Radio Reporters' Training Guide: A Working Draft
First, check out this story block for links to a lot of sites that provide info and training on radio/audio issues:
Then read on for FSRN's training guide, a work in progress.
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Reporter's Manual and Training Guide: Free Speech Radio News
A guide to writing and reporting a packaged radio news story in FSRN style.
actuality, ax, cut, bite - a soundbite, a piece of sound of a person talking. "Actualities" generally run longer than a common "soundbite", but the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
ambient sound, ambience, amby - the natural sounds of the place you are reporting from: birds, waves crashing, phones ringing, crowd chanting, etc.
copy - the words in your script, the writing.
double ender, tape sync - the practice of sending someone to record one end of a telephone conversation with a microphone in person, while the source talks with a reporter over the phone in another town. The person recording then uploads the clean sound via internet, or ships the tape/disc to the reporter through the mail. Allows the reporter to the use of telephone tape on the air.
feature, feature story - a longer story, usually with ambient sound and multiple voices.
graf - paragraph
ID, announce - to identify a source in a story, name and title. Usually done just before a person starts talking, or just after they've started talking and before they're through. (Also: back-ID, back-announce - to identify a source in a story after they're done talking. Necessary after long actualities.)
lead (lede, leed) - the introduction to your story, which the host/anchor reads. You will usually write your own lede long before the story is finished, with the idea in mind that it may be changed by someone else before deadline to include the latest news, or to make your story flow into the preceding story. (It's often purposely misspelled lede, leed to keep it from being pronounced like "led", an age-old radio writing habit.)
manufacturing consent - a term made famous by linguist Noam Chomsky; the way most media outlets deliver the news, portraying the government as fundamentally benevolent and well-intentioned. One of our primary responsibilties is to avoid using the words and phrases which make listeners automatically assume that all is somehow right in their world. It is not our job to soothe the audience, but rather to inform people of realities which may, in fact, be harsh.
phoner - a telephone interview. Also used to describe a story filed over the phone.
soc, sockout - the last line you read in your story. SOC stands for "Standard Out Cue".
"Jackie Slacky, Free Speech Radio News, Whiskeytown, Pennsylvania"
source - any person in the story who is not the reporter, the people who provide the information being reported.
spin - information released in an effort to make reporters and media consumers believe one particular version of a story.
spot, spot story - a one-minute story, a headline story.
trax, tracks - the recording of the words you read into the story.
voicer, reader - a story with no actualities, just a reporter's voice.
wrap, cut-and-copy - a one minute story ("spot") with a soundbite in the middle. The reporter's script is "wrapped" around the bite.
How to write a sentence for radio: Keep it short
Every second counts. Write short sentences with one basic idea in each. We are trying to cram information into peoples' ears, one quick line at a time. Long, complicated sentences full of big words don't make you sound smart, they're just confusing. Say what you mean, throw away all unnecessary words, and try to maintain a conversational style.
Put the subject at the front of every sentence, using this formula:
(subject) + (verb) + (object) + (…all other stuff)
"The White House + denies + the charge."
"Mrs. Williams + says + the police + (are lying about her son's death)."
"Hamil Schlomo + sprints + the path to Jericho + (every morning, worried he might be shot by a sniper, or run over by a jeep)."
Long, newspaper-style sentences should be broken up into smaller sentences:
"For the fifth night in a row, denizens of the tunnels underneath Penn Station, the "Mole People", are worrying that the police might barge in and evict them for trespassing on City property."
…is not a bad sentence, but it's a mouthful to read and understand. It should be broken up into smaller ones:
"The so-called "Mole People" under Penn Station are worried. They say the police want to evict them from the tunnels where they live. Technically they're trespassing on city property."
Sentences should be written in the positive, as opposed to the negative sense, as often as possible. Avoid using "not", "no", "don't", "doesn't", "won't", etc.
"The union leadership doesn't accept that version of the story."
…can be rewritten in the positive:
"The union leadership says the story is a lie."
"Union leaders refuse to accept that version of the story."
Write in the present tense, whenever possible:
"The White House denies the charge," is easier for the listener to understand—and faster to read—than these common alternatives:
"The White House is denying the charge."
"The White House has been denying the charge."
