Sugar, Spice and....The Holiday News Recipe for Beginners

-John Casson, Charlotte Campus Director
Nov 24, 2015

Following graduation from the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, I was hired as a news reporter in West Palm Beach, Florida. Being the rookie that year, I was one of the staff members assigned to work during almost all major holidays. Turns out, it was an easy gig, and looking back I see now that we weren't reporting news, we were filling time and hoping people weren't paying close attention.

It's common around this time of year for journalists to report "template" news instead of actual unpredicted events. Template news is any story where you can insert the location and a non-variable factor to draw a predictable conclusion that appears to be news on the surface, but in reality is just filler. This is especially true around the holiday season and never more so than on the eve of Thanksgiving. Don't be surprised to see these five stories among the eight or so that will be covered on the evening of Thanksgiving on every station in your local market:

1. The Airport Shuffle

This is where a reporter goes to the nearest international airport and fills in the local blanks to the following story. "We're here at (insert name of airport) where officials are telling travelers to leave extra time this year. TSA authorities this year say you want to avoid (name stuff that is banned this year). But, there is some good news.... they say this year it's okay to bring (insert stuff that was banned last year, but allowed this year). Now we caught up with one local traveler (insert name of traveler) who is heading out with her family to (insert destination that is always warmer and cozier sounding than current location). She says there was no issue (or there were some issues, insert whatever she says)".

2. The Traffic Cop

This is where the traffic situation is reported in exactly the same amount of time, whether there are 100 accidents on the road or zero crashes in sight. Let's examine a non-sense report where there are no accidents in sight. It may sound something like this. "Taking a look at the roadways on this Thanksgiving eve it appears smooth sailing in and around (insert all the major interstates). Now if you're driving in the area of (pick an area where construction never ends), you're going to want to watch out for construction delays that may slow you down. Also, the area of (pick an area that is always congested), you're going to want to keep an eye out for taillights and traffic delays that are going to set you back.

3. The Homeless Helpers

These are the various soup kitchens that go out of their way to get attention and invite the media to watch people feed people who are eating, looking puzzled, and watching people talk about how it's about helping the community and giving back. Somewhere in the report should be the plug for the organization, which should say something along the lines of "now officials at (insert name of place) say they appreciate all the help this week, but are asking people to sustain the commitment all year long. They say each year they feed (insert a bunch of tough to validate "facts") and couldn't do it without community support".

4. Hardship Harry

This is where you find what represents a typical poor family in the community. Ideally, this is a six member family where one member works very hard and the other is disabled - and together they support at least four children, none of which should be holding a cell phone or Xbox at the time cameras are rolling.

5. The Overachiever

This is a story of a person or organization that goes way overboard this time of year. Perhaps donating 1000 turkeys out of the back of a truck in the middle of an intersection to a group of hungry homeless disabled veterans. Just know, when interviewing this person, you will likely hear responses like "it's all about giving back", or "it's only a start, I'm sure there are plenty of others doing far more". You'll never hear an overachiever say "Darn right I'm giving away lots of turkeys, if it wasn't for my generosity; these people would have nothing to be thankful for". If those words do ever come out - just leave them out of the report.

So there you have it. The newscast can be rounded out with a local fire, an update to a recent arrest that had some vague relation to the holiday, and of course the weather. If you decide to make a career as a news reporter and a producer, I suggest you do any of the above stories, let her know you've already got the templates.

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