showing” what is happening is simply a recognition that the audience is getting fed up with all the BS out there right now.

But the implications of a more personal approach to storytelling are worth considering for news organizations. Certainly, reporter involvement is essential tool and very good for audiences. But making stories more authentic and “personal”, i.e. building in more of the reporter’s own experiences and individual perceptions of a story can have a significant downside.

It’s much easier for governments and powerful interests to call a strong story into question and challenge it as simply one reporter’s opinion, nothing more. A more “personal” approach to reporting could make it much more difficult for news organizations to report critically on big issues involving the actions of government and powerful interests which affect their audiences.

And: look for the development of more news programs built around from the view of a single person “on the scene” showing what’s happening and how they see it. And there will be an increasing demand for reporters who can do that effectively for audiences.