Write around your sound. The actualities are the most important part of your story, so after you've chosen them, (see Choosing Actualities, below) transcribe them word-for-word onto the page. The rest of your writing task amounts to simply bridging the gaps between your bites.
Start and end your story with a person, a personal story, or an illustrative anecdote…something that the listener can understand and relate to immediately.
"55-year old Karen Conejo knows the names of most of the guards at Yamfee prison. They're old friends. Her son Ellis has been here since he was 16, and now he's 23."
This is an overused device in radio news, but it's better than the way-too-often-heard alternative:
"The capital punishment rate has gone up in Nevada, from 9 executions last year to 19 this year."
The latter is no way to invite the listener into a story that's going to last 3 or 4 minutes. It sounds as if the reporter is reading a textbook.
Remind your listeners of the subject of your story as you go along, and again near the end.
When you are done with your script, make sure you have answered the "Five W's": Who, What, Where, Why, When. It's easy to forget one of these, and leave the listener wondering, "Who are they talking about?", "What country is this story taking place in?"
Note: For FSRN, the most important of the Five W's is "Why?". If you report that Congress has approved a plan that would let chemical plants dump their waste in the sea, it's important to tell the listener what some possible reasons might be. Find some evidence. [Founding FSRN editor Aaron Glantz calls them "fun facts"]:
"The chemical industry has contributed 15 million dollars to congressional campaigns in the last 5 election cycles."
"Chemical industry trade association director Michael Sludge formerly served as the head of the EPA, and he's now married to the president's daughter."
If you want to talk about how people feel, put the feelings into the source's words:
"He's worried about his mother."
Since you can't read his mind, you can't confirm this statement, so you shouldn't use it. Instead you should say,
"He says he's worried about his mother."
Note: This may seem like a small matter, but in many instances, drawing this distinction can keep you from buying into a spin effort, or unconsciously manufacturing consent. For example, when the president says,
"'I'm worried about this budget deficit."
A typical newswire headline will read,
"Bush Worries about Budget Deficit"
The headline basically repeats what he said, as a fact. But isn't it just possible that he's not worried about the budget deficit? Purposely running up a massive deficit could be a strategic maneuver, a way to starve entitlement programs that Republicans are ideologically opposed to. Since it's possible Bush's statement is simply designed to create a false impression, and since the reporter can never confirm what a person thinks, it's more accurate to report that Bush claimed or said he was worried about the budget deficit.
Words to avoid in radio writing, whenever possible:
All forms of the verb TO BE (is, am, are, were, will be, have been, being, will have been, etc.)
"Raines is asking the officer for his one phone call."
…can be written with more color, without "is":
"Raines pleads with the officer for his one phone call."
The most common word in spoken American English is also one of the least interesting. Use an action verb instead:
"Moreland tried to get the tiger in his net, but he couldn't."
"Moreland tried to snare the tiger in his net, but he couldn't."
"There is" / "There are"
"There is always a plainclothes officer posted out front of her house."
…should also be rewritten with action verbs:
"Plainclothes officers patrol the front of her house around-the-clock."
"Plainclothes officers case her house at all hours."
Adverbs, those words that usually end in -LY. (easily, happily, angrily, etc.) Adverbs are usually unecessary, they often convey information you cannot confirm, and they tend to betray the reporter's allegiances to one side of the story. (Note the last sentence contained two adverbs, sorry!)
"The White House hastily issued a denial."
…would be better written,
"The White House issued a denial 15 minutes later."
Note that "hastily" makes a value judgement for the listener—one that you cannot prove— while "15 minutes later" allows the listener to make up her own mind.
"That" and "Which"
"The dog that came in was covered in blood."
…means the same thing as:
"The dog came in covered in blood."
"Grimes walked into the hearing to find the same lawyer that he was granted in the first trial…"
…has the same meaning if you omit "that". Plus it's faster to read:
"Grimes walked into the hearing to find the same lawyer he was granted in the first trial."
There's almost always a shorter way to rewrite a sentence without using "which":
"The sky, which had turned black, promised a deluge."
"The sky had turned black, promising a deluge."
