Taking Teasing Challenges Head On.

Survival Kit, Tease Writing Comments Off on Taking Teasing Challenges Head On.
Jan 142013

Whenever I publish an article on teases, journalists talk it up on Facebook and Twitter.  Teases, as I have said before, are not natural to us newsies.  So we have plenty to discuss because teases are a completely different writing style.   I asked on FB and Twitter:  What are the biggest challenges you face when writing teases?  Here’s the list and some fixes.

Tease writing challenges

  • Making the time to write them
  • Not giving away too much of the story
  • Picking what to tease
  • What order to put teases in

The number one secret of killer tease writers is this:  Make time to really work on your teases.  These are not the elements you save for last and just throw something in to get them done.  Teases make or break your newscast.  You are judged on them harshly and often.  They have to be a priority.  They need a special amount of time set aside.  Give yourself a chance to write and read over the teases to challenge yourself:  Are these really the best I can do?

That said many of you mentioned writing the teases right after you write the story you are teasing.  That can be an effective technique, as long as you go back and look at them again.  Why?  Often you end up giving away too much of the story. Sometimes you need a little separation from writing the story, to see what your short term memory actually retains.  What is it about that story that made you want to tease it in the first place?

Picking what to tease is very challenging, especially when you look at your rundown and think, the stories all sound run of the mill, with no good sound, average video and the same old facts.  This is key.  There should be a reason every story is in your newscast.  It may be that a little tidbit is interesting, the fact the fire happened in a key demo of the market you are tapping into, or because you need video on a day when you have few resources and too many copy stories.  Realistically not all of the reasons are super compelling, but they are reasons that have WIFM (“What’s In It For Me”).  So draw on the reason why the story is in the newscast and try to build on that for a tease.  Viewers do not expect every story to be a gut wrenching, heart stopping, amazing moment.  Remember at their core, viewers want tangible relatable information.  Information is teasable.  Just don’t oversell. (see “Reel ‘Em In Without Exaggerating”).

Finally, order.  How many producers have wasted way too much time on this?  For the most part, the way to “stack” teases is this deep, deeper, next.  You can play around with the deep, deeper part, but not the next (unless you are in the second to last block of course).  If viewers see a pattern (and they can and will recognize it) of you teasing next right off, they will not stick around for the whole newscast.

So now you can take  those teasing challenges head on! Go knock ’em dead.

Suck them in: How to start off teases.

Producing, Survival Kit, Tease Writing Comments Off on Suck them in: How to start off teases.
Dec 102012

How often have you watched a newscast and the teases at the end of a block made you have to watch a little longer?  Be honest.  Chances are you really have to rack your brain to remember a time and a tease.  The reason:  Most teases are horribly written.  They immediately start out on a two shot, with the anchors saying “coming up” or “next on.” Let’s not mince words, that’s an instant fail and a viewer turn off.  Viewers will not stick around.  The viewer thinks, “Cue commercial! Let’s see what the other channel has.” or just turns off the TV altogether.

So how do you suck them in?  First of all, get rid of two shots at the top of teases.  You can use a two shot other places, like the story before the tease.  Next, ban the terms “coming up” and “next on.”  You can time reference other ways, and later in the tease.  Instead, think of why you picked the story to tease in the first place.  Is the video jaw dropping?  Is the nat sound awesome?  Is there a surprising twist to the story?  Start there.  Hammer the sell, head on, right away.

Now take some of the compelling video and show it off right away.  Think, VO off the top or NATS VO,  right away.  Play the image twice if it is quick.  Showcase, showcase, showcase!  Just don’t explain every bit of what the viewer sees.  Let’s say a plane makes an incredible emergency landing and you have video of it happening.  You can show the landing, and tease an interesting element, like “What the pilot almost hit going down.” or “Why he/she had to land.” I recently saw a tease about a tattoo parlor.  The producer wove nats of the tattoo needle buzzing throughout.  The needle sound was up full at the start, then lower while the anchor read, and finally up full again at the end.  That alone sucked me in.  The sound is captivating and makes you more excited to see the story.

What if the story is interesting, but you don’t have any good sound or video?  Again, avoid the two shot and play on the human element right away.  If the story is about a family’s brave battle with an illness, show the family and hit on how “Their story may make you want to hug your own children.”  Show a close up of a child doing an amazing thing and say, “You are about to meet Sally, and she is going to teach you a thing or two.”

