You’re hooked! How to write compelling teases.

We’ve all seen them: A tease that grabs you and doesn’t let you go.  You swear at the TV because you will just have to be late to work or get to bed a few minutes late.  You have to know.  Think about that.  You have to know.  Write that phrase on a sticky note to place on your computer.  It is rule number one to excellent tease writing:  “You have to know.”

Before we dish tips, let’s quantify something.  Being a good writer and being a good tease writer do not always go hand in hand.  Writing good teases is an art form.  It is something you need to push to improve upon every day. This goes for producers, reporters, promotion writers, even news managers.  Because teases are so crucial, we will delve into the topic on and off for several articles.  Just like we mentioned in “Rule the Word” attending seminars on Saturdays at the station will not give you all you need.

So let’s start with the phrase “You have to know.”  When you start your shift and stare at a blank rundown keep that phrase in mind.  It is a great way to select stories for key meter points to tease.  As you and news management select where these stories go, mine the content for fascinating elements.  Great video, an interesting fact, and strong viewer benefit are good examples.  We’re talking about the stuff you want to tweet about or top line to someone else.  Those are the elements in stories you need to tease in your newscast.  Take the best elements from these stories and put them in a script at the top or bottom of your rundown.  Then, when a phrase about one of those compelling elements pops in your head, put it into that catchall script.

Now let’s expand on some things great tease writers do each day.

  • Write tease elements all shift long
  • Hide teases
  • Add flash without exaggerating

We just told you about the important catch all script at the top or bottom of your rundown where you can stash potential tease elements.  Again, write as many of these elements as you can in this script as ideas come to mind throughout your day.  Don’t forget the traditional things you are taught about teases.  Look for emotional connections, a viewer benefit, and remember your station’s news philosophy as you write.  Look for unique elements.  As you do this, throw in notes from conversations you are having with reporters about their stories.  Write down what sticks in your head about these elements in your catchall script.  Again, these are the need to know elements you will share with viewers.

A quick note to reporters, you should also mine your stories for great tease elements as you go through your day.  Increasingly reporters are becoming responsible for tease elements being fed into the station for promotions and teases within a newscast.  Make note of great sound and pictures so you can hand them over to a producer or promotions writer quickly.  After all, you want your story played up because it helps you too.  If a cool line about your story comes to mind, share it with the producer or EP.

The other reason producers want to “write” teases all shift long is that the elements you throw in that catchall script can help you shape all of your writing.  Some of the cool video, partnered with compelling phrases might not make it as a tease, but it might become the first line of a vo or vo/sot you write.  Everything a producer writes is designed to draw in audience.  Maybe a phrase you wrote in your catchall will become a transition line between stories on a two shot.

Which leads to our next point:  Hide teases.  Some consultants call this “stealth teasing.”  We are going to take it a little further.  Think of hiding teases in two ways.  “Hiding” teases means:  1) Throwing in tease lines about something coming up in non-traditional places.  2) Using the same kind of tease writing in leads for stories.

The first way producers hide teases is placing a line about something coming up in a place a viewer would not expect.  Take the middle of the a-block for example.  You can write a vo about your 30 lead and give viewers some interesting information, then tease a specific viewer benefit for later.  Another interesting place is within anchor chat.  Have the anchors mention something coming up seemingly “off the cuff” after a similar type story.  A favorite technique of mine is to go directly from a story into a compelling piece of natural sound and video to kick off a tease that is pre-produced with a lot of sound and cool graphics.  Consider it a mini package or a second cold open type deal with several elements.  Make suer you mix up where this appears in your rundown. (i.e. – the b-block one day, the 38 block some other time depending on where your best video lies.)

