Friday, June 8, 2012

Mailbag: Why don't some journalists know current events?

Grape,

Have news directors in this industry all given up on giving news/current affair quizzes to potential employees? I find it disheartening at just how little some people in this business know, or care to know. Young reporters and interns at our station were asked recently some basic questions...whose the governor? Senator? Representative? Response was blank stares. And this is a capital city we're talking about.

What gives?


What gives is that many young people don't read enough. There has never been a time when more publications have been at your fingertips online. There's no excuse for not knowing what's going on in the world. You need to know more about life beyond your own market. So stop wasting time on Facebook and read something that will enhance your career.

As for current events tests, I always gave them and know several News Directors who still do. I personally think managers who don't do this are taking a big risk. You might hire someone with a great tape who has no clue what's going on in the world. 

And since you brought it up, time for a pop quiz!

As always, Dad's rules. As my father used to say, "If you don't know something, look it up." So there are no correct answers at the end of the post. You'll have to look up what you don't know.

1. In light of Wisconsin's recall election, explain the term "collective bargaining."

2.  June 6th marks what great day in American history?

3. What was Hilary Clinton's job before she became Secretary of State?

4. Since so many of you are obsessed with Facebook, what does "IPO" stand for?

5. What is the name of the private company that recently launched a rocket to supply the space station?

6. Which planet just made a transit across the sun?

7. In regard to elections, what is "crossover voting?"

8. Does your state have "party registration?"

9. In jury selection, what is a "peremptory challenge?"

10. What is the name of John Edwards mistress/girlfriend/baby mama? (At least the one we know about.)

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Writing for your station's website, or, "I didn't go to school to be a print reporter but now I have to be one."

Of all the little tricks word processors let us use, the one that has probably done the most damage to quality is the "cut and paste" feature. Gone are the days of carbon paper, wite-out, and simply starting over with a fresh sheet of paper. Story doesn't look right? Cut here, paste there. It's the rip-and-read of the digital age.

But if you're at one of those stations at which you have to post your story to the web, cut and paste just won't cut it.

The problem here is two-fold. First, you guys are overworked as it is, and doing a story for the web is probably the last thing on your priority list. Second, it's very easy to simply take your broadcast script and paste the whole thing onto the web page. Thirty seconds and you're done. What you end up with is a story that often doesn't make much sense to someone who is getting all his news from the Internet without the benefit of video.

So let's take a sample package and see how we can improve it for the web with just a little effort. In this case, our story is about a new car plant opening in town.


Nat Sound / Whistle

Voicetrack: That's the sound of new jobs in Palookaville, as the Acme auto plant started cranking out cars. The business has brought 500 new high-paying jobs to the area, and hopefully a sense of pride to a town that was down on its luck.


Sound Bite / Auto Worker: "I'd been out of work for a year, and this is going to really get me back on my feet. It's a good paying job and a great feeling to get back to work."


Nat Sound / First car rolling off assembly line to applause


Voicetrack: It's sights like this that are the realization of a dream. Palookaville city officials have been working long and hard for two years to make this happen.


Standup in restaurant: And the new car plant is already having a trickle down effect for other small businesses in town.


Nat sound / Cash register, hostess thanking customer, "Come again!"


That hasn't been heard very often at the Palookaville diner, just across the street from the new plant. Every booth was full today, as was the counter.


Sound bite / waitress: "I've made more in tips today than I did all last week."


Voicetrack: So the assembly line is rolling in Palookaville, and it looks like the economy is going to do the same thing. Joe Reporter, EyeMissedit News.




Okay, now if we just cut and paste this into the web without the director's notes, we get this:




That's the sound of new jobs in Palookaville, as the Acme auto plant started cranking out cars. The business has brought 500 new high-paying jobs to the area, and hopefully a sense of pride to a town that was down on its luck.


"I'd been out of work for a year, and this is going to really get me back on my feet. It's a good paying job and a great feeling to get back to work."


It's sights like this that are the realization of a dream. Palookaville city officials have been working long and hard for two years to make this happen.


And the new car plant is already having a trickle down effect for other small businesses in town.


That hasn't been heard very often at the Palookaville diner, just across the street from the new plant. Every booth was full today, as was the counter.

"I've made more in tips today than I did all last week."

