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!

 

Nothing like hearing this phrase while on deadline: “Be sure and produce it up.”   You think: “Sure, I can barely get the stuff I already have on my plate done, why not!”

Actually this is easier than it might seem.  “Producing it up” really means taking the information you have and putting it in nice tiny bundles. Think of it as buying a sweater set and matching jewelry as gifts.  You wrap the cardigan separately from the tank top underneath.  Then you wrap the earrings separately from the necklace.  Looking at all those boxes makes it seem like you spent a lot more than you did.  It’s all in the packaging.

When you “produce it up” you generally provide a nats/vo or vo/sot set up for the anchors to read that provides an overview in a visual way.  Then you focus the package on a particular element of the subject.  You save an interesting element for an anchor tag that usually is a question answer between the reporter and the anchors or maybe a vo or vosot for the anchors to read.  The point is to make the information you are providing clearer to understand.  You also are making the news more appealing to the eye so hopefully the viewer doesn’t daydream or head to the computer to cruise Facebook instead.

The other reason for “producing it up” is to try and showcase the team.   It’s showcasing your anchors and reporters as experts that work together to get the most information possible on a subject in a given day.  No, you really aren’t usually getting any more information or shooting any more video.  This is smoke and mirrors, but it works effectively. While focusing on the elements, you naturally must write more concisely.  This helps the ear understand while the visuals make the information appealing for the eyes.  Two senses aroused, means less likelihood viewers turn away.

One last benefit to “producing it up”: it makes producers/anchors/reporters and even photojournalists have to talk with each other a little more about the news.  This helps prevent fact errors.  It’s another level of script approval.

Still confused about “producing it up” and the benefits.  Consider the following.  When you watch coverage of a major event, like the earthquake in Japan you probably find yourself talking to the television asking questions.  Many times the questions you are asking could impact you or other viewers directly.  Once again we’re talking about human impact. The first morning of coverage of Japan, I found myself frustrated with all the networks.  I had to get online and see people’s stories on You Tube to really understand how to gage the event.  I needed to feel it.  I needed to know how far the quake was from Tokyo.  I needed graphics describing how the Tsunami came over.  The networks were too overwhelmed getting information.  I had to piecemeal from different stations and  Twitter.  Producing up some of these elements would have helped me understand the true depth of the losses.  Next, I wanted to know what this meant for costs of things from Japan.  Would the stock market crash because of this?  Answering these stories with graphics, live interviews, special maps and packages are great ways to produce up coverage locally.  This is what some stations call the “WIFM” (What’s In It For Me) of coverage.  Simply, it is another way to showcase the human element of stories.  These are things you want to provide viewers so they don’t turn away from your newscast to jump on the internet for the answers.

The final point, I cannot stress enough is “producing it up” is producer friendly.   It makes your job easier. You can visualize your rundown better, you can choose elements like natural sound, sidebars and graphics more easily.  It also will help you write succinctly.  Simply put, it just makes your newscast look sharp. Fear not. Go ahead, give it a try!

 

Newsrooms are notorious for hazing.  It happens often in larger markets, but we’ve seen it in small markets too.  You have to prove to coworkers that you deserve the job.  You don’t truly have friends in the workplace. Everyone is out for themselves.  Why?  Because so many people are quitting the biz, less experienced people are being hired.  Some veterans in the newsroom, find this tiring and insulting.  I started in a large market right away and quickly wound up in another big city.  The hazing was awful.  I was asked if I slept with the news director to get my job.  I had reporters and anchors purposely rewrite copy to insert factual and grammatical errors to try and get rid of me.  One anchor even told me and several other producers it was his “God given right” to torture and make me cry.  He had the cry test and graded you on how long it took before you broke down.  People hide your gear, steal your rolodex, sit on the set during commercials and laugh at your news copy.  Coworkers don’t want to carry dead weight.  Many times fellow journalists will decide you are a moron unless you prove your worth, and quickly.  So do it.  Here’s how.