Avoid common cliches in your writing, overused phrases and sentence constructions:
"…in the wake of September 11…"
"This, as police announced…"
"..against the backdrop of clan violence…"
These are often refered to as "groaners", because they make many radio listeners groan to hear them. A groaner can't be easily defined, and some cannot always be avoided. Many lists of these terms can be found on the web.
Numbers. At some point, the hard data of statistics and percentages become meaningless to listeners. Rewrite them in language people can relate to:
"Doctors say 33 percent of the roughly 4,700 12- to 16-year-olds in this neighborhood have asthma, up from 22 percent in the 1999 census."
"Doctors say more than a third of young teenagers in this neighborhood have asthma, a big increase over the last census."
Exact titles. Identify your sources in a way that describes why you've chosen to use them in the story. For example, in a story about the IMF and debt relief, you might interview Joan Flappy, the Interim Executive Director of Jubilee 2000 in Washington, DC. Her title is a mouthful, and it takes up a lot of time in your script. Since most people don't know what Jubilee 2000 is, it's more important to contextualize her comments than to use her exact title.
"Joan Flappy runs a DC Catholic group called Jubilee 2000, which pressures governments to drop the outstanding debts that poor countries owe them. She says… "
Let the sources give the examples, and (if possible) draw the conclusions. The reporter should state the general fact/trend/phenomenon, then the source should illustrate:
"…funding has been slashed nationwide, but Clampett says Nevada prisons are worse than most."
"The other day i saw an inmate eating spiders, calling himself "Spiderman". We need a mental health professional out here, like we used to have.
Look for the "emotional punch" in your interviews. An expert on child soldiers can tell you all day long about how many child soldiers there are in the world, which countries are doing the most to prevent the exploitation of children, etc. But the most compelling tape comes when the source betrays her feelings about the matter:
"These kids just want to be kids, and yet they're drugged, and forced to carry guns, and ultimately, to kill adults, people the same age as their parents. What kind of effect would that have on a young mind? They'll never get over that."
No matter how important a source's point, if it's not well articulated, don't use it. Explain it yourself, and next time, get better tape!
Make sure the background sound doesn't overpower your actuality.
Once you have chosen a bite you want to use, avoid editing within that bite, especially if it's full of background sound that would be interrupted with your edits. If there's music (chanting, drumming) in the background, your edits will be particularly obvious because they interrupt the flow of the music.
Note: Digitial editing makes it possible for you to build soundbites using several different comments that may have been spoken minutes apart. You can make people say anything you want them to. This is of course immoral, inaccurate, and probably illegal. A good rule of thumb when cutting and pasting various statements into a soundbite is to ask yourself, "Would this person approve of the edits I have made? Does it accurately express what they were trying to say?" If the answer is no, then don't use it.
Working with an Editor
Everyone gets an edit. Everyone. Many rookies (and some of the more prideful old-timers) feel somehow insulted by the idea of someone else reading and changing their work before it goes on the air. This is nonsense. No matter how good you think you are, you will always make stupid mistakes. Take some of the blame off of yourself. Get an edit.
Show up to your edit with an almost-finished product. If you have been asked to come up with a 3-minute story, don't send your editor five pages of text. Your editor is just as overworked and stressed-out as you are, if not more.
Don't go into the editing process with the attitude that you're defending your script from a butcher. Understand that this person reads scripts all day long, and (s)he probably knows more about how to make good radio than you do.
If your editor asks you to do some more research or make another phone call, do it. You might be sick and tired of the story by this point, but when it's done, you will almost always notice your editor's suggestion made the story stronger.
In a crowd situation, such as a rally or a protest, strive to interview a cross-section of people in the crowd. Be careful not to interview only people your age who look just like you. You're reporting for a radio show which strives to represent minority viewpoints, so find some!
Before you enter the office or jobsite or house or other location you'll be conducting the interview, press record on your machine and leave it running until after you leave. You can't air any coments recorded while the person thought the machine was off, but this technique will allow you to get the sounds of phones ringing, machines grinding, and people introducing themselves to you. And if you don't turn your machine off right after the end of the interview questions, you won't miss the best part of the interview, which starts at the moment the person thinks it's over. Again, before you use this post-interview tape, you'll have to ask permission, but at least you'll have it, in case they say yes.
