The Phoner

WiSLogo10You're teaching students to gather news using a video camera.  You help them master the grammar of the visual image, the aesthetic of video photography and sound recording. 

But today's reporters, like the dedicated television reporter pictured here, must be broadcast journalists, professional news writers, as well.  Thismediareporterwithgear television reporter carries her HD camera over one shoulder and her tripod over the other.    Today's TV news departments are sending broadcast journalists into the field alone, burdened like pack animals with equipment two or three crew members shouldered in decades past.  And alone they assume the responsibilities of reporter and photographer. Today's young professionals must be able to write as well as shoot.  And the skills necessary to good reporting begin with grabbing radio's simple telephone interview.

Writing in Stereo II – Lesson 2 – The Phoner

When you call someone to record the person’s comments on some news item, you are getting a phoner.  Radio audiences don’t expect to see the people we talk to or record, so we can do most of our work on the telephone.
 
You’ve practiced writing the simple reader based on an announcement.  Let’s review the parts.  You open with the soft lede.  The second sentence begins with the titled source says … and offers some relevant piece of information from the announcement, probably something the announcement writer thought was important.  You saw the term, actuality in the heading for the third sentence.   An actuality is the recorded sound of the actual news scene or source.  Used in radio news, it generally refers to the voice of the person we interview.  In our model that actuality fits in nicely right after the titled source says … sentence.  Here’s how it might work.  Suppose you called up Mr. Potter and asked him if you could record his comments for air on the next Digital Audio Recording Club meeting.  He might say, “Sure.”  So you get the recording equipment running and ask him to “talk about” the meeting.  (Notice that you really don’t need to have a long list of questions.)  So Potter says the following:

“Sure.  Uhh.  The meeting is Wednesday morning.  It starts at seven forty-five.  It shouldn’t be very long.  We’re just going to vote on a single item.  But this item is very important.  We have to vote on the amount of money we’re going to spend on the new Warrior Radio t-shirts.”

Now, if you’re listening carefully, this might be a good time to interrupt and ask him a question.  He mentions t-shirts.  You might be curious about what might be on the t-shirts or what they might cost.  So you ask, and he replies:

“Well, I think the kids decided on fifteen dollars, but you’d better check with our program director.  That’s the club president.  One of our more artistic students is designing something clever that anyone here at Pueblo would enjoy wearing.  Anyway, they’ll go on sale next month sometime.  Is that all you wanted to know?”

You can’t think of anything more to ask, so you thank him and hang up.  You look at the announcement he wrote that you’re holding in your hand.  It details the time and location of the meeting and mentions they have to vote on something important.  It does not mention the t-shirts or when they’ll be on sale or that a DARC club member is designing them.  You decide to let Potter’s voice tell listeners all or part of that information from your interview.  The whole conversation is recorded on a computer.  Usually we let the news source talk about the importance of something or the specifics of something that’s going on. We never hear the source share times and locations.  We write those facts in the write-out.
 
Now let’s go back to our titled source says … sentence.  After the titled source says, you wrote something significant the announcement writer included in the original announcement.  You have two ways to write-up to Potter’s actuality.  You can generally describe what he has to say:

Sponsor Doug Potter says club members have to some business before they buy t-shirts they plan to sell.

You’re summarizing the whole actuality, what you know he’s going to be heard saying.  You have to be more general than his exact words.  If you write, “Potter says the club has to vote on t-shirts,” and then we hear him say, “The club has to vote on t-shirts,” you’ll sound silly.
Another approach is the lead-in style.  This is handy if you’re in a hurry.  (And we usually are.)  Just take the first part of what he says and cut it from the actuality.  So in this case you write:
Sponsor Doug Potter says the club has to vote on something very important.

Then we hear Potter say,

“We have to vote on the amount of money we’re going to spend on the new Warrior Radio t-shirts.”

You might edit his remarks to have him continue, saying,

“One of our more artistic students is designing something clever that anyone here at Pueblo would enjoy wearing.”

That’s the whole actuality.  (These usually aren’t very long.)  Then you continue as you would with the typical reader.  Your write-out might mention something else he said:  Potter says those t-shirts will probably go on sale next month.  You close with the same meeting time and location sentences you wrote for the basic meeting reader.

A student editor inserts this copy into the news script with the rest of the readers.  The news announcer will read it on the air or in the news recording session.  Your edited actuality will go into that recording or play separately on the air in a live broadcast.

That’s all there is to it!


Potter1Doug Potter is a retired high school teacher.  During his 30-year teaching career, he taught drama, English, writing, broadcast journalism and radio and video production.   His proudest achievement is Pueblo Magnet High School's KWXL-LP, one of only two FCC-licensed low power FM radio stations in Tucson, Arizona.

Doug earned his bachelor's degree in radio/TV at Arizona State University and his masters in drama at the University of Arizona.  He's been shooting and editing film and video since 1968.  Drawing on years of research and teaching experience, Doug developed the Writing in Stereo program and the MicWriter (“mike writer”) broadcast news writing model for use in his radio broadcast journalism classes.