So the assembly line is rolling in Palookaville, and it looks like the economy is going to do the same thing. Joe Reporter, EyeMissedit News.


Right off the bat, the first line doesn't make sense if you're just reading the web version. What sound are we talking about? And later on, what sight are we referring to? So let's take a few minutes to flesh out the story and fix it.


The loud whistle is the sound of new jobs in Palookaville, as the Acme auto plant has started cranking out cars. The business has brought 500 new high-paying jobs to the area, and hopefully a sense of pride to a town that was down on its luck.


Joe Autoworker was thrilled to punch the clock this morning. He said, "I'd been out of work for a year, and this is going to really get me back on my feet. It's a good paying job and a great feeling to get back to work."


The sight of the first car rolling off the assembly line was met with applause, as it was the realization of a dream. Palookaville city officials have been working long and hard for two years to make this happen.

And the new car plant is already having a trickle down effect for other small businesses in town, as the cash register and the waitresses were getting a workout at the Palookaville diner across the street from the new plant. Every booth was full today, as was the counter. Waitress Jane Hashslinger said, "I've made more in tips today than I did all last week."

So the assembly line is rolling in Palookaville, and it looks like the economy is going to do the same thing. 


Okay, this isn't going to win a Pulitzer for print writing, but with just a little effort the story now makes sense to someone who is reading it for the first time without the video.

No one expects you to be a classic print reporter, but they will expect you to deliver a story that's more than just a cut-and-paste job. A few words here, a sentence there, and you're done. Being a good web writer just adds to your marketability. It's a little thing, but versatility can be very attractive in a business that has to watch every penny.

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Monday, June 4, 2012

After years of being told to "write to your video" now you have to "write to nothing"

Let's face it, nothing can screw up your life more than technology. Whether it's your cable service going out, your cell phone failing to get a signal, or your printer suddenly spitting out gibberish, your day can be thrown into crisis mode because of those 1s and 0s being out of psync.

It sometimes makes me long for the days when you got on the roof to rotate the antenna, had to wait fifteen minutes for apple pie to heat up in the gas oven because microwaves did not exist, and used the same telephone for fifty years. And, incredibly, everything worked a lot better and lasted a lot longer before the digital age.

Alas, it's a different world now. So after being taught you need to watch your video before writing your script, you have to do something backwards. Oh, you still have to write to your video... at least for the television version of your story. But now many of you are being required to write for the station's website. (You know, that thing your anchors tell viewers to visit twenty times every newscast rather than watch television.)

Problem is, writing for the web is very different than writing a television script. You can't reference video or nat sound as you would for broadcast, so you have to do everything backwards.

In other words, you have to become a newspaper reporter for part of your day.

Problem is, many people in this business have no experience in print journalism.

I started in newspapers, working for our college daily and then getting my first job at a local weekly. So I was brought up writing in the print style and had to learn to write for broadcast. In radio, I had to paint a picture with my words. In television, the photogs provided me with words and sound so I no longer had to describe what the viewer saw.

Then I started writing fiction and had to go backwards again after being told my a major author, "You don't have any setting in your stories. Readers need to see the image you've created." I had become so accustomed to writing to video that I'd forgotten readers of fiction needed to have a picture painted in their minds.

The same holds true when it comes to writing for the web.

Too many of you are simply cutting and pasting your TV script into the web. If you want to see how confusing this is to someone who reads your story and does nothing else, try listening to your story and not watching. Turn down the channel with the nat sound and just listen to your voice tracks and sound bites. Doesn't make as much sense, does it?

In the next post I'll go over some web writing techniques that will hopefully make you better web writers. So you're probably thinking, "Why are you spending so much time on this? I'm getting hired because of my resume tape, right?"

That's true, but all things being equal, being a good web writer is just another hat you can wear to make you more marketable in this wonderful digital age. (I'm being sarcastic with the part in italics, in case you didn't know.) The ability to write, and write well, has become more important.

Down the road your looks may fade, you may get sick of shooting your own video, but you'll still need a job. You might pick up a gig as a web writer.

Look, I'm not a fan of piling more work on overworked reporters, but if you've gotta do this anyway, you might as well do it right.

Next time. Web writing. Film at eleven. (And that, my friends, is how you don't write for the web.)

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