By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Remaining news people: Done well, your work contributes mightily to making your station more habit-forming. Local information is something radio’s non-local, new-tech competitors just can’t deliver. And if recent cutbacks have competing stations mailing-it-in yours will be conspicuous by comparison. And if you’re relevant and user-friendly to those busy in-car listeners advertisers want to meet, you’re gold.
Accordingly, these recommendations…
Keep the story fresh.
Station promos merely talk-the-talk. Your work walks-the-walk. If this hour’s newscast sounds like last hour’s, why should someone tune-in next hour?
Yet some developing stories are so big that they would be conspicuous if absent. So kudos to ABC’s Cheri Preston for writing, the morning after the incident: “A shooting in Seattle has the city on-edge.”
Puh-LEEZ don’t omit verbs.
This local story was about a love triangle shooting.
- Here’s what listeners heard — read this aloud: “The woman’s husband arrested the wounded man taken to the hospital.”
- Here are the facts the writer obscured: Police arrested the woman’s husband, the accused shooter. The person he shot was hospitalized.
- As-is, the ear was told something different when half-sentences ran-together. It sounded like the husband arrested a wounded man en route to the hospital.
Another example: “A cruise ship expected to take Americans out of Lebanon today.”
- I think he meant: “A cruise ship is expected to take Americans out of Lebanon today.”
- But the missing verb, the time zone difference, and the chaos in Lebanon were such that – as written — listeners could have interpreted the copy to mean that a cruise ship was-expected-to evacuate Americans…until something went wrong.
Magic words: “You” and “your.”
Frequent culprit: “legislation.”
- “State Senator Larry Jamieson has proposed legislation to prohibit…” blends-into the blah-blah-blah. It screams press release, and describes a process story, what guys in suits are arguing about at the state capitol. Not soup yet.
- Instead, elevate the consequence that what’s-being-proposed would have on the listener’s life: “Should it be against-the-law to [whatever]? State Senator Larry Jamieson thinks so…”
Grammatical clunker-to-avoid: third person passive voice. Don’t talk about me like I’m not in the room.
- Instead-of: “Anyone who has seen a car matching that description is asked to contact the police.”
- Say: “If you see that car, call the police.”
And avoid “anyone,” a red flag word that often ends-up on-air because a press release wasn’t re-written for the ear.
- Example: “anyone who feels discriminated-against because of fear of Ebola…”
- Instead: “If you feel you’ve been discriminated-against…”
My WTOP successor Jim Farley, now-retired, hung a sign in the newsroom: “WGAS.” Translation: “Who gives a shit?” Jim’s plainspoken litmus test for what-aired.
Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. Previously, he programmed all-news WTOP/Washington. He is the author of “Holland Cooke: Greatest Hits”from Talkers Books. Click the ad banner in the right-hand column on this page. And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America. Read HC’s Monday Memo each week at Talkers.com, and follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke