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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Keep It Simple

If you ever find yourself watching a newscast and cringing when an anchor stumbles over the words, there’s usually a simple explanation for what’s just transpired and, nine times out of 10 at least, it has nothing to do with the anchor’s ability to read a teleprompter. More often than not, when an anchor fails to speak eloquently on air, it’s because the story they're reading has been written poorly. In fact, nothing can put a viewer off more quickly than bad writing. Like many things, it can ruin a newscast.

The English language is a beautiful thing. As we all know, you can say the same thing in a variety of ways. That’s part of its appeal. But sometimes five words will suffice when 15 are used. In broadcasting, that’s absolutely true. Yet, we often equate intelligence to using long sentences and big words. In print, it can work. But when you’re writing or copy editing a newscast, simple is always better. Why complicate things and put your viewers off? And why, for that matter, when your job is to convey information in the most effective way would you do the opposite?

One of my biggest shortcomings as a producer at ATVN is that I often compromise quality in the interests of simply getting the job done or the story to air. Sometimes when that 6pm deadline is approaching, I’ll briefly glance over a story without paying any attention to its structure or whether it effectively conveys the right information for our viewers. It’s something I’m working hard to rectify. But on Monday night, I found myself again compromising quality in a bid to simply ensure everything in the rundown actually made it to air. At the time, I was comfortable with the decision I made. But once I was in the studio and the cameras started rolling, it soon became apparent that I should have paid more attention when it came to editing stories. Throughout our newscast, there were glaring mistakes in a number of scripts, errors I could have easily identified if I’d done my job properly. Unsurprisingly, the show we put out to air was not as good as it could have been. Thankfully, there’s always next week at ATVN. The professional world is not so forgiving.

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