Taking apart a TV package

Here’s a simple TV package from the BBC. Watch it and then we’ll deconstruct.

Thinking about the news value of this story…

It is definitely new. The vaccine hasn’t been available to boys before.
It has impact — it is a development that will save peoples’ lives.
It has scale — all those boys who will be able to get the vaccine.
There is no real conflict here. Nobody is unhappy about the vaccine.
The proximity is clear — this is a story about boys in the UK. So it’s close to the audience.
And finally, it’s a story about a problem — and a possible solution to the problem.

Now let’s look at how the story has been told.

As usual, there is a LINK or CUE which is read by the presenter. It ends with the words “Lauren Moss has more details.” The link lasts for 21 seconds.

The PACKAGE itself follows. It lasts two minutes and nine seconds. Let’s look at the elements.

The package has two interview CLIPS.

Jamie Rae is the man who has had throat cancer. He tells us what it was like. This is a good example of a testimony/eye witness interview. He is the “real person” in the story. He proves there is a problem.

Dr Mary Ramsay is from Public Health England, which is part of the NHS. She explains why the vaccine will reduce cancer rates in the future.

Notice how the interviews are framed — one to the left and one to the right.

Imagine you are the reporter and the programme producer wants you to have a third interview in the package. Any ideas?

The package has a GFX sequence. There is no STRAP for the graphic. The figures are sourced to Warwick University. What STRAP would you use?

There is no PIECE TO CAMERA. If you were the reporter and you wanted to do a piece to camera for this item, where would you shoot it?

Now let’s look at the writing. Here’s the Top Line:

Nearly thirty thousand cases of cancer in men in the UK are likely to be prevented in the next four decades, say researchers, because of a scheme to vaccinate boys against the human papillomavirus.

It’s quite long and it doesn’t start with a WHO, but it does explain the scale of the story. It also makes it clear that the drop in cancer cases isn’t guaranteed (it’s likely). And that it’s not the BBC making that claim (say reseachers).

Here’s the rest of the link:

Until now only girls have been offered the jab, but from the next school year it will also be available to twelve and thirteen year old boys. Lauren Moss has more details.

This sentence helps to explain what’s new about the story — boys as well as girls will now get the vaccine. “Jab” is a conversational alternative to “injection.”

So a two sentence link that lasts around twenty seconds. The top line tells us what the story is in a sentence. The second sentence gives more context and explains what has changed (boys now get the vaccination as well as girls.) Note that the link doesn’t try to explain what the virus is or how it is spread. That comes later. You can’t say everything in a link.

The package starts with the story of Jamie. As we’ve seen before, starting the story with the real person who is affected can be very powerful. Jamie is a man in his forties who has had throat cancer. The pictures of him aren’t amazing — a simple action sequence of him on his phone. Sometimes that’s all you can get.

Listen carefully to the script under these pictures. The reporter tells us a lot about Jamie and what happened to him. This is really important information. When you interview somebody you need to be finding out useful and relevant information about them that you can include in your script, just as the reporter does here.

Note that Jamie’s clip is something that only he can give us. His direct experience of what it was like to have throat cancer and how painful the treatment was. Although this isn’t an emotion/opinion answer it is an example of direct testimony — somebody talking about what has happened to them and what it was like. These tend to be very powerful clips. What question do you think the reporter asked to get this answer?

After Jamie’s clip we get a lot of background and context about the papillomavirus. The first sentence is “Girls have been vaccinated against HPV since 2008.” This is an important piece of information (answering a when question) but it also helps with the pictures, which are of girls — not boys — being vaccinated. Remember from the link that vaccinations for boys haven’t started yet. Notice that the writing in this section is clear and simple. There is no scientific jargon.

After this comes the GFX sequence. It’s the heart of the story — the researchers’ claim that giving the vaccine to boys will lead to a fall in the number of cases of different types of cancer.

After this, Dr Mary Ramsay explains how these reductions will come about as a result of the vaccine.

Then the pay-off. There are anonymised library pictures of schoolboys and the script provides more background and an answer to the what next? question.

Here is the script.

So, what do you think about how the story was told? Is there anything you would do differently? Seeing how a TV package is put together like this is hopefully useful to you as you think about your own story ideas. I’d really like to hear your thoughts and comments when we talk.

In case you’re interested, here is the press release that the story is based on and here is the BBC’s online version of the story.