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Cautions to New Reporters on the Rise: Your Live Hits

Radio Journalists: Please Read as Well 

Baby Eating Food

The official Memorial Day to Labor Day summer has drawn to a close- ending the season in which we see new opportunities for TV and video reporters. Stations and networks tend to showcase pre-selected   journalists in different skill sets; some of them are tapped for anchoring, while others are new network hires whom we’re meeting live for the first time.  

 As I watch this parade of new faces thinking ‘good for you!’, my antennae also wave as I recognize some teaching moments.  I’ve elected to elucidate them below.   It is, however, important for me to emphasize that my overriding sentiment about this rollout process is extremely positive; I am happy to see hard working journalists getting the breaks they deserve.

 Now for some cautionary advice.

Emotionally-Based Hits: Context is Imperative but….

It was Memorial Day.. President Biden spoke at Arlington Cemetery.

A new reporter was on my television and I was in full cheerleader mode.  But suddenly.. I developed vertigo!  This reporter, standing at Arlington National Cemetery, tried cramming in way too much content- resulting in his being hard to follow.  I felt as if I were in a diner (pre-Covid) overhearing a yakking diatribe from someone in a nearby booth.

Here’s a quick neurology lesson on how we listen to information:

Our processing of spoken language is similar to the manner in which a baby is fed soft ‘baby food’ from a spoon.  The baby accepts and swallows a spoonful.. (hopefully) likes your selection.. and opens up his/her mouth for more. This is a repetitive procedure.  As listeners, we are a offered a series of simple-syntax sentences- ie. “spoken” journalism.  We hear a short sentence (the spoonful of food).. we mentally assimilate- ie. interpret the meaning and personally react .. and then we’re ready for more. In our case we’re ‘fed’ subsequent, simple sentences.. or food for thought!

Yes, we violate grammatic rules of ‘you can’t start a sentence with [and] or [but].. and a sentence is supposed to end with a period [.].  But as you may have noticed-  I tend to use dashes and ellipses when I write my blogs (or edit scripts).   I even use this system when writing print messages!  A friend once visited me as I was crafting a ‘business’ email and shrieked “you can’t do that”!

Now let’s return to our live, jabbering reporter at the Cemetery.  There are 6 journalism skills at play in this type of somber, highly serious reporting:

  1. Deciding what information is most cogent to use
  2.  Deciding what you can leave out,,
  3. Determining what your first Lede Line will be
  4.  Knowing that you need to configure your information into simple sentences.
  5.  Assuring that you provide sufficient context so we can appreciate the moment
  6. Remembering that the multiple points you want to make can be subtly separated by using a Lede Line for each new one.  Each Lede Line serves as a ‘listening refresher’, and a cognitive alert that ushers in your next point

These skills help prevent you from rushing.. and this in turn creates a positive double whammy: 

  • Your listeners easily follow and react to all that you are sharing
  • The natural semantics within your information will have greater freedom to subtlety play out within your speaking, and well as in your body language and facial expressions.

High Information-Load Hits

Next- let’s move on from Arlington Cemetery to an equally serious but more content weighed subject: A live report on the Congress’s attempt to pass restrictive voter legislation:

 Again, I heard a similar, frenzied delivery.  This reporter reminded me of an extremely zealous professor who is very short on time.  Incredible but true:  she ended her hit with “yada yada yada”.    My gut told me that this was an unintentional default phrase that she likely uses in her personal life. 

 Please bear in mind that this blog is not about ‘speaking too fast’.  According to Baruch College, the average English language speaking rate is approximately 150 words per minute.  Within a range of acceptability, my Uncle Bob could put you to sleep.. and if you’re like me, you may speak a bit more quickly than other folks.  They are both ok.

 Your solution here- ie. when your head is spinning with content and detail- is to adhere to the same journalism reminders detailed above- especially number 4. Be cognizant of using our beautiful, simpler  style of syntax as you’re speaking.  Even if you are a quicker speaker- it will help slow you down.  It’s a bit like down-shifting to 3rd gear.

Stand-Ups of a More Banal Nature

If your live-hit assignment feels like ‘journalism light’.. eg. a traffic report in which there have been no reported accidents or fatalities.. or perhaps folks standing on line for some form of entertainment or give-away: here are 2 suggestions to make your reports more interesting:

  1. Add context with interesting statistics or helpful information.  I’m surprised by how many clients I have to push to do this.  Ie. Don’t just tell us what you’re seeing, and hearing from drivers or observers.  Educate us with added insight.  Contextualize with information. Eg. Tire Rack cautions that tire pressure recommended by your vehicle or tire company is the recommended cold tire inflation pressure. So keep a digital readout tire gauge in your car and check your pressure every few hours as your tires incrementally to heat up. 

  2.  Don’t be afraid to put in a personal quip that reflects your understanding of a particular situation.

    Eg. With reference to the Memorial Day traffic: when the reporter took the toss, he first bantered  “you may be familiar with  I95- many of us feel like we’ve lived on it all our lives”.   

    Reporting from a line offering free tickets to a concert: another reporter opined “this feels like déjà vu for me- last week we covered a record breaking sneaker sale.. (although I’m still really happy with mine [lifts pants leg].. And this morning – another potential record breaker- this time for the music industry…. “ .

By now Labor Day is behind us.  I hope many of you had career-growth opportunities. And given our current news cycle- I’ll remind you that an occasional ‘light’ assignment allows you to relax a bit! Moreover, depending on how you play it, it might end up on your reel.  Finally, remember that a small taste of personalization or added advice serves as a brief, unexpected ‘getting to know you’ treat for your viewers.  I admit to liking them.

 Onward into the Fall news cycle!

*Please check out my next blog for a refresher on Lede Lines, and Advice on Controlling your Adrenalin.

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