The number 1 rule:  Don’t involve management.  Management doesn’t care.  Period.  There are too many other things they have to take care of.

However, you should take the reigns and show the hazers you are not the patsy they think you are.  That starts with exposing dirty tricks.  The best place to start is befriending the IT person in the newsroom.  You know, the person who knows all the ins and outs of the computer system you use each day.  This person can save you.  News programs like AP Newscenter, ENPS and iNews have ways to call up past scripts and show who wrote each and every version.  This will give you a chance to document and show proof  if an anchor or associate producer is rewriting copy and putting in fact errors which they blame on you.   In some systems you even can lock a script so no one else can rewrite and put in fact errors or change the context of the story once your executive producer copy edits it.  Ask for this ability and you may receive.  Chances are your executive producer will play ball because you will then have documentation the EP can use to get some staffers to shape up.

You can also often find instant messages from all the computers every day.  Yep, all those annoying, petty and smarmy comments binging and dinging around you can be a click or two away.  Print them and hand them over to management.  This can get tricky because management won’t like you digging through the system.  But if it is in a forum where everyone could potentially have access they can yell at you and send a fiery memo saying don’t go there, but you won’t be fired.  Once the nasty top lines are exposed many newsroom bullies shut up or at least save it for the parking lot after work.  How’s that for investigative journalism?  Even more fun:  dump copies of the nasty top lines under the news director’s door anonymously so even he/she has to wonder who’s watching.

Also remember, many staffers who bully love to dish in the studio.  They think it’s a secret hideout.  Newsflash:  Mics are everywhere.  It’s easy to “accidentally” turn one on, hear and record the petty comments.  The studio is the one place where there truly should never be any expectation of privacy.  That’s not what the room is for.   The picked on should wander through the studio to “plot out a section of the rundown” right when a gossip session is underway.  Then, smile as if you are going to dish it all.   Another move is to “accidentally”  have the mics kept live during a commercial break when there’s an anchor who loves to trash everyone in those breaks.   Normally, when the nasty hazers get caught once or twice, they’ll back off.

What if the hazer likes to get in your face and yell at you in the middle of the newsroom?  This one is easy.  Just ignore the person.  Sit back in your chair, with your hands behind your head, gaze up at the lunatic putting on the show and wait until they either explode into pieces before your eyes or finally shut up.  Then as the hazer stares at you indignantly, simply ask: “Are you done?”  Then just  go back to work like nothing happened.  This will drive the bully nuts.  If that hazer really pushes it, follow up with, “You can say what you want about me because bottom line, I’m not the one who just had an unholy hissy fit in the middle of the newsroom.  You can’t expect your actions to prove you have anything worthy to say to anyone.”  Then get back to your work.

Lastly, sometimes you just have to fight fire with fire and stand up to the hazer. I once told an anchor who said I was “too young to write for her” that it’s not my fault she couldn’t handle that someone so much younger was just as capable of working in the same city and on the same shift as her.  She told me she’d have me fired.  I told her I had proof that she was purposely rewriting copy with errors and printing them to try and prove me incompetent.  I asked her if she would like to come with me to turn those documents into the news director so she could try and explain it, or would she prefer the news director to mull the evidence over before calling her in for a chat.  She backed off.  Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you stand up to a hazer as well.

 

This is the best advice we ever got.  An EP in a large market where we worked told us to watch and critique our own work consistently.  Sounds nuts, you already saw the package or newscast, right?  Not really.  You will be amazed at what you pick up looking at the work later on.

Practice makes perfect.  In his book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell explains the 10,000 hour rule.  Researchers have found that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to perfect a skill.  So how does this apply to watching yourself?  It’s another chance to practice.  You relive the event and the elements you had available when you critique your own work.

You can also pick up on your own weaknesses, then work around them.  Often you will see phrases or techniques you rely on too heavily, that can make your work seem stale and sometimes even goofy.  You become a viewer and notice things that are not obvious when you are slamming on deadline.  If you are on air talent, you will see hand or facial gestures that are difficult to watch.  Play with your pen on set perhaps?  Slouch during live shots?  Chances are no one around will let you know if you do these things.  Often in news, you can be fired for poor performance without ever being told to change simple fixable things.