Don't be afraid to explain what you're going to do in the interview, before you start asking the questions:
"I won't be saying much while you're talking, because I want to get a clean recording of your voice. But that doesn't mean I am not listening."
"I might ask you some of these questions more than once, just to expand on answers you've already given."
"This interview will be edited, so don't worry if you mess up and want to start over."
Before you ask any questions, make sure your source identifies herself on the microphone, with her full name and whatever title she wants you to use. (One useful technique in a crowd situation is to ask for ID and information at the same time: "What's your name and title, what do you think about the president's tax cut plan, and why?" This way you'll have an actuality and ID all in one: "I'm Ronnie Fong, I'm a pipefitter, and I think the tax cut is a terrible idea! The billionaires are rich enough already!")
Be careful not to say, "Uh huh", "Mmm Hmm" when the person is talking, as we all do naturally in conversation. Just nod your head to show you are listening.
Sometimes your source will want to hold the microphone for herself, and will try to take it from you. Do not let this happen!
If you have time, ask a few throwaway questions at the top of the interview, just to get your source get used to the situation: "How long have you been doing this kind of work?" "How did you get into it?" "Where did you get that tie?"
If what you really want on tape is the answer to the question, "Did you embezzle $10,000 from city government?", you might want to start with some softballs that make the source feel good:
"How has the first year of your term been going Mr.Mayor? What achievements are you most proud of?"
If you're not sure what to ask, remember that your ignorance can often be an asset. Start with a general question and focus your follow-up questions based on the answers you get.
"What is happening here?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Why are you yelling?"
If you can't think of good follow-up questions, play dumb:
"Wait, I don't get it. What do you mean?"
If you run out of questions, you can always repeat the source's last thought, and hope they keep going.
"…and that's why we're going to burn down city hall!"
"Burn down city hall?"
"Yeah! If we can't get what we want, we're going to kill some innocent people!"
Once the interview is about over, you should always give the source another chance to divulge something useful. Try something like, "Is there anything else you think the world should know about this topic?" Veteran Pacifica reporter Larry Bensky says to ask, "What's the next step?"
Use headphones when recording. You'll get better tape, every time. Headphones will help you correct the most common sound problems: popping P's, overloaded microphones, room echoes, hand noise, and crackling cables.
Keep the microphone out of the person's face, so that they can't really see it. The psychological effect of having a big metal rod in their face tends to make people clam up and get nervous. If your source is standing up, look the person in the eye and point the mic upward, parallel with their body, under the chin, so they can't see it. If they are sitting down, keep it off to the side and pointed at their chin.
Make sure your source is talking across the top of the microphone, not directly into it. Otherwise, the wind from their mouth will make a popping sound when they pronounce their P's.
The connections between your microphone and your machine are delicate and expensive to repair. Make sure your cords are not putting too much pressure on the jacks coming in or out of your machine. Don't touch the metal plugs on your cords with your fingers; the contacts will get oily over time and start to crackle when you record.
Even if you're in a quiet office, record a minute or two of the sound of the interview location alone, with nobody talking. This "room tone" can come in handy when you're mixing. You or the engineer can use it to smooth the transition between your narration and the source's voice.
If you're looking for a rugged interview microphone to carry in your backpack, you can't go wrong with the Electro Voice RE-50 (less than $100) or the Beyer M-58 ($150-$200). They're versitile, and they last forever.
For more on recording, see the Technical Tips pages at www.radiocollege.org
, especially Robin White's HOW TO MIC A FIELD INTERVIEW.
How to make a good story better
Include lots of ambience! It's almost an afterthought to most reporters busy finding sources on deadline, but a few seconds of interesting sound can make all the difference. If you are recording people outside on the street, let your tape run for a minute or two without anyone talking, until you get something interesting. A car honk, a group of kids walking by, whatever! If you are at the docks, record the foghorn, or a bell, or a ship coming in. If you are in an office, get the sound of the phone ringing and the receptionist answering, "Vice President Cheney's office, how may I connect your call?" Then when you file your story, include some of this ambience for the person mixing. It allows them to break up the script a little, it sets the scene, and it takes some of the fatigue off the listener's ear.
Whenever possible, avoid using telephone interviews. Phone tape — no matter how good — is hard on the ear, and makes people want to change the channel. Don't be lazy! Taking an hour to visit a source in her office can make the difference between a story that's interesting, and a story that's difficult to listen to.