Now let’s address why so many teases start off with “coming up” or “next on.”  You do need to time reference that the story will appear later, just don’t do it off the top of the tease.  If you work in a shop with graphics that say coming up, either pop them in after the tease is underway, or don’t reference the animation with your copy.  You have to impress the viewer right away.  That is more important than referencing an animation.

A final thought:  Treat the start of your teases the way you would the beginning of an actual story.  Do not put “giveaways” that a tease is coming, like two shots or use old, cliché, phrases.  That alone will help you suck viewers in.

A producer recently tweeted asking if we could put some mandates on the use of alliteration, and share how we feel about the use of alliteration at all.  Simply put:  Alliteration is overused in news copy.  Yes, it is catchy and can re-engage the ear.   But it also trivializes stories if not done just right.

So here are mandates for the use of alliteration:

  • Avoid it in cold opens and headlines
  • Do not use it in crawls
  • Write descriptions of video first
  • Use it sparingly in kickers and teases

We often hear alliteration used in teases.  There are two types of “teases” where you should not use alliteration:  Headlines at the top of a show and cold open type copy.  (For those of you new to the biz, when I say cold open, I am talking about the fancy copy used before the anchors say hello at the top of a newscast.  It often has video and/or sound or very powerful phrases to try and suck the viewer into the lead story.)  The reason why is simple.  These are serious stories.  They define the type of news you are providing to the viewer in the newscast and you cannot afford to risk trivializing that content.

The risk of trivializing the content, is the reason you should not use alliteration in lower thirds or crawls either.  Frankly, alliteration can also look a little goofy when reading it.  It is not as effective as hearing the words.

When you are tempted to use alliteration in a story or tease, first look at the video and write down a few phrases that describe the pictures you will show.  Often this will spark an idea for an interesting element to tease that doesn’t need alliteration. (For more on how to look at and better write to video read  Can you picture it and Reel em in without exaggerating.)

If you just can’t resist, use alliteration in teases and kickers sparingly.  By sparingly I mean one or two teases per newscast maximum, and two kickers per week.  I am giving numbers to encourage you to really work around this crutch.  That way when you do use alliteration, your viewer will love how it sounds, not loathe hearing it again, so you don’t have to lose the technique altogether.

 

This is the ultimate challenge for tease writers.  Sell the story without making the content into more than it really is.  Truth be told, exaggerations happen every day, in nearly every newscast.  So what’s the big deal you ask?  One word:  Credibility.  Many of us were taught that viewers are not very savvy.  I even had one manager tell me over and over: “People are stupid, remember that.”  Thing is, people aren’t as “stupid” as you might think.  They also have the world at their fingertips now with so many websites to mine through.  Between Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit and Digg plus increasingly incredible hyper-local news sites like everyblock.com, it is easy to bypass local TV for your news and even easier to fact check local news.

The second statement is extremely important to keep in mind as you write teases.  If you exaggerate, chances are your viewers will figure out you inflated the story.  If viewers don’t trust you, they don’t watch you.  Teases are a crucial area where you make or break your relationship.

So here are some tried and true relationship builders to consider when teasing.

•             The power of video and sound outweighs any copy you can write

•             Use adjectives sparingly

•             Avoid clichés

•             Look for irony

•             Speak to the viewer without assuming you know what they are thinking

Great video is a must in teasing.  You will hear this over and over throughout your career.  Frankly, that’s obvious.  So let’s talk video in general.  When teasing, all kinds of video can be very effective.  Sometimes when I had to tease a crime story where the scene was cleared… I would still take a live picture of the scene and say something like:  “This looks like a nice neighborhood where children are often at play.  Today you see no one around.  That’s because something happened in this house, the whole neighborhood must deal with. “If a crime happens in a neighborhood everyone there considers it in some way.  It changes the perspective of the neighborhood for a while.  By not saying what the crime was right away, there’s some drama in the tease without exaggerating.  You also can show a person’s photograph and hang on it a few seconds.  Ask the viewer to really look at this person.  Then, describe why the photo is relevant.  Let’s say it’s a professor who developed a medical breakthrough.  You could write:  “This man had an idea that just wouldn’t leave his mind.  Now that idea could change the way you take some kinds of medicine.”  This also works for government stories that viewers should care about, but have trouble putting into perspective. Put a face on it, even if it’s a still shot.

