Voice of Experience

When security put the United States Capitol Building on lockdown late one July afternoon, NBC Washington’s Scott McFarlane was on the Live Desk. Little about the situation was known, and the station had no reporters or photographers in the vicinity of the trouble. Calmly and steadily, the veteran reporter began with what he had — a few details, a couple of pool camera images, and above all what he knew about the building and its inhabitants from a decade in the trenches there — and spoke uninterrupted for over 11 minutes.

Here’s the monologue in its entirety.

Scott McFarlane, NBC Washington

Note especially how McFarlane mines his own experience to assess the little he does know and expand the narrative while he waits for more. 

Because he knows the landscape and the related routines so well, information that would be overlooked or mundane to others becomes inspiration for him.

This includes:

  • The day of the year.
  • The time of day.
  • The categories of lockdown at the Capitol.
  • The nature and function of various Capitol security forces.
  • The location of the building.
  • The location and function of surrounding buildings.
  • Recent history of lockdown incidents.
  • Older history of lockdown incidents.
  • The scope and nature of Capitol entrances.

And so on.

MacFarlane adds value and deepens our understanding of the situation not because of what he knows about the event itself. The key is what he knows about the world that contains the event — knowledge gained from a decade covering the Capitol and its environs. 

His experience sees and hears what the cameras can’t. Absent more meaningful detail from the field, he gives the story life and context by drawing on that experience to describe the world in which the story is developing.

As a result, when he does have more information, NBC Washington’s audience will be far better prepared to understand its scope and importance.

Emotionally, MacFarlane’s tone is right, too. In moments of real crisis, viewers are always best-served by an anchor who can keep his head and help them keep theirs. Here, MacFarlane is calm and deliberate, always in control and never hyping or over-dramatizing. From a delivery standpoint, it is pitch perfect.

As far as we know, Barry Nash is the only career talent coach in the history of television news. He’s been at it since 1982, and every day, millions of people around the world get news and sports information from someone he has coached.

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