TV news is like the military when it comes to acronyms. We love them. We’re also huge fans of lingo. Even better, there are often several words to describe the same thing depending on the shop (station). So in case you were ever curious about what the heck we’re talking about, here’s your secret TV news decoder ring.
A vo (some say vo, others go with v.o.) is a voice over. It’s when an anchor or reporter is reading a script over video. A vo/sot is a voice over followed by sound on tape. An anchor/reporter will read a script over video and then you (the viewer at home) will hear a portion of an interview. There’s also a pkg which is an abbreviation for package. It’s a fully edited story. A reporter/anchor will look at the video, the interviews and write a story. She (or he) will record her voice, pick the sound bites and the editor will piece it together into a seamless story. In the field, the photographer is also the editor.
Everything that will be in a newscast is displayed on a rundown. The slug is the name of the story. The talent line tells everyone (the producers, directors, camera crew, audio person) who’s reading the story. The format column indicates what type of story it is, whether it’s a vo, vo/sot, or pkg. The writer is the person who wrote the story. The story is given a certain length of time it can run. Usually a vo is :15-:20 seconds. A vo/sot is :40-:45. And a pkg is 1:15-1:30 (1:30 is very generous, though special stories can be about 2:30). The hit time is the point in the newscast when the story will air. As my first producer told me, we have a window; you have to start and end the show on time, every day, to the second.
The heart of every newsroom is the assignment desk. That’s where the assignment editors sit. They are the lifelines for the reporters, photographers, truck operators, producers, and the public. Assignment editors read all the press releases that come in, listen to all the police and fire scanners, they keep an eye on recurring stories, upcoming court dates, and have a huge file of contacts. They call to get information on breaking news. They let the producers know what is going on that day and help them decide how to allocate the crews (reporter/photographer/truck operator) to each story. Assignment editors prepare reporters with the necessary information for their story, give photographers and truck operations locations of where they need to go and are the conduits between the producers and reporters in the field. They are amazing multi-taskers!
At 7News we have a working newsroom, which means our newsroom is part of the news set. You can see the writers’ pod (there’s also the producers’ pod, the executive producers’). At their desks are computers that also double as viewing stations so they can look at video and interviews.
The news set’s main focus is the anchor desk. That’s where the anchors usually read their stories. You’ll also see 7News anchors standing in various positions in the newsroom. There are also several places where the sports team does its reports and the weather station where the meteorologists present the forecast. By now you probably know they stand in from of a chroma wall on the news set (that’s either bright green or royal blue) and at home you see the computer generated graphics and animations instead of the chroma wall. On the news set, there is also a ton of lights and several cameras. Attached to the cameras are teleprompters so the anchors can look right into the camera lens and see the words they need to read. We also have a fun jib, which has a camera on one end and a counter weight on the other. It lets the camera operator capture high shots or smoothly move horizontally or vertically. Many of the big movements done in the newsroom are done with the use of a jib. Out on the set with the anchors is the floor director who guides the anchors, telling them which camera they’re on, how long sound bites are, or letting them know when they might need to move to a new position.
But the magic happens in the control room. That’s where the director runs the show. He (or she) will look at the newscast that the producer put together and synchronize the execution of camera shots, audio, graphics and video. During the live newscast, he calls out directions to the technical director on when to take each camera shot, when to bring up each anchor’s or reporter’s microphone and when to go to a reporter. They’re constantly looking at the preview monitor to see what will be the next thing viewers see. Next, they’re looking at the on-air monitor to make sure that folks at home are seeing what they’re supposed to be seeing. The producer helps to ensure what he envisioned is carried out and he’s constantly monitoring the air-time clock to make sure he gets out of the show right on time.
Reporters often put their stories together in the field. The photographer uses his (or her) video camera and captures video and interviews onto a beta tape (some stations use disks or flash drives). The reporter reviews the video and interviews and writes a package. We use a lip mic to record our voice in the field. The photographer then takes all those components and pieces together our package using the edit decks in the truck.
When you see us on TV we’re often reporting from a live location. A live microwave truck or a satellite truck is sending our pictures and sound from the live location back to the station before it’s broadcast to you at home. The reporter is usually wearing a lavealier microphone, we call it a lav mic. She’s also has an ifb (interruptible feedback earpiece) in her ear. This lets the reporter hear the show and the folks back at the station communicate with the reporter.
If you’ve read all this, you’re probably more versed in TV news jargon than any civilian should be but as I write that last line, I realize I didn’t even get to explain what a cg, lower third, ots, and mix-minus is. I’ll save that for next time. (That, in TV news, is called a tease!)