Vary your format a little. Move things around in your script! If all your sources are identified before they start talking, try letting one of them start talking with no ID, and insert their ID after their first sentence. Or run the tape of one of your sources identifying himself. If your script follows a standard ax-trax-ax-trax format, try butting two cuts together and identifying the sources after they've spoken. If appropriate, run the tape of yourself asking the question, just so the listener hears that you were there. Or try to ad-lib part of your script while you are on the scene. Or record yourself describing the scene of the action while you're still there. Or soc out from the scene of the story and edit that sound into the mix when you're done. Spice it up! If you can keep your listeners guessing a little without confusing them, you're making good radio!
Take your own voice out of the story, as much as possible. If you have to spend half the script explaining the story, you didn't get enough good tape!
Listen to the radio all the time! You are practicing a craft, so you might as well study what others in the field are doing. Networks like CBC, NPR, MPR, PRI, BBC, Deutchewelle, Interworld, CNN, and even AM commercial stations have interesting radio news shows. Thousands of hours of independent audio productions are available online. We can learn a lot from these people! Listening also helps you avoid common cliches. (If you listen to NPR's All Things Considered enough times, you'll notice that the last sentence of too many of their feature stories starts with the word "Meanwhile..")
Take notes when you're recording, whenever possible. When someone says something you might use in your story, make a note of what they said and where it is on your tape.
When you find yourself with "writer's block", or intimidated by the subject you're reporting on, walk away from the computer for a minute and explain aloud to yourself what's happening in the story, as if you were talking to a friend, or a child. Then transcribe those comments into your script, verbatim. (Don't panic: a news story is basically a list of sentences; statements which you know to be true. Get enough of them onto the page, and you've got a script!)
Read your script aloud before you send it on for an edit. You'll inevitably find you've written sentences that are hard to read, and you should change them to make it easier on yourself. Veteran radio reporters often read each sentence aloud as they type, to save time.
Take the pen and paper out of your writing process altogether. Some reporters insist on starting with a handwritten script, but since you ultimately have to type your script for editing, you might as well skip a step and write it on the computer.
At a press conference, pull your sources aside for interviews before the action starts. Explain that you are in a hurry and don't have time to stay.
Before an interview, think about what kind of tape you can get from a source that's not related to today's story, but that you might be able to use later in another story.
Save every phone number and email address you come by, especially mobile phone numbers! Establish a database for all your contacts, and maintain it!
Label your tapes/discs/files dilligently, with date, name, and location. Veteran Democracy Now! engineer Anthony Sloan says label your tapes before you start recording.
Bring your reporter's kit with you everywhere, even when you think you're not working. The time you don't have it is the time you'll need it.
If you're having trouble locating opposing viewpoints for your story, ask your sources who their enemies are, and call them.
To locate a telephone number, put the name and area code of the person you're trying to find into a search engine. A working phone number should come up within the first few hits.
The receptionist is an obstacle, but (s)he should always be treated as an ally. If you can make the receptionist start to like you, (s)he will go the extra mile to get the source to call you back. Explain what you are trying to do. "I want to put Dr. Grady on the radio tonight, on 60 radio stations from coast to coast, and I only have an hour left. It's not a live interview or anything. It should take just five minutes."
No matter how much time you have left on your deadline, tell the receptionist you only have an hour.
If you are trying to land a difficult interview with a hostile source, play to their ego: "People are saying some pretty nasty things about you, and I think it's only fair you get a chance to defend yourself." When all else fails, try this one: "I really don't want to have to report that you wouldn't agree to be interviewed for this story."
When you end up talking to an answering machine, say your telephone number first, then your name, then leave your message. That way when they rewind to write down your number, it's right at the beginning of the message. Receptionists love this.
If the receptionist sends you to voicemail, leave a message, hang up and call right back to ask for another number. Cellphone, home phone, whatever. "I'm sorry to bug you so much, but I really need to talk to Dr. Grady, like right now. Do you know where I might be able to get her on the phone at this moment?" Dr. Grady went out to lunch? "Do you happen to know where she's eating?" Whatever it takes.
Never trust your sources to call you back by deadline. If you leave a message, wait half an hour, and call back.
