One day, as a joke in the newsroom, I uttered the phrase, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” We all laughed. A colleague was pushing for a story to make the evening news, but there were lots of holes in the story and I wanted my story to be the lead story. I won and got the lead story. The colleague’s story was killed.
Over the years we used the joke several times daily just to raze each other. But then we began to realize that way too much of what made the news at our TV station and at those of our competitors, made the news regardless of the facts. Ultimately, it was one of the reasons I left the news business after a great 15-year ride.
But let’s be honest. How many news stories are filled with facts? The truth is, not a lot. Newspaper stories will always have more details than TV and radio news reports. But TV stories, especially, are driven by visual images. The example that I always use is that if the story is about a brown cow, I need video of a brown cow. If I have no video of a brown cow, I can’t put the story on the evening news.
Another example I always use is the mixed metaphor that says, “If a tree falls in the woods and it is not on video, is it news?”
When I used to cover hurricanes in the ‘80s and ‘90s I was always upset when I didn’t have video of something blowing away. I needed the visual on video to tell the story.
I laughed a few years ago when there was a news report about a landslide in Japan. A highway traffic camera captured trees sliding down the side of a hill. It was only news because there was dramatic video. Trust me, as a guy who has worked around the world and extensively in the Pacific Rim, there are landslides all over the world every day. This one happened to be captured on video and therefore became news.
A print reporter will likely write only a 12-20 sentence synopsis, a radio reporter is only writing 6-8 sentences and a TV reporter is only writing 10-12 sentences.
The average person tries to give way, way, way too many facts in a news interview. Take this comment with a grain of salt, but the reporter doesn’t really care about you or the facts. Sure, they seem interested in you, but their report is more important to them personally than your facts.
A news report is a puzzle. Certain pieces must fit exactly together. In a TV report, quotes make up one-third of the story. The lead and the conclusion together make up one-third of the story. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but can you guess how much room we have in the story for your facts? In a TV news report, that equals 4 sentences. In a print report that equals 8-12 sentences.
If there is no room in the story for a bunch of facts, why would you spend so much time giving lots of facts to the reporter? Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.