How to Create a Memorable Live Shot in TV News

A photo of live microwave and satellite news trucks on the scene of a story.
David McNew/Getty Images

Tune into any local TV station's newscast and you're bound to see a live shot. Sometimes, it's from the scene of breaking news. At other times, a live shot is simply a report from outside a building where a story happened hours ago.

In either case, a live shot is what gives local TV news a sense of urgency and freshness. Otherwise, it might appear to look like a newspaper with video. Stations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment that allows them to transmit live.

When you look back at the history of live TV remotes, you'll find out that the gear has gotten smaller and easier to use. However, the demand to use it has increased.

It's one reason why there's more breaking news on TV than ever before. That's because offering live breaking news is a critical part of building a TV brand. You can't be a leader in breaking news without a live shot.

There are several types of live shots. When a TV news reporter "goes live", it's critical for her to know what type of live shot is expected.

Straight Live Shot

A straight live shot may be called different things at various stations, but it is a live report that has no pre-recorded element. A reporter is speaking live for the duration of the report.

At the beginning moments of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, most reporters on the scene provided straight live shots. There was no need to show pre-recorded material because everything was happening before their eyes.

Even if there was an interview to conduct, it happened live.

Live Shot with Pre-Recorded Elements

A live report may include pre-recorded elements, such as a voiceover, vosot or package. There is a need to show something that happened in the past.

Using the 9/11 example, hours after the story broke, reporters were still live on the scene at the World Trade Center in New York City.

However, they needed to show viewers who were just tuning in how it all started. So the reporters would include video of the planes hitting the World Trade Center as they were narrating what had happened.

Live Shot with Talkback

Sometimes, a reporter may not be on the scene of a live shot at all. There are times when a TV news anchor may conduct an interview from the studio to a person who's live at the scene.

If there's a forest fire, a news anchor may appear in a split-screen (sometimes called a "double box") from the studio to interview a firefighter who is on the scene with a microphone and an earpiece to hear the questions. This allows the anchor to play the role of a reporter, asking questions even though he and the firefighter may be separated by hundreds of miles.

The Future of Live Shots

Seeing a live shot in a TV newscast is going to become even more commonplace. That's because the equipment needed to transmit a live report is getting smaller, easier to use and cheaper.

What once required large, expensive trucks can now be done with a backpack unit that can literally be worn like a backpack. It uses cell phone signals to transmit a live TV signal. These units can cost as little as $20,000, which is cheaper than a standard news car.

For now, the video quality is only as good as the cell phone signal. So it is sometimes unreliable in crowded situations where everyone is using their cell phones. It's no replacement for large multi-million dollar production trucks the networks use to cover large events like the Super Bowl.

Still, it allows a reporter to set up her own gear to produce a live shot without a large truck or an engineering team. That is why TV stations are investing in these backpack units in order to be ready for the next time breaking news happens.

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