Love them or hate them, TV reporters have to do standups. Maybe
not every day for every story, but often enough to make them seem
a chore. There actually are plenty of good reasons for doing standups,
some as old as television news itself. The trouble is, many standups
today look no different than they did half a century ago: the reporter
gets in front of the camera and talks.
That used to be enough. “In the beginning of network TV news,
the standup close was mainly a device to establish that, by golly,
a correspondent had been on the scene of the news event just reported,”
wrote the late Jim Snyder, who ran TV newsrooms in Washington and
Detroit. A standup not only can help to establish credibility, it’s
a way for reporters to build a relationship with viewers, giving
them a face to put with the voice. But the challenge for reporters
and photographers today is to produce standups that add more to
a story than “presence.”
Too many standups are an afterthought, thrown together at the
end of a shoot just to get something in the can. A standup should
be an essential part of your narrative, adding new information and
moving the story forward. A little forethought and some critical
questions can make all the difference:
Good standups obviously require close collaboration between
reporter and photographer, but sometimes attitudes get in the
way. Reporters who stress out about going on camera and photographers
who think standups are all about ego may not communicate as well
as they should, especially on deadline. So it’s important
to start talking through the standup options well before crunch
- Why would we want to include a standup in this story?
- What information would we convey in a standup?
- Do we have something to show or demonstrate in this standup?
- Where and when might we do this standup?
- How will the standup fit into the finished story?
Standups can be an effective way of explaining complicated issues
or concepts, especially if you can find a simple analogy to illustrate
the point. How does a retention pond work? Kind of like a coffee
filter. How do the candidates’ budget plans differ? Like servings
of pie at the local diner—larger slices of some flavors and
smaller slices of others. Show-and-tell standups aren’t for
every story, every day, but used judiciously, they can help viewers
make sense of difficult subjects.
Another way of adding visual interest to a longer standup is to
shoot it in multiple takes. This allows you to walk your viewer
through a complex process by illustrating individual steps in a
visual sequence. Create a simple storyboard in advance to ensure
that you’ll have everything you need for editing purposes.
Before you shoot any standup you need a clear idea of your story
structure—not a complete script but a mental outline. Sometimes,
it’s helpful to shoot more than one version in case that structure
changes. But if you wind up with a standup that really doesn’t
fit, resist the temptation to use it anyway. Then promise yourself
that tomorrow, you’ll plan and execute a standup that really