Parroting bites

Ever heard that phrase?  Parroting bites is a common writing flaw in television news.  It seems like such an obvious no-no, but it happens a lot.  So let’s define it, to try and stop it from happening.

Parroting bites, means repeating what the sound bite said in the anchor copy, sometimes word for word.  It usually happens right before or right after the sound bite.  While writing for the ear involves some repetition, it is not a good idea to “parrot.”  It actually confuses the person listening.  The viewer wonders, why are they saying the same thing over and over, then misses the next part of the story.

Bites do need set up, and that often involves explaining the gist of what the person is going to tell the viewer, but you should not parrot.  Focus on why the sound bite is relevant in the set up.  Often the bite is relevant for two reasons, the person saying it and/or the bite explains the importance of the information you are providing.  So, focus on those reasons when setting it up.  “This lawmaker is behind the legislation.”  “This witness saw exactly what happened.”  “So why is this research important?  This doctor explains.”  Catch my drift?  That makes the viewer want to hear the sound bite, and immediately recognize the importance of the context of the sound.  Since you have so little time to explain much of anything, you need each word to really count, including set ups to sound bites.  Parroting wastes time.

If the sound bite is hard to understand, you can paraphrase afterwords, but say that’s why you are doing it.  “Just to make sure you heard that, he said…”  Parroting involves directly repeating the bite, without explaining why.  If you explain why, it is not parroting.

One last thought on parroting sound bites.  It makes the anchor or reporter reading the script, appear that they do not understand the story and, have no idea about the person the sound is coming from.  It screams, “This anchor just reads, and doesn’t know that he/she is talking about!”  Think about it.  When you talk to someone and they repeat exactly what you said back to you, you question if the person really gets what you are talking about.  Same rule applies go parroting bites in news copy.  Credibility is crucial.  So don’t parrot bites.

Reporter Photographer Harmony

The reporter/photographer relationship is one of the most unique dynamics in the newsroom setting.  Sometimes it’s the most joyous.  Sometimes it’s the most volatile.

Sometimes being on assignment feels like being with a “working wife/husband” while other times the thought of spending an entire workday with that person is unfathomable.  But, finding that happy medium and really jelling together as a team can help to produce some fantastic stories, the kind that make it fulfilling to be a journalist.

This is a little perspective from the photographer side, a look at how that guy/girl with the camera on their shoulder (and hopefully on a tripod) sees those daily assignments.

Every shop I worked in always claimed how much they valued the photo staff, but in the end, most of the higher ups see that value in a technical sense, not editorial, leading to a lower link In the newsroom food chain.

But, just like everyone else in the newsroom, photographers have egos too.  Getting the most out of that photographer for the day may not be too complex and involves a few simple steps

Each day brings a new assignment.  Once the crew leaves the newsroom, the first task the reporter faces is how to engage the photographer and get them onboard for the day.  And it does not matter if it’s a double package/double live shot day or one of those rare times when you actually have a little time to craft a package.

Here are three simple tips to hopefully get things headed in the right direction so those “human mic stands” can get the most, visually, out of photographers.  In return, the photogs can offer some simple things to shed the image of “camera guy.”

These may not be the most intricate points and can seem basic, but not starting off on the right foot can doom a story before that camera is ever fired up.

What the photog can/should expect from you?:

1.  An introduction:  Wow, this seems simple.  Introducing the photographer to the people being interviewing.  It’s a team effort, right?  A simple, “I want you to meet ________”, seems pretty standard and just plain polite.

For me, no introduction meant game over, that easy.  I checked out for the day.  The job was still done to a solid standard, but nothing more.  And the best part, the reporter would never even know.  It was a simple matter of respect.  If a simple courtesy couldn’t be extended, there was no extra effort from me.

Of course when it’s mass chaos or chasing down a hostile interview this won’t apply but, in general, the point is there.

2.  Discuss the story on the way:  Talking.  Again, seems basic.  But some reporters get busy on their phones and nothing assignment related is said on the drive.

There’s a chance the photog wasn’t in that assignment meeting and hasn’t been given much of a description about what it is you’re putting together.  Well, what is the photog’s perspective on basic story structure, both visually and editorially?

Again, at the core, it comes down to a matter of respect for your co-worker.  If my input isn’t in the end story, my effort probably won’t be there either.

3.  Involvement/Reinforcement:  Talk as the story evolves during the day.  Not only does it keep the photographer engaged, it also gives you both an idea how the story is unfolding visually long before sitting down to log the video.

What is the opening shot? What is the closing shot?  Any good nat breaks?  These questions keep the photog involved and engaged, letting them know you’re depending on them to help mold the story.

Does the photographer have a wireless mic (belt pack kind)?  How about offering to move it around for them from person to person.  What a great way to send a signal those great pictures and sounds are being counted on to put the story together.

As a photographer, I fed off of enthusiasm, even on stories that were pretty dry.  Seeing the reporter moving the mic around and getting involved in the technical end made me step up the effort, every time.

While simple, all this respect talk is a two-way street.  Reporters aren’t baby sitters and have enough to handle for the day.  The above are ways to get the photographer on-board, utilizing the “journalist” in photojournalist.  So now that you the reporter is putting out the effort, the question is……

What to should expect from the photographer?:

 1.  Return Engagement:  The job is done making sure the photographer knows the story is a team effort.   Now it’s up to the phojo to get involved.  In addition to all the technical aspects running smoothly, is the photog engaged in interviews?  Asking questions (when appropriate)?  Listening for sound bites and varying up the framing for different looks?

