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.