For any given newscast, choosing a lead story is no easy task. Ironically, perhaps what makes this selection process so difficult is that there is not always an obvious right answer. One viewer’s priority story may be at the bottom of the totem poll for another viewer, and vice versa.
But imagine being responsible for not just the newscast’s lead story, but also for the very theme of the entire newscast. This is one of the major responsibilities for a Thursday “See It Live” producer.
Last Wednesday, on the eve of “See It Live,” my fellow producers and I set up a text conversation in which we bounced around ideas regarding themes for the next day’s newscast. From environmental activism on campus to wildfire preparations across Southern California, the pitching process appeared to be going well. Before heading to bed, we ultimately chose the wildfires theme.
Choosing a theme is an onerous task, as it needs to be something that is relatively new, should have many angles on which to report, and have some relatability to our audience. Come Thursday morning, we deemed the proposed theme on wildfires an old story, as the heat wave and red flag warning from previous days were forecast to officially end by the start of the newscast. The “environmental activism at USC” angle was also a “no go” for its lack of multiple angles. We knew we had to choose another theme and do so quickly, as a decision on the theme needed to be made just after noon that day.
Ultimately, we chose a very important theme that has in recent weeks been prominently covered in the news: sexual assault and harassment. A prominent and powerful Hollywood producer has been forced off his entertainment throne due to a barrage of graphic accusations against him. Similar accusations have been recently made against some notables in the news business, with details of massive settlements revealed just this week. Coincidentally, a USC social work graduate student held a press conference on Thursday, the very day of our newscast, in which she publicly accused a USC professor of sexual harassment. Because of this explosive accusation lobbed against a high-ranking USC employee and made public that day, we determined that, in addition to being of interest to the public at large, we believed this topic to be of particular interest to the USC community. Not only did this make it easy to decide the theme of sexual harassment and assault was appropriate for that day’s newscast, but it also made it easy to determine what the lead story should be.
On Thursday, as producers, we made a fast and unanimous decision that the show would begin with the story about the student accuser. A lead story must be new, relatable to the audience, and should be something significant in nature. This lead story matched all three of these criteria. The package compiled by the reporter turned out well, as it included relevant sound bites from the press conference and from the reporter’s one-on-one interview with the accuser and her attorney.
It must be noted that I would have likely had a different process of evaluation if I were producing on another day. Thursday’s newscast revolves around a singular theme, so one of the considerations is whether the chosen theme has enough relevant content to fill the full 15-minute live show. As the newscasts during the other three days run more like a traditional news show, I would have had to choose a variety of stories while prioritizing the order on air, including which story should go at the very top of the show.
At the end of the day on Thursday, I walked away feeling assured that the decision to do a show on sexual assault and harassment was the correct decision, even in a world where it sometimes seems there is no right answer. The theme and lead story not only related to the news events of the day, but was also pertinent to our viewing audience: students. The course of those 24 hours allowed me to reflect not only on the stories and themes we choose, but also on the process of selection. It is remarkable to think how a newscast evolves from a simple germ of an idea in a text message to a full-fledged production on my living room TV screen.