Two-hour turnaround: a storm story

Typically I use this space to showcase longer stories, in both time and preparation.

Not this story.

Here is an example of where good storytelling techniques can help produce a compelling report in a limited amount of time.

How limited? From start to finish, two hours.

Late last month, the Atlanta area got struck by heavy storms that brought rain, lightning, wind, and hail. Like many April showers, this one — to borrow a metaphor from a different month — came in like a lion, flying through the region and causing traffic back-ups on the highways. It also toppled several trees, and I was sent by my WXIA-TV producers to one such incident in Roswell, Ga., where a tree had fallen on a home.

That was all I knew as I arrived at the house at 3:30 PM, but I soon discovered the rest of the story.

And I learned it from the home’s owner: Yolanda Rossi, age 92.

Despite the fact that a tree had knocked out the corner of her dining room, Rossi seemed undaunted by the whole thing and welcomed me into her home with a smile. As she showed me the damage and provided her perspective on the event, I knew I could potentially put together a poignant piece about her experience that day.

I was supposed to be live at 5 PM, but I called the 11Alive assignment desk and asked if the 6 PM show producer would like this story.

That producer said no. The 5 PM producer said yes.

The story, he said, would run at 5:45, and I would also still provide a live report at 5:05. Suddenly I had volunteered for myself quite an assignment, and I did not have much time to think about it.

In those situations, as a reporter, you try to keep it simple: make sure you have your facts right, figure out the most important details to mention, and write a lean, efficient script. But I am not just a reporter. I am an MMJ, which means I shoot and edit my own stories. But I tried to use the same methods from a photography and editing standpoint:

  • I shot in sequences, simplifying the process by getting wide, medium, and tight shots of the same subject
  • I pinpointed the most compelling visual images and then went back to them in my writing
  • I back-timed my day and tried not to do anything flashy beyond completing the story and sending it back for air

I finished at 5:30 PM, exactly two hours after I started — all while still doing that live shot a half-hour earlier. Then I fed it back, picked up my phone, and turned on the 11Alive live-stream to watch the story run on television.

The piece is below. I would not call it one of the finest stories of my career, but I do consider it a memorable report in an extremely limited amount of time.

During breaking news, that is usually the goal.

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at

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