Now let’s expand on using tease writing in leads for stories.  If a story within, say, the middle of your b-block has great video, segment it out and include a tease type element at the beginning.  This will hook the audience and provide all important instant gratification.  Here’s an illustration:  Let’s say you have a story about a fire where someone was rescued and you have incredible sound from the person saved.  Tease it in the beginning of the story by playing some of the sound.  In other words, reverse the order of the story.  Do the payoff sound first, then showcase the cool elements leading up to the great sound.  It would look something like this:

See this man? (OTS graphic of the man, or take it fullscreen) He could have died in a fire today. (Bite) “I thought I was a goner then I felt someone pulling me by the arm.” Then do your vo. “Here’s the house where it happened…”etc. Finish with a bite from the survivor expanding on the first sound, something like: “I just couldn’t believe that someone braved the smoke to save me.” This makes your newscast more interesting throughout and makes your teases more natural to the viewer when they do appear at the end of a block.  They’ve seen that you will make it worth their while to stick around.  You showed them you deliver with a tease type element, in a segmented part of the show, just moments before.

The example above also gives you an idea of how to add flash to teases without exaggerating.  We will dedicate another article to techniques for avoiding exaggerating when writing teases later.  For now, let’s focus on proper ways to add flash.  One way that is fun for promotions writers and producers who do cold opens is to base graphics and writing style on the lead-in to your newscast. For example, if a court show comes before you and there’s a strong legal type story, start the cold open with sound of a gavel.  Then you can use the same gavel sound to break up each element in the tease.  This is also effective for topicals, just don’t make it a crutch every single time “CSI” or “Law and Order” airs.

Graphics can be compelling if you lack video, but the story has viewer benefit.  If you do this, you have to spell that benefit out on screen.  Case in point, the phrase “saves you money” will get many people to watch in these hard economic times.  Just make sure you can deliver the money saving advice.  Finally, if you can, pre-produce a tease or two in your rundown.  But make sure you vary where you place it and how long it runs.  Edit in cool graphics and quick sound to play up appeal to the eye and ear.  It doesn’t have to be a three element deal like I described earlier.  It just needs to have different elements to engage the senses.  This goes back to one of our recurring themes, engage more than 1 of the senses and you have viewers hooked.  They will just “have to know” what the story is about!

 

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Storytelling on a dime.

You hear it all the time.  Reporters and photographers say something to the effect of:  “Storytelling is great and all, but I’ve got too much to do and I don’t have time for that stuff.”  And while I understand where those comments come from, I don’t buy it.  TV news today is filled with more deadlines and “side work” than ever before.  Often your day starts with:  “Welcome to work, now get out the door we have a story we need you live on at noon.”  You knock that out and then it’s on to your “real” one or two stories for the evening shows.  Then there are the standup teases, vo/sot’s and versions of your story(ies) for your station’s website.  Most of us also, blog, tweet, and possibly  take some still shots for the website.  No doubt it’s a LOT of work!  But I promise you, storytelling does not have to add extra work to that pile.  It really is easy to pump out good storytelling “on a dime!”  It’s just a matter of shifting your way of thinking.

Typically, the toughest stories to get your storytelling mindset right, are the so-called “boring newspaper” stories.  These are the stories where you have to interview some sort of “official” and, because of deadline demands, no one else.  So, how do you “tell a story” when all you have is an official and their boring “officialese?”  First off, while the photog is setting up for the interview, talk with the interviewee about anything but the story you are covering.  Take a look around the office if that’s where you are talking.  Often, you can find some great tips into who this person really is in “real life.”  When you find something, chat him/her up about it.  I remember one recent interview where I thought I was dead in this respect.  The guy was nice enough but not the most personable and clearly not comfortable about being interviewed on camera.  Then I noticed a photo of him with one of the most well-known politicians of the last quarter century.   It turns out that he once did security work at a very high level.  I asked him about it and it eventually led to some common ground between us.  That little nugget helped immensely.  First, it loosened him up for the interview and allowed me to pull some bites out of him that had a little personality.  Secondly, it gave me a way to make this “official” more of a “real person.”  I started the piece by talking about how this man had once protected some of the powerful people in the country, but now helps offer a different kind of protection for this small town.  His past really did not have squat to do with the story of the day, but it gave me a way to turn this guy into a “character” in our story.  When you can do that, you give viewers a reason to see that person as more than just some “official.”  You have them interested in watching.  Remember, good stories have characters.  Turn your subjects into characters, not just officials who give you sound bites.