Maintain a worried tone of voice, never an annoyed tone. You want them to feel sorry for you, not hate you.
Voicing takes practice. Those people on the radio who sound so natural? They're working hard at it. Voicing is a delicate balance between relaxation and hard work. A few minutes of preparation before you start makes all the difference.
Wear headphones. Listen to yourself as you read.
Take a drink of water. A dry mouth makes little "smacking" sounds on the microphone.
Relax. Before you start, pull your shoulders back, raise your arms, roll your head around on your neck, look up, look down, take a big breath and let it out slowly.
Prep your mouth. Open up really wide and hold it for a second. Stick your lips out, stick out your tongue. Run through the alphabet out loud. Recite a tongue twister, like "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers," or "She sells sea shells by the sea shore."
Read your script aloud before you record it. Note those places where you may have to emphasize certain words to make your point.
Look up when you read. Don't look down at the page, like you would normally. Hold the script up to your head level and read upward. It opens up your chest cavity and improves the delivery of your voice.
Breathe. It's easy to get through half a page and find yourself running out of air. Take the time to breathe naturally as you read. The sound of breathing is a natural part of speech.
Overenunciate. Not a lot, but a little. Pronounce your consonants crisply. Underline several of the most important words in every sentence of your script, and emphasize them. At first this will embarrass you and seem rediculous, but when you hear it on the radio, it will sound natural. If you don't do it, you'll sound mushy and timid.
Vary your tone, but keep your volume consistent.
When you make a mistake, start over at the beginning of the paragraph.
After you've filed your story, listen to yourself on the radio and note those places where you should have emphasized words differently.
FSRN reporters should challenge themselves to provoke thought, to inspire, and to motivate listeners, but our primary mission is to tell the truth. If you cannot verify the truth of a statement, you have no right to make it. Incomplete stories are always preferable to innacurate stories. Speculation is not acceptable; leave the speculation to your sources.
The content of the story is always more important than the relationship between the reporter and the source. Any exchange of gifts, favors, or money between reporters and sources is wrong. The cozier you become with your sources, the less likely you are to present your sources critically and accurately.
No person's voice should be used on the air unless the person was aware they were being recorded for possible broadcast. Reporters should make every effort to identify their sources on the air, unless the source has asked not to be identified, in which case the reporter should say so. (In a crowd situation in public, where people have a reasonable expectation that reporters are present, anything you get on tape is fair game.)
Whenever possible, primary sources should be used to tell a story. If you're reporting on a judicial nominee accused of torturing small animals, call him and ask if it's true! He's the only one who knows for sure. Relying too much on pundits is lazy and unfair.
Synthesizing information you get from various sources is a normal part of journalism, but plaigarism is not acceptable. Play it safe. If you use information from other media outlets, give them credit: "The Associated Press reports…", etc.
A note on "access": Access to government is the stock-in-trade of the corporate media. Maintaining close contact with government sources allows the corporate media to know sooner when newsworthy decisions are made. This relationship with the government is essential to their survival in the media "market". In this way, the corporate media are inherently compromised as journalists. They must take care not to offend their sources, or they could lose their access. FSRN will never enjoy the access to government that the other media do, but we are blessed with the freedom to maintain an antagonistic relationship with the state. It is, in fact, our duty to do so.
Rookie Moves: Common beginner mistakes to avoid
Rookie Moves: Writing
Stating the obvious with a lazy cliche ID:
"…Janie Yoblonsky describes the situation."
"…Janie Yoblonsky explains."
"…Janie Yoblonsky tells us what that means."
The reporter never, ever has any reason to tell the listener that the source is "talking about"/"describing"/"explaining" something. Once the source starts talking, we know the source is talking.
You have at least nine hundred ways to identify someone, the most obvious being simply to state the name and title right before (s)he starts talking. Another easy way to avoid the Janie-Yablonsky-describes cliche is by paraphrasing something the source said:
"Union representative Janie Yablonsky says the time was right for a change."
"We really thought the old regime was getting lazy and finding exuses not to confront the company."
Introducing a cut with the same information that follows in the cut. It shows the reporter hasn't listened to the cuts she is using.
"Janie Yablonsky says the time was right for a change."