Newsrooms are short staffed and disorganized.  Most managers do not sit down and write notes about the newscasts regularly.  Usually they only watch a newscast or reporter consistently just before the annual review writing period.  So you are getting critiques once a year based on very little viewing of your work.  Many shops have given up post-newscast meetings so you don’t get daily critiques of your work.  If you want to get better, you have to do it yourself.  Watching your own work is a great way to do this. 

So what should you look for when watching your own work?  As mentioned above, look for overused phrases, and strange gestures.  If you are a photojournalist, do you mix up shots enough?  Too many cover shots?  Is your pacing good?  Reporters, do you always start nats/copy/bite/bite/copy/nats?  You might notice that you need to mix it up a little.  Producers, are you using the same techniques too often?  Things like plays on words and nat sound in teases so often that they are predictable?  Everyone needs to look at use of nat sound.  Remember, you write for the ear.  Listen to your work with your eyes shut.  Does it make sense?  Anchors, do you read stories the same way all the time?  Do your facial gestures change based on tone of the story?  As you watch for these things you will pick up on other ways to improve your work.

This is where critiquing your work can help you change your career.  Most of us have a dream place where we want to work.  Watch newscasts from that station online, then try and tailor some of your work to that place.  If you can alter your style to fit in with a certain station you can get a leg up when a job comes open.  Remember, you just need enough for a killer video resume.  By self-critiquing, you are able to see how to adjust your style.  You figure out what your best techniques are and then you play them up to your advantage.

 

If you haven’t already, you will eventually work for a “screamer” in television news.  It’s just a simple fact of life in the biz.  But that simplicity of fact does not mean reacting to it is simple.  Screamers are alarming, and not just for the ear.  It means the person loses control in key situations; very troublesome when this is the person who decides your fate.  The good news is that the screamer’s boss probably is aware of the temper tantrums and hopefully takes them and any tirades about staffers with a grain.  The bad news:  The screamer is usually not forced to calm it.  So the verbal abuse keeps on coming.

There is an effective way to protect your ears and your ego.  The more the screamer lets loose, the calmer you need to be.  You need to consistently do this, during public and private tirades.  Screamers expect to unnerve you.  It is a control technique for bullies.  If you want the person off your back, don’t indulge it.  Sit down, look slightly above the screamers head and watch him or her pitch a fit.  Whatever you do, do not speak.  The screamer is not interested in anything you have to say.  The screamer needs to get rid of pent up stress.  Once the screamer is done, say “okay I will keep that in mind.”  Then go back to work.

Sometimes the screamer will follow you and start up again with insults or questions like “did you hear anything I said.” Say “yes” to the question and ignore the insults.  Later, once the screamer is calmer, you might be called into that person’s office.  Hopefully this is when you can get some constructive criticism and explain any extenuating circumstances.  But if the screamer has a particularly insecure ego, you will not hear about the incident again.

This does make it harder to learn what “old yeller” wants.  You can still listen to the rants and try and decipher the point.  Just do not lower yourself to the standard of the screamer.  You need to keep your cool.  That can help you if things get really out of hand and you end up in human resources.  You also would prefer the tantrums happen in public even if it is humiliating at the time.   Witnesses can say it was the manager who lost control, not you.

Finally, no matter how tired you are at the end of the day, document the inappropriate conversation with the screamer as well as any follow ups.  Include the time of day and a witness list in your notes.  Remember human resources must have patterns and documentation.  If you end up in trouble, you can use these tantrums to buy time and demand a formal critique of your work in writing.  Your case:  How could you be expected to know what to do with the manager screaming at you incessantly?  There is a case to be made and, again, you have to be able to show a pattern of verbal abuse.

