By Holland Cooke
- 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 woman’s husband was a cop, who arrested someone who had been shot.
Verbs are our friends.
Local, Local, Local
Now more than ever – with the pandemic upending the life we were accustomed to – you will continue to distinguish your product from your robotic audio competition, and what’s-left-of the newspaper, by telling listeners something useful that nobody else is telling them.
So be clear, and never boring.
- Beware this trap: Reporting process rather than consequence.
- “State Senator Larry Jamieson has proposed legislation to prohibit…” screams press release. Instead: “Should it be illegal to __________? State Senator Larry Jamieson thinks so…”
- Don’t read me the minutes of the City Council meeting (“last night”). Tell me how what-was-said-there will alter or restore my routine (going forward).
- Try this as a litmus test: How would a listener tell a friend what you’re reporting? Write the lead that way.
Magic Words: “You” and “Your”
Avoid third-person passive-voice:
- The press release asked that “Anyone who has seen a car matching that description is asked to call the police.”
- Say: “If you see that car, call the police.”
And about the weather…
Piles of listening data demonstrate that the quickest way to move the ratings needle is to earn more occasions of listening from listeners who already listen to your station most (so-called “First Preference” or “P1” listeners). Promos inviting tune-in “throughout your busy day” merely talk-the-talk. Freshening news copy from hour-to-hour walks-the-walk, well-worth the effort.
Morning newscaster: Another way to avoid the little voice in the listener’s head saying “You already told me that:” If your routine includes loading the recorded forecast into the system, consider when that forecast will air. If you won’t get an update before afternoon drive, create a second version, trimming the first line, so you won’t be predicting the daytime high at 3:00 pm (when the ratings’ afternoon daypart begins).
Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a recovering English teacher, more recently a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is the author of the E-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books (click the banner on this page). And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America. Follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke