Archives For November 2012

Many working in radio, including broadcast journalists, are pretty awful at spelling and grammar. I’m not perfect so don’t shoot me down if I make a mistake in this post…(though I am totally asking for it).

Plenty struggle with the ol’ spelling thing, especially when working under pressure or at speed. That’s fine. But I’ve also met plenty who think it’s ok to be lax because it’s ‘just for radio’. This seems to make them more likely not to check what they’ve written or to be lazy about trying to improve.

I’m including here spelling accuracy – that is – making sure you’re spelling people’s names correctly and getting details like job-titles perfect.

Just cos’ your working in radio its, not ok too get the SPAG all bad.

There are many reasons why, but here are just a few.


Getting handed this last-minute note as a presenter would suck

Social media

Twitter and Facebook are the obvious examples.

You write up some research on a music track for radio-play and spell the artist’s name wrong. Someone else could have a look at what you’ve done and tweet that.

You get the spelling wrong of a place name in a news bulletin. Before you know it someone’s looked at your script and tweeted it from your station’s official account.

You may work in radio but it’s increasingly likely that you’ll also write tweets and Facebook messages on official accounts yourself. Sloppy spelling, missing capital letters and strange punctuation makes your brand look rubbish, unprofessional and less authoritative, perhaps especially if it’s journalism-based.

Who knows where your words will end up

This is especially true of any organisation with multiple outlets, but my example is specific to the BBC, where I have the most experience.

We use a shared bit of software across all of BBC News. Anyone can read what I write in a radio script. I can read the scripts of others.  And you’ve no idea where your words could end up. Once you’ve saved something in a ‘greened’ script (ie. ready for broadcast) it’s assumed that it encompasses all the BBC values of accuracy.

Let’s say I’m working in an empty BBC newsroom for a local radio station on a Sunday evening when there’s a MASSIVE local fire. I write a quick bit of copy for the regional news bulletin. All I want to do is be the first, the quickest with the information. In my three lines I misspell the name of the fire officer who told me they were “working hard to control the fire”, because I don’t have time to check the spelling. I know how it’s pronounced so I give it my best guess, because it’s ‘just for radio’.

Despite the fact I’m sitting alone in a small office, and it’s been successfully read on air to a few thousand people, suddenly what I’ve written starts appearing elsewhere. There it is on the ticker on the BBC News Channel. Then BBC Breaking News have tweeted the quote. Then BBC News Online have written an article. Then it’s on 5Live and they’re tweeting it. And so on. Suddenly something with the wrong spelling has spread to the entire BBC network.

Sight-reading on air

A presenter reading stuff on air from a script they’ve never seen before is called sight-reading.

Whether you’re a producer, journalist, broadcast assistant or manager: mess up your spelling and grammar, and sight-reading becomes a whole lot more difficult for the presenter. What goes out on air can then sound a whole lot worse. And someone probably gets annoyed at you.

Even if what you’ve written sounds phonetically right, it can mess up the train of thought and lead to awkward uncertainty when read on air.  ‘Their’ instead of ‘there’ and ‘its’ instead of ‘it’s’ suddenly changes the meaning of a sentence and to a shrewd presenter makes it a lot more difficult to make sense of a sentence.

And an misplaced, comma can make a sentence, sound rediculous when, read, allowed.

Would you have read that last sentence out loud perfectly the first time you saw it, if you were also on air at the time?

What others think of you

I generally find those working in radio to be helpful, supportive and accommodating, but equally ruthless when help and support is not deserved.

If you struggle with spelling and grammar and say so, or perhaps do your best despite dyslexia, no-one’s going to mind. But if you’re of the opinion that it’s not a top priority because ‘it’s just radio’ you’ll be judged pretty quickly by some colleagues, bosses and potential employers.

If in doubt, take your time, double-check what you’ve written, and don’t worry about asking someone else to check it too. Someone can make a snap decision about your ability simply based on how you’ve written an email to them asking about work experience. If you’re continually making mistakes working as a broadcast journalist or senior producer the damage can be worse.

Vox Pop Top Tips

November 11, 2012 — 7 Comments

I’ll be honest. Unless it’s for something fun I hate doing vox pops. But sometimes they’re a necessary evil.

Vox populi – ‘Voice of the People’ (or for broadcasting new-starters often considered ‘a boring painful waste of time’)

Though overused and sometimes a symptom of lazy journalism, the humble vox pop has its place in broadcasting and is a basic tool that is here to stay.

I’ve had the honour (?!) of dispatching many a student on work experience to go and grab a vox pop. It’s amazing how much of an impression you can make by either doing one really well, or really badly.

But rather than list what makes a vox good or bad (because that depends on exactly what the subject and brief is), below are some tips for getting started with one in the first place that tend to work for me.

So often I’ve seen people meekly approach members of the public who mostly keep walking, and when they do stop are put off by the way what’s about to happen is sold to them. An hour later the poor vox-popper will still be standing in the cold.

Depending on the topic and how many people are about, you should be able to easily grab what you need in 10-20 minutes.

1. It’s all about the approach. I’ll let myself explain…

2. Get straight in with the question

I know that on many media and journalism courses across the country the ‘method’ of getting into a vox is taught as something along the lines of…

– Ask a member of the public if they can spare a moment

– Explain where you’re from

– Explain the subject you are covering and see if they have an opinion on the matter

– Ask if they’re willing to be recorded

– Hit record, ask them the question again, record the answer

Don’t do this. You want to get to the point where you’re recording a decent answer as quickly as possible, otherwise you’re just wasting time.

After getting someone’s attention, you want to be straight in there with “I’m from x, and I’m just asking everyone around here what they think about dog’s shoes”, by which point you’re already recording (because you pressed record as you approached them) with the microphone in their face.

However – once you’ve recorded something that you think could be broadcast, you need to be confident that the person you’ve recorded understands what they need to. For most people having a microphone in their face is explanation enough that they’re being recorded, and by saying as you leave “thank you, that’ll be part of x programme at x time” is generally enough.

There’s no reason you can’t be both quick (almost ruthless) with a vox but also entirely professional and polite throughout.

 3. Don’t make them feel singled out

Point #2 contained a really key line. When I say to someone “I’m from x, and I’m just asking everyone around here what they think about dog’s shoes”, a vital part of that is ‘everyone around here’.

By mentioning that you’re asking ‘everyone’, I’ve found a distinct difference in people’s concern at suddenly being asked a question on tape. They tend to immediately grasp that they’re not being singled out and that they’re just adding to a pile of opinion.

If there’s still concern on their face, a follow up of “don’t worry, I don’t need your name or anything” tends to alleviate their worries.

 4. Milk the good ones (not literally)

So often I’ve heard the raw recording of a vox someone’s done for me where they’ve got a great speaker, who hasn’t quite worded their answer right. And it’s unusable.

If you’ve got someone with a strong opinion and who’s stopped to talk to you, make the most of them. Don’t be afraid to ask the same question twice. Three times. Four. Don’t worry about wasting their time – they’ll tell you if that’s the case.

Don’t be afraid to guide them with tricks like “repeat after me and finish the sentence: ‘I like dog’s shoes because'”. So long as you’re not guiding their thoughts or putting words in their mouth there’s nothing wrong with pursuing the same question until you have them voicing their opinion in the clearest and strongest way.

And while we’re at it, here’s everything a vox pop shouldn’t be.

It was created as some sort of jokey test vox when Radio Lincolnshire launched, broadcast for fun on the station’s first birthday.