Now the caveat for your efforts:  The screamer will become disarmed at your calm response.  The screamer will end up noticing how out of line he or she is getting.  This will throw the person off and you will take control of the relationship.  After a few attempts at rattling you, the screamer will usually learn that you are tough skinned and probably not someone to mess with.  You will probably be left alone.   In some cases you will even become the screamer’s confidant.  We have seen news managers develop a strange need to then constantly impress and please the employee that cannot be unnerved.  You might even end up with better assignments.  There is always another sucker on staff that will scream back or cry.  The screamer will usually become focused on that person.

 

Journalists are constantly told to source build and break stories.  Problem is, in many shops you are given two packages a day and have no time to work the phones and source build.  That’s what you think, but it really is possible.  There are ways to generate fresh story ideas that do not take a ton of time.  You also can source build.  It will take some of your too precious free time.  But the payoff is making you more valuable to the station.

So how do you come up with interesting stories when you have next to no time?  Here are some ideas to get you started.

First, some help for reporters.  Try and “befriend” one person a day while covering the news.  This could be the secretary you have to stare at while waiting for an interview, the officer telling you to wait behind the yellow tape, even the restaurant manager at a local dive where you bought a sandwich.  Ask them about themselves and hand out a business card.  Make sure you get their card too.  A few days later, send a quick email saying you really enjoyed your conversation.  If you learn the person loves a football team or has kids that like to play sports send email links to interesting stories every once in a while.  Bottom line:  Build a connection.  If you have time to write an update on Facebook, you have time to send a quick link to these new potential sources.

Set up a Twitter account and use it.  When we say use it, we don’t mean throwing up a meaningless self-serving plug for the story you are reporting on that very day.  Throw up a comment about something interesting you read about.  Mix up the comments so you are engaging to follow.  Give snippets of what it’s like to be a TV journalist each day.  But keep it positive.  Remember, employers and potential employers often research Twitter and Facebook accounts.  For example, don’t gripe about how much you “hate” your assignment to babysit a “dumb” police standoff.  But do mention that your feet sure do hurt after waiting two hours for the standoff to end.  The first makes you seem look childish, petty and unprofessional.  The second, however, makes you look real and is something your followers can identify with.  Twitter is an amazing resource most people are not using correctly.  It is a chance to tap directly into what people are thinking about each day and what they want to learn more about.  You will gain a following and, eventually, you’ll also start getting interesting tips.  The key to Twitter is creating a human connection not another shameless, weak marketing ploy that just ticks people off.  People on Twitter tend to obsess about being in the know, right now.  You will lock them in if you make them realize they can literally be your eyes and ears and that their ideas may actually make it on the news.

Next, contact the Better Business Bureau and county or state run groups that help small businesses get off the ground.  Let these organizations know you are building a list of experts.  This can help you when you are suddenly asked for an out of the box story on damage prevention during bad weather or the latest housing or computer scam.  These businesses need publicity and cannot, generally, afford to buy ads.  But they can afford to send you a quick email pitching ideas once in a while.

Look at blogs on local newspaper websites.  People go off on interesting things that sometimes turn into colorful television.  How about the guy with the American flag that is too big for the homeowner’s association by-laws?  Many of these kinds of stories turn up first in these blogs.

Now let’s talk about generating interesting stories if you are a producer.  Yes, it’s hard to source build when you never even leave the newsroom for lunch.  So use the computer to get ideas.  Search for blogs and groups online that target your key audience.  Then browse them several times a week for fresh information.  These groups constantly dish.  Also keep your ears open when you go to the gym, pick the kids up at daycare or stand in line at the grocery store.  You will hear what people are concerned about.  These tidbits can turn into interesting stories that you can “produce up” in your newscast.  Also look at the hottest video of the day online, then try and come up with a local spin.  A Twitter account can be a great asset for you as well.  Build your following in the same way we just laid out for reporters.

Finally check out what other stations around the country are covering.  Go to a few station websites in areas nearby and see what they’ve played up.  Often you can at least find a consumer story with universal appeal.

 

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