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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

"The Dad of Eaten Girl Says..."

When you're lead producer and all your iNews video IDs are still pink at 4 p.m. [translation, for those of you not fluent in TV-speak: "offline"] copy editing is the last thing on your mind.

You're panicking about booking that last phone interview, lining your reporters up for script approval, keeping an eye on developing stories and making sure everything is set for you to finalize the rundown. Who cares about the wording of a copy story in the B-block? At least it's written, right?

I may have let that logic extend to a VSV in the A-block (which I had initially pitched as a reporter package and was one of my favorite stories of the week)... and wound up reading this script for the first time half an hour before my show aired:

"...Yesterday morning a four-year-old lion at a private wildlife sanctuary 45 miles east of the city of Fresno called Cat Heaven [sic] was involved in a fatal incident, according to the Fresno County Sheriff's Department. 

[take VO] The dad of eaten girl says he had a premonition this was going to happen but he is happy...

[take SOT]... OUTCUE=bearable that she died so happy...

[take VO] The lion's name was Couscous. He is also dead..."

First, I laughed. Then I cried a little bit. Then I copied the script so I could paste it into my blog post about copy-editing newscasts. 

Working in television news, it's easy to forget how important good writing is. Even though TV is such a visual medium, the power of what your audience sees is determined entirely by how you introduce and explain it with your writing. Only half a newscast, maybe less, is made up of video footage that covers the studio shot; however, the entire show is structured around what has been written in the script.

I'm slowly grasping how to be a more effective leader in the newsroom, and guiding my MJs with broadcast writing has definitely been one of the biggest challenges so far.

Rather than yelling at MJs for putting together horrendous scripts and then re-writing them myself half an hour before the show airs, I've realized I need to:

  • copy-edit throughout the day, rather than only checking the status of videos and then hurriedly skimming the scripts in the evening
  • tell MJs what they did wrong or what I didn't like about their writing, otherwise I'll be seeing the same mistakes repeated every week
  • give them examples of what works and what I do like
  • explain the changes I make to their scripts and let them be part of the re-writing process
  • have them read their scripts out loud to me before they leave for the day, the same way MJs read the anchor track when we check their video
  • not be so discouraging
  • be nicer, in general.
We have a Thursday team filled with talented storytellers; making sure this carries out in their writing will take our newscast to a whole new level.
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