TO LOVE THE PAPER TRAIL
||A story based on paper documents
or computer records can pose a challenge for television journalists.
There's nothing terribly visual for them to work with and the
first resort, too often, is to call for graphics.
The trouble is, when you use partial quotes in full
screen fonts, the viewer has no way of knowing what's really in
the documents themselves. That can undercut a story's credibility.
Consider these alternatives the next time you're faced with a paper-heavy
story. And if you have a success story to share, please let
- Instead of calling graphics to make full-screens
of excerpts, shoot the actual pages or computer screens,
tight, to let the viewer see the specifics you are citing.
Use highlights or lighting techniques to make the words
stand out. One simple tactic is to shoot someone highlighting
the words with a reference marker. Use a lipstick cam and
shoot tight to make words pop off the page or screen.
- Capture and use natural sound as you move
pages or flip through documents.
- Be sure the narration repeats the specific,
highlighted words to reinforce their significance.
- Use the papers or computer screens as a
narrative device--go back to them several times, if you
are building a case that one person or organization keeps
turning up in the documents.
- Have someone directly involved in the
story read the documents aloud. This provides an opportunity
for b-roll, and brings the documents to life, sometimes
with emotion that would be inappropriate in a reporter track.
- If the volume of the documentation is
part of the story, use it in a standup. For example, one
reporter trailed a computer printout of DUI convicts who
had never served their sentences through the jail's hallways.
The sheer length of the list made the point that the city
wasn't holding violators accountable.
- Try an old-fashioned movie technique to
illustrate timelines: shoot a calendar, or show dates on
documents in close-up. Dissolve or flip through dates to
show the passage of time.
- When you create full-screens, consider
how font sizes and shapes can enhance the meaning of words.
Experiment with different fonts to reflect the emphasis
and tone of different voices, for example, in a court or
Hide the Paper
- Find a way to "put a face" on
what is in the documents. Medical records from a state mental
hospital will pack more power if you quote them over video
or still photos of the people who were sterlized against
- Look for analogies or metaphors that can
help viewers see more clearly what the documents imply.
For example, you could explain the results of a scientific
study about how the number of healthy brain cells shrinks
as you age by showing the difference between a forest in
summer and in winter.
- Translate jargon from documents into everyday
language. You may not want to highlight the documents if
the language is so complex that it's hard to understand.