Top Tips for Business Radio Journalists
Now for something completely different. (Please be sure to read the addendum at the end of this blog.)
Business news reminds me a little of sports: Get it right, always give attribution, and sentiment (based on your knowledge) may naturally be implied through your delivery. That’s why you — and not a General Assignment reporter — write and share financial/economic news with us. Without knowledge, sensitivity and the context of past history, delivering the often complex material you encounter each day is near to impossible.
As a result of this, the majority of the financial reporter clients I work with have moved from Wall Street jobs into journalism. It’s a thrill and pleasure to help them 'convert' to a new career.
For those of you doing or considering doing business radio news, podcasts, squawks or even video, here are seven tips that address foibles I often encounter:
- Your voice: Remember to ‘send it out’ in from your stomach.’ Picture an arc of projection. Your information is ultimately emanating from a speaker or someone’s headphones. You are tapping them on the shoulder with your voice and implying, "Hey! Here’s something newsworthy or interesting!"
- Lead lines: These are the first sentences for each news item, and serve to reset our attention. They have us responding ‘Huh!’ and wanting to hear more. Your lead line might be ear-catching news, such as, "Amazon dipped 15 points this past hour on news that…". Or it could be a warning, like, "Big news here…" or "A surprising result in…"
- Beware of 'smushing': This is the tendency to 'get through' what I call multi-syllabic words, indexes, terms or phrases such as "participation," "expectation," "Federal Reserve Board," or "Commodity Futures Trading Commission," too quickly. The same goes for names and job titles that seem to go on forever, "Interim Deputy CMO [long name] said today that…". Remember that your spoken words are invisible and ephemeral. We are rarely reading a printed accompaniment at the same time. If you're only speaking about cats and dogs, it's easy with one-syllable subjects. But for a lot of spoken news, we may have the subliminal urge to get those long names and words out of the way. Be alert to your tendencies. If you’ve chosen to include it, it’s news and it’s important.
- Numbers numbers! They rule much of business news. I’d keep it to two numbers per sentence, regardless of what they reflect. For example, "The IMF increased its outlook for 2017 U.S. GDP to 2.3 percent, a tenth higher than the October report." Is a third number significant to this information? Rather than a comma and a new clause, start a new sentence. You don’t want our eyes to roll up. Particularly for business news you want to assure that your sentences are always short and simple.
- Embedded clauses and phrases: Poison! Here we are listening, and the forward momentum is interrupted by a title or clarification, and then the sentence continues. Whoops! Who or what were we speaking about? It’s like riding along in a car that suddenly shifts into reverse... and then lurches forward. Instead of saying, "The Pacific Rim Petroleum Corporation, which was legally dissolved in 1989, was the first company to…." make it, "The Pacific Rim Petroleum Corporation was the first oil company to... . It was dissolved in 1989."
- Each sentence is unique: They should start fresh and end clearly. Be mindful not to slide sideways into the beginnings of your sentences like a whooshing ice-skater. Send them out on that arc in front of you. At the end of sentences, avoid the tendency to speed up and try not to let your voice volume dip too low. Keep it full and 'out' through the last sound of the very last word. It should land about nine inches in front of you!
- There’s no need to impose false hoopla: Don’t get crazy over what to emphasize. Your job is to report news about companies, countries, decisions and deals. You’re providing headlines or major facts, some secondary information and maybe some added helpful explanation. And sometimes, it’s just you talking to us directly. These four semantic levels of communication often contain underlying innuendo and implication based on what you know. Your voice will naturally create its own versions of emphasis via changing up in pacing, loudness, inflection and embracing onomatopoeia. Being in touch with what you're thinking serves as the best tool for an interesting, compelling delivery.
Enjoy the ride! And thanks for keeping us in the know.
With a nod to brilliant comedy, "Now for Something Completely Different" is a reference to the Monty Python boys. In the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, they even came up with the idea of using a spoken sound, “Ni,” to replace a weapon that could be used to squeeze compliance or the truth from someone! In many of their television skits and movies, their comedic dialogue often incorporated exaggerated cadence of spoken language; something that many of you erroneously think is necessary in your tracking!
News consultant Joanne Stevens has written extensively about broadcast writing, reporting and anchoring, including columns in the former print version of RTDNA's Communicator Magazine, and earlier versions of the RTDNA website. She has taught at Columbia and New York University and serves as a news award judge for the New York Press Club. She has returned to RTDNA.org to offer a new series of News Coach columns with tips, best practices and more. - Click on the RTDNA logo below to learn more.
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