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!

 

Think about who you respect most at your shop or your dream TV station.  Usually it’s the people who produce stories or newscasts you cannot turn away from.  That person knows the secrets of compelling television writing.  Now we are going to dish the secrets they know.  We’re going to teach you how to “rule the word” and write killer copy.

When you attend writing seminars on Saturday mornings at the station, you are told a lot about active voice, introducing sound bites, cause and effect, writing to video and strong lead sentences.  Here’s why: These techniques help you boil down the story.  What we will outline here, should help you do that even more and in a way that’s easier to understand and execute.

All of the techniques you hear are trying to get you to find and showcase the human element of the story you are covering.  This goes for reporter and producer copy.  In order to figure that out you must understand the facts of the story but more importantly you must understand how the story impacts people.  An easy way to do that is to take a look at the facts, then write down your personal reaction to the story.  Think about your spouse’s reaction and maybe what your best friend would say.  Is there a common link?  How did people react in the newsroom to this story during the daily editorial meeting?  This gut check will help you draft interesting copy beginning, middle and end.  The key is acknowledging your personal reaction and the reactions of others.  You want your copy to cause a similar reaction with viewers.

Next, consider which fact really gnaws at you in this story.  That is the fact you need to lead with.  Here’s an example.  Once we covered the story of a highway patrol trooper who was shot and killed during a traffic stop.  Turns out the person he pulled over was a serial bank robber.  The officer was young and just recently began patrolling on his own.  It took a long, wild, police chase and shootout to catch the bank robber.  People across several counties were impacted by detours because of the shooting and resulting chase.  Our station had video of the shot up police car, a picture of the trooper who was killed, lots of incredible video of the police chase and the takedown from the station news chopper.  We also had sound with the patrolman’s former training officer that said the downed patrolman always promised his wife he’d wear his bullet proof vest, as well as sound from the feisty sheriff who ordered his men to shoot at  the suspect’s car to stop him on a busy interstate.  (Obviously this was a team coverage scenario.)  Guess what we opened the newscast with?  We started with a photo of the trooper, then dissolved to video of the shot up cruiser in which he died.  Yes, we chose those shots over incredible police chase video.  Why?  By waiting, we made the chase video which we showcased next, have meaning.  We tied those two shots; the man and his shattered car window with lines similar to these:

Highway Patrol Officer Eric Nicholson promised his wife, he’d always wear his bullet proof vest so he’d come home to her. Today, the vest didn’t matter.  He died in a hail of bullets and shattered glass.

In an era when newscasts across the country featured near daily car chases and officers being shot, we had to make that trooper real to the audience, because he was a real person.  His simple promise to his wife made him one of us.      

Need more convincing?  Watch how news stories play out on the internet.  At first you see tweets with just the facts.  Then emotions start coming out.  People go on Facebook and start writing how they feel.  Blogs pop up and people start talking about how they feel and ways to try to change what happened.  They talk impact right away.  Most television stations tend to stick to the facts with a few gratuitous sound bites, hoping that’s enough to carry the emotion throughout.  Instead, for many viewers, it comes off forced, shallow and even trite.  Television stations that do it come across as stale and out of touch. Writers who “rule the word” immediately showcase the impact to avoid being trite.

Now that you’ve identified the facts that will trigger a real human emotion in your audience, use them to create a beginning, middle and end to the story.  Here’s another example; a fiery crash blocks traffic during rush hour.  By all means, show the flames.  Then get to the impact right away.  Let sound from witnesses set up each part of the 5 w’s you need to cover.  Show someone shaking his head at the long line of traffic, then show a map of what’s blocked off.  Describe what people are doing in line.  Describe whether the firemen look particularly worn out from the fire or need more chemicals.  Take the audience inside the story like no Twitter headline can.  Weave in human elements throughout the story.  When you show one of the firemen, say if he’s a veteran and is tired of seeing these kind of crashes.  Was he hoping to avoid this kind of call one shift this week?   Keep the story real while presenting the facts.  Have a reporter and/or photographer drive the detour route and time it, so people know when they need to leave to get around the mess.  A meaningful line here and there will make your copy rock because you will tell a story.

When you write any kind of news story, engage the senses.  This involves more than just writing for the ear and the eye.  If you can, describe what the fire smells like.  How far away can you feel the heat?   If you can consistently engage two senses at a time throughout your copy, viewers will not turn away.  For television, that means marrying video and news copy.  Describe the video, but not so closely you detach the audience from it.  You want your copy to add another layer to the video you are showing.  Applying interesting facts is a strong way to do this.

This may seem like a lot of work, but it isn’t.  Once you get a little practice, this is a much easier and engaging way to write.  The words really do seem to type themselves.  You also become more personally invested, so you tend to double check your facts more and write fewer errors.  The stories become real for you as well, not just another bit of copy you have to pound out on deadline.

If this still seems strange or cheesy to you, consider one last thing.  While viewers are watching your work on television, most are also on the internet nowadays.  They hear something you say and look it up and start paying attention to the copy on the computer screen instead of your work.  Then they might start surfing YouTube to see if there’s any home video.  Why, when you’re showing them video on the television screen?   It’s because a regular person shot the home video, someone just like the viewer on the computer.  You don’t count as a “regular person.”  You are a detached journalist.  Now consider this.  While those viewers are online they are looking for a way to influence the story, whether it’s with more facts so they look smarter at work the next day or by finding a blog where they can throw their own two cents in.  They ignore the rest of your work.  Marketing researchers call it “continuous partial attention.”  That is what you are up against every day.  This is a far cry from the old lectures about people getting ready in the morning so you should “write for radio.”  For many, you are not the expert with final say.  You are the journalist who gets an idea into a viewer’s head (if you are lucky!) just before the viewer runs away with it.  While your news managers sweat over how to capitalize on the internet reaction to TV coverage, you have one job:  Making sure the viewer doesn’t turn away from the TV.  Letting viewers feel the emotion and/or impact of the story always sells.  Especially if you can engage viewers senses better than an internet story or video.

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