"It was time for a change. The old regime was doing things wrong."
Ending a story with a cut, then immediately socking out:
"…and we want the Republican fascists to get out of our town!"
"Jackie Slacky, Free Speech Radio News, Sandy, Arizona."
Sometimes it works, but most of the time it's just lazy. Worse, it usually betrays the reporter's allegiances to one source in the story. FSRN is a product of advocacy journalism, but we turn our listeners off when we're preachy. If you are having a hard time coming up with a definitive general statement for the conclusion of your story, remind the listener what the story is about:
"…and we want the Republican fascists to get out of our town!"
"The battle over freedom of speech in Sandy looks likely to continue, unless federal authorities decide to step in and mediate. Jackie Slacky, Free Speech Radio News, Sandy, Arizona."
Another easy way to conclude is by telling the listener what they can expect to happen next. Example: In a story about an ethics investigation into the conduct of Senate clerk Johnny Kelley, you could conclude with:
"The Senate ethics panel meets Thursday, where Mr. Kelley will have to prove his claims. In DC, I'm Ricky Chalk for Free Speech Radio News"
Making statements which cannot be confirmed:
"Nobody thought Lambert was innocent, but some would have liked to see him get a lighter sentence."
You cannot prove that there is not one person in the world who thought Lambert was innocent. Therefore, as a journalist, you cannot report it as fact. This is a common mainstream media mistake which leads to the omission of minority viewpoints, and one we should avoid. What if there's a compelling case for Lambert's innocence, but you just didn't have time to talk to enough people with the right information? Play it safe and report just what you know for sure.
Rookie Moves: Voicing
Taking a heroic or dramatic tone when reading. We're not gods. We're not actors. We're reporters. The STORY is the star, NOT the source, and ESPECIALLY not the reporter. Even when reporters manage to avoid taking a heroic or dramatic tone in their scripts, some still sound overly dramatic in their outcues. Oddly placed pauses are the main culprit:
"For Fuh-ree Speech Ah-radiah Newzzzz, [long pause]… this…[pause]…is…[pause]…Jackie Slacky…in Sheepsburg, New Zealand."
Flat reading. Your story should sound like it's something you think listeners need to hear. Too often we sound tired or bored. Underline several words in every sentence, and punch them!
[For men.] Reading in a lower-than-usual voice. When they get on the radio, some men seem to think they have to try to talk like Barry White. They're not fooling anybody. Stay within your own natural vocal range.
Rookie Moves: Recording
Getting too much tape. If you go to a conference, don't tape the whole evening's proceedings, unless it's for archive purposes. Most often you won't have the luxury of a support staff that can go through all that tape for you. Try to limit yourself, or you'll find yourself buried in hours of tape.
Recording too far away from the source. If your mic is not within a foot of a person's mouth, it's not worth recording.
Recording in a noisy environment. Often we don't notice the noises around us, but the microphone does. Even in a quiet, carpeted office with the door closed, a simple desktop computer or air conditioner can ruin your tape. Move away from the computer, or ask to have it turned off. Beware of big, flat surfaces like tables and walls. They'll bounce unwanted sounds into your mic and create ugly echoes. Again, wear headphones, and you can easily correct sound problems.
Rookie Moves: Digital Editing
Cutting out too many breaths, "um"'s and "ah"'s when people talk. Pauses are a natural part of speech, as are space-fillers like "um" and "ah". When you cut all of them out, it makes the source sound like a robot. It takes the listener's ear away from the content, distracting them with unnatural patterns of speech.
Cutting in the middle of a breath. When you make a cut on a digital editing program, make sure you aren't cutting a breath in half. When you do, it leaves an audible artifact of your edit.
Cutting too close. Leave a half- or a quarter-second between yourself and your sources, at the beginning and end of all your cuts. Then listen to the edits. Do they sound natural? Are the ideas coming at the listener at a reasonable speed?
Special Suggestions for non-US Reporters
If you don't speak English as a first language, never fear; foreign stringers are the backbone of FSRN and they make us unique among American newscasts. But because we use so many foreign reporters, it's especially important that you try to speak as clearly as possible and use basic, grammatical English.
