Delivering the News

NewsThumbMany of you have hopes of anchoring news. How long it takes you to end up at the anchor desk depends mainly on two factors.

The first one is talent, which is your ability to deliver the news. The second consideration is the size of the market in which you begin your career.

If you have talent and start working in a relatively small market, you may reach the anchor desk quickly. You will still, however, have to prove you are ready for that job by impressing the news director with your reporting ability. It is extremely rare for a newcomer to start anchoring five nights a week. Instead, the job will typically be advertised for someone to report three days a week and anchor on the weekends. From there, it will take many newscasts to prove your worth behind the anchor desk full-time.

Also, remember that not all reporters become anchors; some good reporters do not have the special talent required to anchor news. Similarly, some anchors make awful reporters.

Regardless of market size, this article discusses the qualities you need to anchor or report in front of a camera or microphone. But as a general rule of thumb, if a last-minute anchoring option appears (such as the noon anchor calls in sick), never hesitate to step in as a replacement.

APPEARANCE

In most fields of work, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, or age. While television newsrooms are not exempt from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, news directors try to strike a balance among their talent. If there is a job opening for a co-anchor to share the evening newscast with the current anchor (and he happens to be an older white male), expect the news director to subconsciously seek someone from another demographic. A younger male would be acceptable, while a female would be even better. A minority anchor with an African-American or Hispanic background would also "balance" the anchor desk. There are various factors at play in this scenario, but one outcome is clear: the incoming anchor will not be an older white male. It should come as no surprise that those appearing on­camera reflect the faces of those who are watching.

CREDIBILITY

Ask news directors what they look for in reporters and anchors and most will tell you credibility. They want people who are believable, people who come across as knowledgeable and are comfortable with what they are doing.

Jeff Puffer, a voice coach for one of the nation's major broadcast consulting firms, says he knows many "reliable anchor-reporters with good potential who just don't seem comfortable in the anchor chair. In person they're spontaneous and charming. But on the air they're wooden, with unnatural speech rhythms and awkward inflection."

Puffer says that when he's instructing anchors and reporters, he expects them "to show two qualities in their reading: intelligence and genuine sensitivity." He says he looks for "emotion that is appropriate for the story, the person, and the occasion. I want them to demonstrate that they know what they're reading and that they're thoughtfully weighing the facts as they speak. I always want them to say it with feeling, not artificially, but with sensitivity and maturity."

ONE-WAY COMMUNICATION

According to Puffer, the difficulty in broadcast training is the non-interactive environment. He points out that there is "no give and take, it's largely one way. The result of that strained environment is that the communicators do not automatically use all their self-expression when looking into a camera or speaking on mike as they would in a face-to-face dialogue."

Another rookie mistake is evident when a broadcaster tries to mimic someone else on the air. Puffer notes, "We all know the tools; we know how loud to speak; how to emphasize and articulate our words; how to use our face and eyes with accompanying gestures; no one has to tell us how to do these things. The idea is to tap into those resources and help bring them into the environment that is not interactive, like the broadcast studio."

Puffer also discusses what he describes as the "single, most common delivery trap that broadcasters fall into-the pattern characterized by lifting or raising the inflections at the end of sentences, which is referred to as "comma splicing" or "circumflex."

To illustrate the problem, Puffer offered this exercise: Read the following sentence the same way you would if you were to say, "I dunno." as you finish the sentence.

"The state board of regents voted not to increase tuitions at their final budget meetings yesterday."

Puffer says the inflection pattern not only is inconsistent with the way a person speaks in an actual explanation, but it also risks hurting one's credibility in either of two ways. First, he said, it can register in the ears and minds of the audience as being dismissive. He says the rising intonation is the same that occurs most typically when someone says (shrugging), "You can listen if you want, but you don't have to." Or Puffer adds, alternatively, the intonation can suggest ambivalence-uncertainty. He says it's the same sound you hear when you or someone else says, "May-BE." Puffer concludes, "Learn not to speak this way so as not to compromise your credibility through indifference or ambivalence."

GETTING HELP WITH YOUR DELIVERY

If you are having problems with your voice, diction, and delivery, it's a good idea to deal with the problems early. Speech and debating courses sometimes help, but if you have serious problems, you may need a voice coach. Voice coach Carol Dearing Rommel advises students who are intent on being in front of a microphone or camera to "do all they can to prepare themselves before they leave college." She says that without professional help, some students "fall into habit patterns that will work against them.

Next month, Part Two of Delivering the News