I have heard stories of fellow photogs being on their cells phones on personal calls, DURING AN INTERVIEW!  For any photographers reading this: Not a good way to be taken seriously.

2.  Professionalism in Dress and Attitude:  No, photographers will not be wearing suits and ties to working on a daily basis.  But for many GA stories, the people we talk to are in a business setting.  Appropriate dress and attitude should be expected.

Yes, it is up to management to make/enforce dress codes, but perception in our business is reality.  No t-shirts, no ratty jeans and good personal hygiene all go a long way.  Society has changed and there are many new ways people express themselves.  But, for photogs with excessive piercings and or tattoos, find a way to take them out/cover them up when in a business setting.  It hurts the reporter’s credibility too.

3.  Offering a visual blueprint:  Photogs, feel free to speak up as well during the day.  Let the reporter know what’s been going on behind that lens.  Any good nat breaks or sound bites you heard during the interviews?  Ideas how you can make it work visually with their words?

Most of the time the reporter doesn’t see/hear what’s been shot until it’s logging time.  During a time crunch, the chance to log all the video is long gone.  Help them out.  Know what can be weaved into the story.  Is a key shot missing?  Fess up early so a script doesn’t show up that “writes you into a hole”.  We’re in the communication business.  That starts in the field, long before the story is sent out to a television or web audience.

So, none of the above is earth shattering and most seems pretty basic.  Yet, day in and day out, these things are not done in newsrooms in all sized markets.

Of course there are variables.   Some days, and things, don’t go as planned.  But the above points are basic ones that are often missed.  When missed, they not only affect the product, they affect attitudes.  If these mistakes are made day in and day out, bad attitudes often take over.

After 20 years of doing this, I’m not naïve.  One of the questions (from either side) is probably, “I’ve tried this every day for a long time and person X just won’t respond, what should I do now?”

Honest answer, we can’t all get along and sometimes we’re just on a different page from one another.  Try to not take it personally.  Try to get a good lunch in.  Keep it simple and live to fight another day with another reporter or photog.

One thing I do know, is that when the opportunity to really produce that special story comes along, it takes a team effort.  Teams aren’t built overnight.  It takes time and effort.  Yes, there’s a lot more that goes into to hitting home run-type stories.  But one thing for sure is if there isn’t a mutual respect from the beginning, it will be a struggle just getting up to the batter’s box.

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Andy Benton is a  20 year veteran photojournalist who’s won 2 National Murrow Awards, 3 Gabriel Awards and 25 Regional Emmys.

Want a great writing critique? Ask a photojournalist.

Yes, you read the title of this article correctly.  If you want a really great writing critique, ask the guys and gals who focus on the images.  Why?  Because, in television news, the words are dependent on the images.  The video and sound should truly tell the story.  This is even true when using graphics to explain a subject.  The visuals, combined with sound and words, are what makes this medium such an incredible pull for viewers. (despite the smaller screen you are using to read this article.)

Photojournalists really understand the powerful connection between the images and the words.  They also know a lot of tricks to help you work around it when the stories are not as visually appealing as you would like.  If you ever get a chance, sit down and watch a newscast with a photojournalist.  It is fascinating to hear their rants vs. the rants of non-photogs in the business.  Will you agree with everything?  Probably not.  But you will gain a lot of insight from the thought processes of a very visual mind.

So while you listen to the critique, keep an ear out for how many times the photojournalist mentions that a story did not make sense.  My guess is you will hear that pretty often.  Then take a closer look at the story.  Chances are your copy and the visuals do not mesh at all.  It really is fascinating to watch how often that happens in TV news.  There is a large disconnect, especially in vo’s and vosots between the visuals and the words being used to describe the story.

Photojournalists help you understand just that.  Your words describe the story.  They don’t simply tell it.  There is a difference in TV news.  Let a photog help you see that for yourself.  Get a critique.  Who knows, the insight could make your writing style even better.

 

Why photojournalists should put together photo essays even if your station doesn’t often air them.

Okay, I can hear you talking to your computer screens now, calling this idea (and me) crazy.  Photojournalists hoof it all day, bust their butts, are exhausted at the end of it and don’t need more work with no reward.  Hear me out though.  This is meant to help you keep perspective.

Perspective on what?  Why you hoof it all day, bust your butt and work yourself to the bone.  There is an art to your craft.  Artists need time to just create.  I am not saying turn a piece every week or month.  But when a story really gnaws at you and you shot the heck out of it and only a small part of your great video was used, save the video and turn a photo essay.  Even if you will probably get a “No” answer, give it to an EP and ask where it could air.  Put the piece on YouTube.   Show it to your spouse or your favorite reporter.  Send a link to the photojournalist that inspired you to become one yourself.  Post a link on the  SurviveTVNewsJobs Facebook page.  Experiment and take ownership in having a piece that is just yours.

Too often nowadays TV news is a grind.  You churn and burn and it feels hollow.  You end your day wondering, “Did I make a difference at all?”  Great pieces can and do come along that keep the fire alive, but sometimes you get in a rut.  This is a way to keep you focused.  It is a way to remind you, and the reporters you work with, that TV is worthless without your video and audio.  It helps you push yourself to improve your storytelling.  It can also lead to other opportunities.  I know a great photographer with many Emmys who was able to prove he could also write and associate produce, in part, by putting together well thought out photo essay pieces.  It also feeds the artist in you.  We fellow TV journalists need to see your perspective in this way sometimes.  It helps us remember the true power of this medium too.  So please, turn an occasional photo essay, for all of us.