Natural sound is also effective. You can occasionally use silence to make a point.  Let’s take a crime in a shopping center for example.  Sometimes I would show the empty parking lot and resulting quiet and reference it:  “This is normally a bustling parking lot, with people running in and out of stores, now listen (take nats of quiet). So much quiet in the middle of the day.  It’s all because of what happened last night.”  I also used to play up sound of a meeting for a few seconds before describing a significant development.  The natural sound is so different from the anchor’s voice, it draws the ear to help you get the viewer’s attention.  Knowing you caught their attention, can make you less likely to use very strong adjectives to enhance your copy.

When writing teases we are taught that this is the one place you can use adjectives and play up your copy.  While true, you still need to be reasonable when teasing.  Do not overwrite or exaggerate in order to make your copy sound awesome.  It always surprises me how often this disconnect happens.  While an EP, I would quiz producers on why such strong language was used in a tease and would get the standard answer, “It sounds so cool.”  You are not in a creative writing contest.  You are writing things that affect people’s lives.  I am not saying this to preach.  The idea that everything you write can, and does, directly impact people has to be front of mind, especially when teasing.  This is why I would still restrict the use of adjectives when my producers wrote teases.  Sure they got to use them more than when writing news copy.  I just wanted producers to keep in mind that even teases are a type of news copy, especially if you are writing a tease about a crime, a controversial new law or government waste.  If you exaggerate the story with too many adjectives in a tease, you will reduce your stations credibility.  So use adjectives, just consider which ones closely when writing teases about these subjects.

This leads to clichés like: a shocking crime, a startling discovery or a horrific disaster.  These phrases need to disappear from your bag of tricks.  If a crime is truly shocking, describing an element of it will be more effective than saying a “shocking” crime.  When writing teases always look for the human element  (see article “You’re Hooked“)  or if the story is really hard to tease use teasing techniques we described in “ Ultimate Tease Challenge” to help you get around the difficulty in teasing the story.

A tried and true technique that will not offend viewers is the appropriate use of irony.  This technique showcases the emotional side of stories that are hard to tease without exaggerating.  It is an effective way to connect with the viewer without overselling your content and overwriting a tease.  If you need examples, let’s look again to the video of the empty neighborhood where a crime occurred earlier.  “This looks like a nice neighborhood where children play.  Today no one is around.  That’s because something happened in this house, the whole neighborhood must deal with. “Two techniques were used here:  The use of video and some irony.   All of us need quick go to techniques when tease writing under the high pressure of a news day.  Irony is one that is often underused despite being extremely effective.  The key is talking with your crews and learning enough about stories to find the irony.  If you are really under pressure ask your crew point blank, is any element of this story ironic?  It can be a quick way to write a compelling tease under pressure.

Finally, do not assume you know what the viewer is thinking.  Phrases like “You won’t believe” or “This will shock you” need to be eliminated from your bag of tricks.  They are overused and, frankly, talk down to the viewer.  People think all kinds of things.  You cannot “get into heads.”  Use the techniques we listed above and remember that you have no idea what viewers are doing at home when hearing your tease.  This will help you write intelligent teases that enhance credibility and reel viewers in to watch more of your work.

 

 

If you ever wondered why you see producers sitting at their desks mumbling to themselves, then pacing in a hallway, this is it.  Teasing the story that seems like it just won’t end.  The rising flood waters waiting to crest, the trial that drags on forever, the storm damage cleanup that is so important to cover, but looks the same each day.

These are stories that, after a while, management and producers must debate on whether to tease at all, or does the viewer just expect the coverage to be there and watch for something else.  While that debate rages, producers are often faced with a looming deadline and overnights that say they get a spike when coverage of that topic airs.

So what do you do when there’s no obvious unique element?  Look beyond the obvious.  Sometimes you need to come up with an interesting sidebar tag that would have viewer benefit.  This is the time to search Twitter and tweet your sources for interesting tidbits that you can fact check and possibly add to your coverage in some way.  You can also call a buddy who’s not in the business and ask where the coverage seems to be lacking for the story.  They might have an idea you never thought off that would make a great vo/sot or even an outboard package.  Also, have reporters keep an extra eye out for interesting character development that you can turn into an interesting tease.

