In this article, part two of Delivering the News, we continue our discussion of 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.
Traditionally, station managers and news directors look for people who speak "standard American speech" when they hire on-air personnel. That's another way of saying they like Midwestern voices, which are considered "neutral."
Don't count yourself out if you were not born and reared in South Dakota. Some dialects can be eliminated with good coaching. If they cannot be corrected, it's still possible to work in an area where your dialect is the primary one. "If you have a Southern dialect you can work in the South," says coach Rommel, "but you are not likely to get on the air in Chicago." She said that same rule applies to people who were born and reared in Chicago. "If they have a strong big-city dialect they are not likely to make it in Dallas."
Mary Berger, a speech pathologist and author in Chicago who works with young people, says the first thing she has the students do is record their voices and then listen to them. "They detect immediately the high pitches and other things that they would like to change. Then we say, 'OK, now pretend that you are someone else, like newscaster Bill Curtis or a general giving orders to troops: Amazingly, their voices suddenly get deeper."
Voice coach Rommel says that pitch is one of the most troubling problems for young people. "Young ladies," she says, "usually have too high a pitch. When they read their copy, it sounds as if they are much younger and less credible than they really are." But Rommel warns young women that trying to change the pitch of their voice dramatically without professional help can be dangerous.
LISTENING TO YOURSELF
It is always a good idea to read your copy aloud because your ear catches mistakes and detects poorly constructed copy that your eye misses. Similarly, reading aloud alerts you to any problems you have with pronunciation, articulation, and awkward speech patterns.
Most students talk faster and in a higher pitch than they acknowledge. The simple solution is to simply slow down and relax, but the first step is to record your voice and then listen with a critical ear. If you don't listen to the shortcomings of your news delivery, it is impossible to correct them.
A number of newscasters avoid using words that are difficult to pronounce. The mind understands the meaning of many words, but sometimes it has trouble relaying the pronunciation to the tongue, which causes newscasters to stumble over their copy. Tricky words and phrases invite trouble.
Sometimes writers and anchors have no choice. Proper names, for example, cannot be changed. Spelling them correctly does not guarantee that they will be pronounced correctly. The writer of a newscast must identify the correct pronunciation of any difficult names in a script. Reporters should ask the people whom they are interviewing for the proper pronunciation of their names. Names of towns also should be checked if there is any doubt. For example,
For many international stories, it is not always necessary to use the names of foreign dignitaries. If you do use them, it is a good idea to refer to the dignitaries by their titles during the rest of the story, particularly if the names are unusually difficult to pronounce. When using difficult names, write them phonetically in the copy to help the person who will be reading the script. Here are examples of the two methods:
Cayuga (Ka-yoo'-ga) Indians still live on the land.
(Ka-yoo'-ga) Cayuga Indians still live on the land.
What else can you do to improve your delivery? CBS News correspondent Charles Osgood says pacing is important. Osgood advises using a pause to get attention when you want something you just said "to sink in .... A pause can be very telling, provided you know something." He says the "most remarkable pacer in our business is ABC newscaster Paul Harvey. You can drive a truck between 'Paul Harvey' and 'good day' He's doing that for a reason."
For his own writing, Osgood says that he uses a lot of ellipses (series of three dots). "I want to remind myself that that is supposed to be a pause. I will also capitalize certain words ... because I want to hit that particular word for it to work."
The CBS News correspondent also says it's important to remember when you are on the air that "you're talking to somebody, which means that you have to be conscious at all times that there's somebody there." Osgood notes that you can't assume people are listening; you "have to get their attention, you don't automatically have it."
Most newscasters mark copy to help them remember when to pause or to emphasize certain words. They mark the copy as they read it aloud, which also helps them control their breathing. Because long sentences require extra breath, newscasters must either pause more often or rewrite the sentence. Otherwise, they sound as though they are running out of breath. Often, inexperienced newscasters try to speed up their delivery when they realize that they might have trouble getting through a complicated sentence, but that's a poor solution. If you find yourself leaning toward this solution, rewrite your copy until you can read it at a normal pace.
Use slash marks to indicate pauses and underlines words that you wish to emphasize. Some anchors use a double underline for words that require extraordinary emphasis. Other anchors use all caps for words they wish to stress. Some anchors use ellipses to indicate pauses, and still others use dashes. Some anchors like their scripts typed in all caps, whereas others prefer upper- and lowercase (which, according to studies, is easier to read).