This is the ultimate challenge for tease writers. Sell the story without making the content into more than it really is. Truth be told, exaggerations happen every day, in nearly every newscast. So what’s the big deal you ask? One word: Credibility. Many of us were taught that viewers are not very savvy. I even had one manager tell me over and over: “People are stupid, remember that.” Thing is, people aren’t as “stupid” as you might think. They also have the world at their fingertips now with so many websites to mine through. Between Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit and Digg plus increasingly incredible hyper-local news sites like everyblock.com, it is easy to bypass local TV for your news and even easier to fact check local news.
The second statement is extremely important to keep in mind as you write teases. If you exaggerate, chances are your viewers will figure out you inflated the story. If viewers don’t trust you, they don’t watch you. Teases are a crucial area where you make or break your relationship.
So here are some tried and true relationship builders to consider when teasing.
• The power of video and sound outweighs any copy you can write
• Use adjectives sparingly
• Avoid clichés
• Look for irony
• Speak to the viewer without assuming you know what they are thinking
Great video is a must in teasing. You will hear this over and over throughout your career. Frankly, that’s obvious. So let’s talk video in general. When teasing, all kinds of video can be very effective. Sometimes when I had to tease a crime story where the scene was cleared… I would still take a live picture of the scene and say something like: “This looks like a nice neighborhood where children are often at play. Today you see no one around. That’s because something happened in this house, the whole neighborhood must deal with. “If a crime happens in a neighborhood everyone there considers it in some way. It changes the perspective of the neighborhood for a while. By not saying what the crime was right away, there’s some drama in the tease without exaggerating. You also can show a person’s photograph and hang on it a few seconds. Ask the viewer to really look at this person. Then, describe why the photo is relevant. Let’s say it’s a professor who developed a medical breakthrough. You could write: “This man had an idea that just wouldn’t leave his mind. Now that idea could change the way you take some kinds of medicine.” This also works for government stories that viewers should care about, but have trouble putting into perspective. Put a face on it, even if it’s a still shot.
Natural sound is also effective. You can occasionally use silence to make a point. Let’s take a crime in a shopping center for example. Sometimes I would show the empty parking lot and resulting quiet and reference it: “This is normally a bustling parking lot, with people running in and out of stores, now listen (take nats of quiet). So much quiet in the middle of the day. It’s all because of what happened last night.” I also used to play up sound of a meeting for a few seconds before describing a significant development. The natural sound is so different from the anchor’s voice, it draws the ear to help you get the viewer’s attention. Knowing you caught their attention, can make you less likely to use very strong adjectives to enhance your copy.
When writing teases we are taught that this is the one place you can use adjectives and play up your copy. While true, you still need to be reasonable when teasing. Do not overwrite or exaggerate in order to make your copy sound awesome. It always surprises me how often this disconnect happens. While an EP, I would quiz producers on why such strong language was used in a tease and would get the standard answer, “It sounds so cool.” You are not in a creative writing contest. You are writing things that affect people’s lives. I am not saying this to preach. The idea that everything you write can, and does, directly impact people has to be front of mind, especially when teasing. This is why I would still restrict the use of adjectives when my producers wrote teases. Sure they got to use them more than when writing news copy. I just wanted producers to keep in mind that even teases are a type of news copy, especially if you are writing a tease about a crime, a controversial new law or government waste. If you exaggerate the story with too many adjectives in a tease, you will reduce your stations credibility. So use adjectives, just consider which ones closely when writing teases about these subjects.
This leads to clichés like: a shocking crime, a startling discovery or a horrific disaster. These phrases need to disappear from your bag of tricks. If a crime is truly shocking, describing an element of it will be more effective than saying a “shocking” crime. When writing teases always look for the human element (see article “You’re Hooked“) or if the story is really hard to tease use teasing techniques we described in “ Ultimate Tease Challenge” to help you get around the difficulty in teasing the story.
A tried and true technique that will not offend viewers is the appropriate use of irony. This technique showcases the emotional side of stories that are hard to tease without exaggerating. It is an effective way to connect with the viewer without overselling your content and overwriting a tease. If you need examples, let’s look again to the video of the empty neighborhood where a crime occurred earlier. “This looks like a nice neighborhood where children play. Today no one is around. That’s because something happened in this house, the whole neighborhood must deal with. “Two techniques were used here: The use of video and some irony. All of us need quick go to techniques when tease writing under the high pressure of a news day. Irony is one that is often underused despite being extremely effective. The key is talking with your crews and learning enough about stories to find the irony. If you are really under pressure ask your crew point blank, is any element of this story ironic? It can be a quick way to write a compelling tease under pressure.
Finally, do not assume you know what the viewer is thinking. Phrases like “You won’t believe” or “This will shock you” need to be eliminated from your bag of tricks. They are overused and, frankly, talk down to the viewer. People think all kinds of things. You cannot “get into heads.” Use the techniques we listed above and remember that you have no idea what viewers are doing at home when hearing your tease. This will help you write intelligent teases that enhance credibility and reel viewers in to watch more of your work.