Writing: Explaining the context
You should assume that Americans know nothing about your country. The US audience probably doesn't know the differences between the political parties in your country, or even the name of your president. You'll have to explain everything, every time.
Practice describing political parties in a single phrase:
“The ruling Hindu nationalist party, the BJP has released a statement…"
Describe a party's history in one sentence:
“The PDP, or People's Democratic Party, came to power last October in elections which India hailed as free and fair, but which many Kashmiris dismissed.”
Briefly explain the politics of any politician you quote.
"Councilman Jaime Fuentes openly advocates for a return to the authoritarian Pinochet era…"
Describe the kind of work a group does before you tell us what they say.
"Save Uganda Now, or S.U.N., works to bring foreign churches to Uganda for humanitarian tours. SUN spokesman Harris Jones says…"
Find articles by US correspondents in your country to see how the situation is explained. Mainstream news sources in the US often dismiss social movements in other countries, using overly-generalized language. They sometimes refer to legitimate social justice activists as "terrorists". Other times they paint a picture that leaves social movements out entirely. When the New York Times refers to "years of animosity between Turks and Kurds", they don't explain what's really happening. Your job is to correct the record:
"For years, the Kurdish people in Southeastern Anatollia lived under a military State of Emergency. Even today, many Kurdish political parties are banned and many Kurdish activists are thrown in prison."
Be careful not to include too many details that a US audience won't need. In a story about whether Turkey will send its army to help George Bush in Iraq, for example, the local media will focus on the debate, reporting on what each political party is saying. This information is important to a Turkish audience, but the American audience doesn't need so much detail. US listeners should instead be educated on the larger issue:
"Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan has been urging Parliament to send thousands of troops to help George Bush occupy Iraq. But a majority of Turks remain opposed. More and more regular Turks see the American Army as a barrier to peace in the region. Most people here don't understand why they should send their sons across the border to die to help the United States control Iraq. Most Turks didn't support the invasion in this first place. "
Common Grammar Mistakes
Grammar is a major issue for reporters whose native language is not English. If possible, you should listen to American and British radio online—especially FSRN. Ask your editor to send you some scripts, and study the way other reporters put their sentences together.
Don't forget your articles! To an American audience, a sentence like this one sounds rediculous:
“Shortly after campaign start, entire leadership of JKLF was arrested by army.”
Most of your nouns must be preceded with "the", "a", or "an".
“Shortly after they started the campaign, the entire leadership of the JKLF was arrested by the Indian army.”
Again, short sentences made up of short words are always better. On the radio, the basic sentence structure Subject + Verb + Object works every time.
"Imam Shaker tells his congregation of hundreds in Falluga's Al-Kabir mosque he thinks America has perpetrated an agression against the people of Iraq and that the American Army should leave should leave Falluga."
The sentence is grammatically correct, but it's difficult for a listener to follow. Break it up into smaller sentences:
"Imam Shaker speaks to a crowd of hundreds inside the city's Al-Kabir mosque. He tells his congregation America has perpetrated an agression against the people of Iraq. He says the American Army should leave Falluga."
Voicing: We Love Your Accent!
FSRN does not want you to adopt an American accent. We do not want you to be self-conscious about your accent. But you must make an effort to speak VERY clearly. Remember the US audience is not used to hearing an accent like yours. Many listeners complain they cannot understand our foreign reporters. If you are not clear, they will change the channel. In your spare time, read aloud in English. Speaking and listening to people speak English will make reporting in English much easier.
Rehearse your scripts several times before recording.
Pause between words just slightly, so that your rate of speaking is slower than normal.
Think about your words as you say them, and try to give them emphasis according to their meaning. Underline the most important words in every sentence, and emphasize them.
Note the words that sound strange to you, and practice pronouncing them.
If you are not sure how a word is pronounced, call someone, or look it up in an English dictionary. Remember, mispronouncing a word can make a listener lose the meaning of your piece.
Make sure you read every word you've written, especially the articles, "the", "a" and "an"!
Help the Host with Pronunciation
When writing your lede, tell the host how to pronounce the names of people and places. In many languages, letters make different sounds than they do in English.
"Turkish Prime Minister Recep (REH-JEP) Tayip (THAI-YEEP) Erdogan (ERD-OGH-AN) was in Ceyhan (JAY-HAN) today."
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