Friday, March 30, 2012

There are no excuses when it comes to getting better

We had a very talented reporter who would phone it in every once in awhile. Our Executive Producer who ask her why she didn't do this or that, and she always had some sort of excuse. The EP had a great line about this: "Excuses are little lies we tell ourselves."

If you've ever failed to use a tripod because you were tired, failed to edit nat sound into your package because you didn't bother to look for it, failed to get a graphic made for a numbers story because it was a lot of trouble, you've lied to yourself.

While we all have days when we just don't feel 100 percent, we have to suck it up and get tough when the story is on the line. As I said to an anchor once, "You may not feel like working today, but as far as the public is concerned, you just have to be on your game for 22 minutes."

Remember that old tacky Bill Parcells quote: "Don't tell me about the pain, show me the baby." In other words, the end result is all that matters. Nobody cares that you didn't feel well, didn't want to haul the tripod up the steps, didn't like the guy in the graphics department.

If you honestly want to get better, it's a full time job. You can't just work on putting nat sound in your packages one day out of five.

It's important to make yourself a checklist, and have it with you every day. If you constantly forget to get nat sound, make a note. Makes notes of everything you need to work on, then make sure you've got all those elements before you head back to the station.

Getting better often takes more effort than getting the story.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

This is not what the old term "stripping the wire" meant...


Monday, March 26, 2012

Youse guys think your writing's gonna get better using Strunk & White? Fuhgeddaboudit! Aint gonna happen.

I'm not sure how many colleges still hand out a copy of The Elements of Style, but if you think it's going to make you a better writer for television, you're sadly mistaken.

The thing about writing television news copy is that it is rarely grammatically correct. Just think about the teases for your newscast. "Man shot. Fire breaks out at airport. Film at eleven." Throw that at a Strunk and White proponent and see what happens.

Seriously, you think a book written in 1918 is applicable to television news today? Television didn't even exist in 1918. For those of you who are math challenged, that was 94 years ago.

From day one in my first newsroom I was told to write "conversational copy." What that basically means is that you should write the way people talk. Hence the term "peoplespeak" that has been thrown around for years.

Bottom line, we are story tellers. And if we're telling a story to a friend on the phone or face to face, we don't stop and formulate perfect grammatical sentences in our heads before speaking. We just talk.

To think you can "learn" to write conversational copy is ridiculous. You already know how to do it. You do it every day off camera. Now just do it on camera.

Those who think there's a "formula" for writing good copy don't realize that following a template sucks the "voice" out of your writing style. All great fiction writers have a voice. You don't need to see Stephen King's name on the cover of a book to recognize his writing. It's his "voice" that makes his work distinctive.

There is no formula. I laugh at some of these computer programs by which you can paste your copy inside, hit a button, and have all your "errors" highlighted. Just for the hell of it, I copied the first two pages of "To Kill a Mockingbird" into one of these programs. It informed me that there were more than 70 errors.

Oh, please.

So toss the ancient books, turn off "grammatik" on your computer. Just write what's in your head. Imagine telling the story to a friend, then write it down. Trust me, it will come out better than if you followed the advice in any book. And over time you'll find you have a "voice" that makes your work distinctive.

TVNEWSGRAPEVINE, copyright 2012 © Randy Tatano