Anchors are a great resource in this difficult time.  They often are approached by people with interesting questions you could answer as an added element to your coverage.   It’s a great tease option because it enhances your anchor’s credibility, with a viewer benefit.  You asked and we got the answer for you!  It engages viewers who often feel we talk at them instead of to them.

If there really is nothing interesting to tease about the ongoing story, talk with management about whether you can move the tease out of its traditional place, like the end of a block.  This is a great time to do stealth teases (see article “You’re Hooked“) in the middle of the a-block for example.  You can put the anchors on a two shot and have them say something like, “Hey, in 5 minutes we’re going to get an update on the trial.  I hear (reporter) has (a quick line with the gist of the pkg).” Then go on with the newscast.

The one thing you want to avoid at all costs is the tease that goes something like these “Up next the latest on the Casey Anthony case.” or “We have the latest on cleanup of the tornado damage in Joplin.” These are the ultimate throw away lines and will cost you credibility with the viewer.  Keep in a mind that viewers expect you to have the latest on a big story.  That’s the reason they are tuning in.  They believe in your ability to cover the ongoing stories.  Don’t let them down by trivializing it with only a “coming up, the latest.”  It makes your station seem callous and sloppy.  Viewers are taking this story seriously.  You need to as well.  You don’t have to have a wow factor each day.  A simple headline in a tease is okay.  It helps viewers know when they will get the daily update.  Taking a quick hit with a live reporter also can work, but coordinate with the reporter ahead of time to make sure he/she doesn’t give away too much.  Viewers think it is cool if you check in live on something, it shows immediacy.  Have the anchor say something like, “We’re hearing court is about to wrap up right now, (Reporter) interesting day?”  Reporter says: “Yes, in fact we had something just happen that we will tell you about in two minutes.”  You aren’t exaggerating, you are not giving the story away, you are showcasing a live ongoing event with immediacy.  Again, viewers love feeling like they are in the moment.  Another way to consider this along similar lines:  Teasing these kinds of stories is like teasing weather.  Some days the information is huge and you need to blow it out.  Some days there’s not much to it, but you want the viewer to know you always have their best interest in mind, even on a sunny cloudless day.  You want to shoot straight and build credibility for the times the teases are easy to write, because what you have to share is fascinating.  Do these things and the amount of time you spend mumbling to yourself in the hallway, will begin to shrink!

 

We’ve all seen them: A tease that grabs you and doesn’t let you go.  You swear at the TV because you will just have to be late to work or get to bed a few minutes late.  You have to know.  Think about that.  You have to know.  Write that phrase on a sticky note to place on your computer.  It is rule number one to excellent tease writing:  “You have to know.”

Before we dish tips, let’s quantify something.  Being a good writer and being a good tease writer do not always go hand in hand.  Writing good teases is an art form.  It is something you need to push to improve upon every day. This goes for producers, reporters, promotion writers, even news managers.  Because teases are so crucial, we will delve into the topic on and off for several articles.  Just like we mentioned in “Rule the Word” attending seminars on Saturdays at the station will not give you all you need.

So let’s start with the phrase “You have to know.”  When you start your shift and stare at a blank rundown keep that phrase in mind.  It is a great way to select stories for key meter points to tease.  As you and news management select where these stories go, mine the content for fascinating elements.  Great video, an interesting fact, and strong viewer benefit are good examples.  We’re talking about the stuff you want to tweet about or top line to someone else.  Those are the elements in stories you need to tease in your newscast.  Take the best elements from these stories and put them in a script at the top or bottom of your rundown.  Then, when a phrase about one of those compelling elements pops in your head, put it into that catchall script.

Now let’s expand on some things great tease writers do each day.

  • Write tease elements all shift long
  • Hide teases
  • Add flash without exaggerating

We just told you about the important catch all script at the top or bottom of your rundown where you can stash potential tease elements.  Again, write as many of these elements as you can in this script as ideas come to mind throughout your day.  Don’t forget the traditional things you are taught about teases.  Look for emotional connections, a viewer benefit, and remember your station’s news philosophy as you write.  Look for unique elements.  As you do this, throw in notes from conversations you are having with reporters about their stories.  Write down what sticks in your head about these elements in your catchall script.  Again, these are the need to know elements you will share with viewers.

