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Reporters covering the "sprawl beat" for television often find themselves grappling with a complex issue that is difficult to explain. And they frequently struggle to find pictures that adequately convey what's at stake.

Consider the typical story about plans for new development. Wide shot, open farmland. Close up, sketch of buildings. Soundbite and cutaways, news conference. Standup. Maybe a map. The finished product rarely does the story justice. There are other options.

This tip sheet offers some suggestions, plus a guide to Internet resources on growth and sprawl.

Compare and Relate

  • Avoid raw numbers--acres to be developed, houses to be built--unless you then show what those numbers mean. How many football fields would fit into the area to be developed? How many of the area's malls? Most viewers have little or no idea what an acre is.

  • Compare what you can't see to something you can. Is there an existing development that resembles the one being planned? Can you dissolve from a model or sketch into something real?

  • Use specific details. Give viewers an idea of how much land is involved by telling them what it produced. How many pounds of strawberries a year, for example. Now you have a new visual element, something other than a wide shot of that open field. What kinds of businesses might relocate? Where would they come from? See if another station can provide video.

Use Technology Wisely

  • Aerials can help viewers get a sense of place and space. Old aerial photographs can be compared to what's in the same location today. Landsat or other satellite images can also be used to show change. Always add narration that explains clearly what the viewer is looking at.

  • Maps are meaningless unless they help viewers relate a location to something they already know. Be sure to include details that will make relationships clear.

  • Sometimes an actual map can be more useful to viewers than one designed by graphics. Use it as a prop to show where the development would be, and point out other landmarks your viewers already know.

  • Create graphics that show the movement of people, services, and the like. Where are people and businesses coming from or going to?

Tell the Story

  • Strong characters are great narrators for development stories. Who will be affected? Who will benefit? Who will suffer? Why do they feel the way they do about the prospect of development?

  • Make the place a central character in the story. Create a portrait of the place through different eyes.

  • Find different voices to assess and respond to change and development. Don't just talk to county planners and developers. Ask old people or children.




Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009

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