Nat sound is another area where you CAN add to your story without a ton of extra effort.  It comes down to this:  Shoot (and use) just about anything that makes sound to give your stories some life.  Seriously use just about anything.  Nat sound that is integral and directly related to your story (the power saws in a story about construction or crackling flames in a spot news fire story) are always the best.  But that kind of sound is not always there.  If it’s not, look around and try to find something else.  The idea behind nat sound is getting people engaged in your story.  Read any study or talk to any consultant about what people are doing when the news is on their TV.  They are normally doing everything but “watching.”  In the morning they are making breakfast, getting dressed for work or getting the kids ready for school.  The TV is on, but it may as well be video wallpaper.  So, your job is to give them a reason to stop what they’re doing, turn around and watch.  Nat sound is a way to do that.  Say you’re on that story about construction.  But, in the time you’ve been given to shoot it, the crew is on a lunch break.  You are stuck right?  Nope, you can overcome.  Look around, are there people getting in and out of cars (car door sound)? Maybe there’s a fire truck or ambulance going by with a siren on.  Sometimes using seemingly unrelated nat sound is just the trick.  Think about it.  You’re at home with the news on but aren’t sitting and watching.  You know the reporter is talking about construction and all of a sudden you hear a siren!  What the…?  You are probably going to turn around to see why.  This is why you shoot and try to use any nat sound you can get.  You want to make viewers turn around and pay close attention.  Again, it’s really not any extra work.  But it will add immeasurably to the quality of your stories.

When it comes to writing, try to use a piece of that nat sound off the top.  Failing that, make sure you start by establishing the character you’ve easily uncovered using the tips above.  Fill in the middle with the meat of the story you’ve been assigned.  Then end it with another tidbit that makes your subject a “real person.”

All stories have a few basic things in common.  They have a beginning, a middle and an end.  They also have characters.  Shoot and write with these things in mind and you cannot go wrong.   Turn these things into habits and suddenly your “reports” turn into “stories” and your work begins to stand out from all the “Just the facts, Jack!”, boring, information presenters.  Quickly you will establish yourself as a “storyteller.”  Your producers, EP’s and News Director will appreciate you more and your resume reel will become stronger and more marketable.  Suddenly the next chapter in your personal, career story becomes much more interesting with minimal investment from a little storytelling on a dime!

 

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Produce it up!

Nothing like hearing this phrase while on deadline: “Be sure and produce it up.”   You think: “Sure, I can barely get the stuff I already have on my plate done, why not!”

Actually this is easier than it might seem.  “Producing it up” really means taking the information you have and putting it in nice tiny bundles. Think of it as buying a sweater set and matching jewelry as gifts.  You wrap the cardigan separately from the tank top underneath.  Then you wrap the earrings separately from the necklace.  Looking at all those boxes makes it seem like you spent a lot more than you did.  It’s all in the packaging.

When you “produce it up” you generally provide a nats/vo or vo/sot set up for the anchors to read that provides an overview in a visual way.  Then you focus the package on a particular element of the subject.  You save an interesting element for an anchor tag that usually is a question answer between the reporter and the anchors or maybe a vo or vosot for the anchors to read.  The point is to make the information you are providing clearer to understand.  You also are making the news more appealing to the eye so hopefully the viewer doesn’t daydream or head to the computer to cruise Facebook instead.

The other reason for “producing it up” is to try and showcase the team.   It’s showcasing your anchors and reporters as experts that work together to get the most information possible on a subject in a given day.  No, you really aren’t usually getting any more information or shooting any more video.  This is smoke and mirrors, but it works effectively. While focusing on the elements, you naturally must write more concisely.  This helps the ear understand while the visuals make the information appealing for the eyes.  Two senses aroused, means less likelihood viewers turn away.