A quick note to reporters, you should also mine your stories for great tease elements as you go through your day.  Increasingly reporters are becoming responsible for tease elements being fed into the station for promotions and teases within a newscast.  Make note of great sound and pictures so you can hand them over to a producer or promotions writer quickly.  After all, you want your story played up because it helps you too.  If a cool line about your story comes to mind, share it with the producer or EP.

The other reason producers want to “write” teases all shift long is that the elements you throw in that catchall script can help you shape all of your writing.  Some of the cool video, partnered with compelling phrases might not make it as a tease, but it might become the first line of a vo or vo/sot you write.  Everything a producer writes is designed to draw in audience.  Maybe a phrase you wrote in your catchall will become a transition line between stories on a two shot.

Which leads to our next point:  Hide teases.  Some consultants call this “stealth teasing.”  We are going to take it a little further.  Think of hiding teases in two ways.  “Hiding” teases means:  1) Throwing in tease lines about something coming up in non-traditional places.  2) Using the same kind of tease writing in leads for stories.

The first way producers hide teases is placing a line about something coming up in a place a viewer would not expect.  Take the middle of the a-block for example.  You can write a vo about your 30 lead and give viewers some interesting information, then tease a specific viewer benefit for later.  Another interesting place is within anchor chat.  Have the anchors mention something coming up seemingly “off the cuff” after a similar type story.  A favorite technique of mine is to go directly from a story into a compelling piece of natural sound and video to kick off a tease that is pre-produced with a lot of sound and cool graphics.  Consider it a mini package or a second cold open type deal with several elements.  Make suer you mix up where this appears in your rundown. (i.e. – the b-block one day, the 38 block some other time depending on where your best video lies.)

Now let’s expand on using tease writing in leads for stories.  If a story within, say, the middle of your b-block has great video, segment it out and include a tease type element at the beginning.  This will hook the audience and provide all important instant gratification.  Here’s an illustration:  Let’s say you have a story about a fire where someone was rescued and you have incredible sound from the person saved.  Tease it in the beginning of the story by playing some of the sound.  In other words, reverse the order of the story.  Do the payoff sound first, then showcase the cool elements leading up to the great sound.  It would look something like this:

See this man? (OTS graphic of the man, or take it fullscreen) He could have died in a fire today. (Bite) “I thought I was a goner then I felt someone pulling me by the arm.” Then do your vo. “Here’s the house where it happened…”etc. Finish with a bite from the survivor expanding on the first sound, something like: “I just couldn’t believe that someone braved the smoke to save me.” This makes your newscast more interesting throughout and makes your teases more natural to the viewer when they do appear at the end of a block.  They’ve seen that you will make it worth their while to stick around.  You showed them you deliver with a tease type element, in a segmented part of the show, just moments before.

The example above also gives you an idea of how to add flash to teases without exaggerating.  We will dedicate another article to techniques for avoiding exaggerating when writing teases later.  For now, let’s focus on proper ways to add flash.  One way that is fun for promotions writers and producers who do cold opens is to base graphics and writing style on the lead-in to your newscast. For example, if a court show comes before you and there’s a strong legal type story, start the cold open with sound of a gavel.  Then you can use the same gavel sound to break up each element in the tease.  This is also effective for topicals, just don’t make it a crutch every single time “CSI” or “Law and Order” airs.

Graphics can be compelling if you lack video, but the story has viewer benefit.  If you do this, you have to spell that benefit out on screen.  Case in point, the phrase “saves you money” will get many people to watch in these hard economic times.  Just make sure you can deliver the money saving advice.  Finally, if you can, pre-produce a tease or two in your rundown.  But make sure you vary where you place it and how long it runs.  Edit in cool graphics and quick sound to play up appeal to the eye and ear.  It doesn’t have to be a three element deal like I described earlier.  It just needs to have different elements to engage the senses.  This goes back to one of our recurring themes, engage more than 1 of the senses and you have viewers hooked.  They will just “have to know” what the story is about!

 

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