Top 5 Live Shot Tips for TV News Reporters

A picture of a news reporter
Master the art of the live shot and become a news reporter viewers trust. Photo © DreamPictures / Getty Images

All TV news reporters remember their first live shot. It's both thrilling and terrifying to know that what you're saying is being transmitted instantly into thousands of homes. Because there are no do-overs, you need to master the live shot in order to improve your resume tape or DVD and win television media awards. These top 5 live shot tips for TV news reporters will help you deliver quality content, whether you're covering a school board meeting or a natural weather disaster.

Plan how you Want to use Your Live Shot

A live shot is a tool for reporting, just like a TV interview, graphics, or other parts of a news package. While you can't control everything the moment you "go live," you can decide how going live will improve your story.

Many live shots happen outside of buildings, such as city hall. While you won't have the incredible visuals of a fire behind you, you can reinforce the timely aspect of your report by saying, "I'm live in front of city hall, where inside these doors just moments ago, the city council voted to cut 1,000 employees from the payroll." You are telling the audience you are on the scene, covering the latest developments as they happen.

Surprisingly, in breaking news situations, it's actually easier to plan your live shot. If you're in a tornado-ravaged neighborhood, you can do a show-and-tell report by pointing out what you see and interviewing those affected by the disaster.

Another common live shot scenario is covering a news conference or speech. You'll want to start by introducing the event, then letting it unfold, then delivering a wrap-up. However, these situations can be tricky because you need fill-in material. If your live shot of a 5:00 p.m. news conference doesn't start until 5:10 p.m. you'll need to fill ten minutes of air time.

Why Talking in an Outline Format Works 

Organizing what you want to say is critical in delivering a smooth live shot. Beginners often try to memorize every word, but that's dangerous. If you forget one tiny piece of information you'll stumble through your report, or worse, freeze on-air.

It's better to talk in an outline format. Think about the bullet points you want to hit, as if you were giving a PowerPoint presentation. You can visualize the bullet points or go a step further and visualize what you want to say in pictures. For the city hall live shot, they would picture the building, the city council sitting at a large table, and then the 1,000 people with pink slips.

If you Stumble in Your Live Shot, Keep Going

We all stumble occasionally when we talk with friends or family, so it's inevitable you'll stumble occasionally while talking during a live shot. When this happens, recovery is key.

To prepare for the inevitable, think about what you do when you stumble in real life. You'll likely say the word correctly, then continue speaking. No big deal, and more importantly, no one remembers your brief verbal hiccup. The goal is to achieve a natural recovery in your live shot. The more you make your live shot look natural, even when you stumble, the more professional you'll appear.

When Appropriate, Move Around in Your Live Shot

You've seen reporters for the broadcast networks deliver countless live shots in front of the White House. They all stand still speaking into their microphone. It's easy to assume that's the model to follow for any live shot because that's how the big shots do it.

However, what works in D.C. doesn't necessarily work at a state fair, protest march, or natural disaster. As a reporter, you have the option to move around while reporting live.

Remember, viewers want you to show them something, so don't disappoint them. Take viewers somewhere they can't go on their own. Walk around the state fair and point out the attractions. Use the camera at the protest march to show just how many people are there. Demonstrate the depth of a natural disaster by showing a resident's home filled with water.

It's easier than you think. Once you add movement to your live shot, the words will flow because you will be talking about what you're seeing. 

A moving live shot requires practice with your videographer because they need to know you have enough cable for their camera and your microphone. You and your videographer need to rehearse your movements in advance to ensure you stay in focus and in frame. Failing to communicate with your videographer can result in a disaster that'll be captured on live TV.

Wrap up Your Live Shot and Push the Story Forward

The perfect live shot shouldn't wither in its final moments. That's why you must plan ahead of time how you'll wrap-up your  You also need to think about where your story goes once the camera is turned off. After all, most stories don't end once you head back to the station. "The people whose homes are flooded are now waiting to hear back from their insurance companies to see if their insurance will cover the damage" is a good way to wrap up and position yourself for a follow-up report.

Understandably, it's tough to manage all the live shot components while acting naturally. However, reporters are expected to excel at being live on the scene, and your on-air career likely depends on you nailing it.

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