One last benefit to “producing it up”: it makes producers/anchors/reporters and even photojournalists have to talk with each other a little more about the news.  This helps prevent fact errors.  It’s another level of script approval.

Still confused about “producing it up” and the benefits.  Consider the following.  When you watch coverage of a major event, like the earthquake in Japan you probably find yourself talking to the television asking questions.  Many times the questions you are asking could impact you or other viewers directly.  Once again we’re talking about human impact. The first morning of coverage of Japan, I found myself frustrated with all the networks.  I had to get online and see people’s stories on You Tube to really understand how to gage the event.  I needed to feel it.  I needed to know how far the quake was from Tokyo.  I needed graphics describing how the Tsunami came over.  The networks were too overwhelmed getting information.  I had to piecemeal from different stations and  Twitter.  Producing up some of these elements would have helped me understand the true depth of the losses.  Next, I wanted to know what this meant for costs of things from Japan.  Would the stock market crash because of this?  Answering these stories with graphics, live interviews, special maps and packages are great ways to produce up coverage locally.  This is what some stations call the “WIFM” (What’s In It For Me) of coverage.  Simply, it is another way to showcase the human element of stories.  These are things you want to provide viewers so they don’t turn away from your newscast to jump on the internet for the answers.

The final point, I cannot stress enough is “producing it up” is producer friendly.   It makes your job easier. You can visualize your rundown better, you can choose elements like natural sound, sidebars and graphics more easily.  It also will help you write succinctly.  Simply put, it just makes your newscast look sharp. Fear not. Go ahead, give it a try!

 

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Humble pie; why a slice of self-examination can change your career.

This is the best advice we ever got.  An EP in a large market where we worked told us to watch and critique our own work consistently.  Sounds nuts, you already saw the package or newscast, right?  Not really.  You will be amazed at what you pick up looking at the work later on.

Practice makes perfect.  In his book, “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell explains the 10,000 hour rule.  Researchers have found that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to perfect a skill.  So how does this apply to watching yourself?  It’s another chance to practice.  You relive the event and the elements you had available when you critique your own work.

You can also pick up on your own weaknesses, then work around them.  Often you will see phrases or techniques you rely on too heavily, that can make your work seem stale and sometimes even goofy.  You become a viewer and notice things that are not obvious when you are slamming on deadline.  If you are on air talent, you will see hand or facial gestures that are difficult to watch.  Play with your pen on set perhaps?  Slouch during live shots?  Chances are no one around will let you know if you do these things.  Often in news, you can be fired for poor performance without ever being told to change simple fixable things.

Newsrooms are short staffed and disorganized.  Most managers do not sit down and write notes about the newscasts regularly.  Usually they only watch a newscast or reporter consistently just before the annual review writing period.  So you are getting critiques once a year based on very little viewing of your work.  Many shops have given up post-newscast meetings so you don’t get daily critiques of your work.  If you want to get better, you have to do it yourself.  Watching your own work is a great way to do this. 

So what should you look for when watching your own work?  As mentioned above, look for overused phrases, and strange gestures.  If you are a photojournalist, do you mix up shots enough?  Too many cover shots?  Is your pacing good?  Reporters, do you always start nats/copy/bite/bite/copy/nats?  You might notice that you need to mix it up a little.  Producers, are you using the same techniques too often?  Things like plays on words and nat sound in teases so often that they are predictable?  Everyone needs to look at use of nat sound.  Remember, you write for the ear.  Listen to your work with your eyes shut.  Does it make sense?  Anchors, do you read stories the same way all the time?  Do your facial gestures change based on tone of the story?  As you watch for these things you will pick up on other ways to improve your work.

This is where critiquing your work can help you change your career.  Most of us have a dream place where we want to work.  Watch newscasts from that station online, then try and tailor some of your work to that place.  If you can alter your style to fit in with a certain station you can get a leg up when a job comes open.  Remember, you just need enough for a killer video resume.  By self-critiquing, you are able to see how to adjust your style.  You figure out what your best techniques are and then you play them up to your advantage.

 

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