Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mailbag: Rip 'n' read 2.0

Hi Grape,

Last week Conan O'Brien showed a montage of local anchors "putting their own spin" on a same-sex marriage he was going to perform on his show. However, every anchor said the same lead, almost verbatim, about how Conan may be about to "push the envelope on late night television." The anchors were the brunt of the joke, showing how lazy we can be. Not to mention it adds another ding to local news. Oh and I was one of those anchors. Personal ding.

This touches on the tendency for anchor/producers to rip-and-read. You rip the copy you've been sent from the network and read it on air instead of doing a slight creative edit on your own. A lot of mornings we're pressed for time. You know how it goes. So I just don't know how to be creative in a quick manner. Do you have any pointers on speeding up your creativity? Especially for teases and leads? Does it just come from experience? How are you so creative under deadline pressure, Grape?

Ah, the old rip and read monster rears its ugly head again.

Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth I'd gotten my first radio job and the News Director told me, "We don't rip and read here. EVERYTHING must be re-written."

For those of you who don't know where the term came from, well, back in the day we had these huge wire machines that were very loud and continuously spit out paper as it was typed. Usually the low man on the totem pole was assigned to "strip the wire" which meant you had to gather up the paper, flip down the wire machine's plexiglass cover, and rip the paper using the straightedge. Meanwhile, whoever had built the station had taken a two-by-four, hammered a bunch of nails into it, and hung it near the wire machine with the nails facing out. Over each nail were signs reading "news" "sports" "features" "weather" etc. You would then spike the copy onto the appropriate nail, (and yes, plenty of news people have been impaled over the years in this process.) So whoever was reading the news knew that the copy that had most recently been spiked was the newest stuff.

Nowadays rip and read has morphed into "cut and paste" since newsrooms now operate on computers.

Okay, end of history lesson. Back to the original question, and you're not going to like my answer.

You can't teach creativity. You either have it or you don't.

What can help, however, is time management. It's harder to use the creativity you have under pressure, so when you're laying out your newscast, the first thing you should do is write your teases and leads. And if you're spending the early part of your shift sending emails, talking on the phone and playing with social networking, stop. You can do that stuff off the clock.

You should also identify the person on staff who has that creative knack for turning a phrase, and use that person for a clever line. I used to work with a producer who would get stuck on occasion, and ask me if I could come up with something fun for a tease. Every station has a few of these people. Figure out who is the most creative person working on any particular newscast and assign that person the teases and leads.

The main problem, though, is that computers have made it so easy to cut and paste that people take the path of least resistance. Back in the day you had to re-type everything onto these carbon paper sets for the teleprompter, and since you had to re-type it anyway you figured you may as well re-write it.

Hope that helps.


1 comment:

DDR said...

That helps a lot! Thanks, Grape. For whatever ounce of creativity I have, time management is the key.