Wikinews:Audio Wikinews/News Briefs/Show/Style
This guide is considered mandatory reading for everyone who wishes to take part in Audio Wikinews as it sets out the minimum quality guidelines each reader is expected to maintain. Please become familiar with this page and keep it on your watchlist as it is still being updated.
Reading the news is a lot of fun but it is not something everyone can just jump into, so I've put together this essay to help acclimate people who want to contribute as a news reader to the AW.
A news reader's job is to inform the listener. Try to think of yourself as a teacher who is trying to explain the events of a story to your audience and always assume the listener has absolutely no knowledge of any of the facts in a story. It's up to you to "teach" the audience and guide them through each story. You are not just passing along information the way a government official will broadcast a tornado or storm warning over the emergency broadcast system, rather, your job is to "sell" the story and help the listener understand all the events of that story. In other words, you are a story teller.
Try to think of being a reader as being an actor. An actor must "sell" his or her lines to the audience - if a line is delivered well, the audience will get the full meaning of what they are trying to convey but if a line is delivered flat (known as throwing a line away), then the listener will not be convinced and you will lose your audience.
Examples From Film
A good example of this is from the film The Usual Suspects. Near the end of the film, Kevin Spacey has this line :
"How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?"
Many of you may have seen this film and remember this line. Why do you remember this line? Is it such a well written line that it stands out in the script? Well, yes, it is a very good line but that's not what makes it work in the film. The line works because of how Kevin Spacey sells the line. When you see him hold up his gimp hand when he says "What if you miss?" and you see the look on his face, you know exactly what he's talking about.
Now, read that line out loud. Can you match the inflection? Can you hear the cadence and rhythm of the line? It's sort of like music when you get it right. This is important to keep in mind when reading something like "President X believes that policy 123 will work, however, Prime Minister Y believes it will fail for reason A, B and C." If you read that flat you will bore people so you need to sell the line, especially the "however" part.
Here's another example, from another Kevin Spacey film, this time Glengarry Glenn Ross.
"Will you go to lunch? Go to lunch. Will you go to lunch?"
Read it out loud right now. If you've never seen the movie, then you may read it pretty flat and it will sound really uninteresting, but when you hear Kevin Spacey deliver that line, you can hear all of his diminishing authority and frustration in his voice. He inflects each word differently each time. No two "go to lunch" lines sound the same, they all sound unique and each has a different cadence than the one before it. This is important to remember when reading lists in the news such as "China, Brazil, Ethiopia, North Korea and Mexico". If you read each country with the same inflection, it will bore people. You need to sell the line, because a line that boring needs to be sold.
Practice reading the lines above again until you can say it so that each "go to lunch" and each country sounds different. You don't have to copy Kevin Spacey, just put your own take on it.
I've given two Kevin Spacey references here not because you need to be as good of an actor as him, but because he is demonstrating some very fundamental acting and speaking techniques. In short, he is reading his lines in an interesting and engaging way that is fun to listen to.
Next, I want to talk about your voice.
There is a myth that there is such a thing as a "radio voice". I'll tell you right now that there is no such thing. There is no one voice that is better than any other voice - a deep baritone is no better than a soprano - an old man who smoked his entire life has no better of a voice than a 22 year old female who spent all college cheer leading. However, what does constitute a good voice is one that is clear, pronounces each word intelligibly and has a good rhythm of speech. In short, they can get their personality across using just their voice.
Listening To Others (Podcasts)
Let's listen to some examples. Listening to others is how you will learn. You've watched the news, you've listened to the radio and you know how a broadcaster is supposed to sound, but you should be aware of what they are doing to achieve that style and so you need to really start listening to the professionals (they are professionals for a reason).
First up, let's listen to what many people would consider a radio voice - Dan Carlin. He has a podcast called Hardcore History on iTunes. Download it now and listen to it (I recommend any of the Ghosts of the Ostfront episodes, but any episode will do).
Dan has what many people would say your "typical" radio voice. His voice isn't very deep, but it has a ton of personality. You can almost see him waving his hands around and you can feel the passion in his voice. It should be no surprise then that Dan has been in broadcasting for years and years and years - he's a professional.
Next, let's listen to his opposite, Lars Brownworth. His podcast is called 12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of The Byzantine Empire. Download the first episode and listen all the way through.
He does not sound like Dan, does he? Lars reads sort of flat, he doesn't project much and he isn't a passionate speaker. But, he's very good regardless. Why? Because he is highly competent and careful. He may not be a professional broadcaster, but there is just something about the way he speaks that slowly draws you in. Sure, he may be an acquired taste, and the subject matter may not be thrilling, but you feel like you are in the presence of a professional and a very smart person.
Most of us here on AW will be closer to Lars than to Dan, and that's totally fine.
One last example. Let's listen to a female speaker, this time from the podcast NPR: Planet Money. Download episode 179 "Toxie's In A Coma" and listen to Chana Jaffe-Walt when she speaks. She does not have that "radio" voice either, in fact she sounds quite young and bubbly, but she is also very good because she is clear, intelligent and passionate in her style. Like Lars, she speaks more like a regular person than Dan does (she's halfway between the two, in my opinion) and is also a good broadcaster to listen to for style and rhythm.
Sound Like You
Of course, you don't want to sound like any of the above people, but you do need to sound like you. It's your personality people want to hear and you have to put yourself into each reading. You have to care about what you are reading about (even if you don't actually care; it's acting, after all) because if you don't care, why should the listener?
Public Speaking And Recording
If you are comfortable speaking in front of a group of people you do not know, then you are 90% of the way to being a good reader. Having good public speaking abilities is the majority of good broadcasting. Knowing how to cadence your speech, knowing not to stumble over your words or mumble or do anything distracting is a learned skill that works for both broadcasting and public speaking and that's why they are related to some degree. Confident public speakers just sound good, speakers who are not confident do not usually sound as good.
In closing, it's important to listen to as many other speakers and broadcasters as possible. Listen to the news and TV announcers and good actors and try to emulate their fundamentals. Like I said, you don't want to copy someone, you just want to learn what makes a good speaker good. Ask yourself, why does Morgan Freeman have such a great voice? Why is Christopher Walken's voice so weird, but still quite listenable? How does Jodie Foster convey such thoughtful intelligence in her voice?
Practice, Practice, Practice!
While reading something out loud may seem like a simple thing to do, there is a lot of work that goes into it and it takes a lot of practice to do well so I hope this essay helps a little bit.
When you make a mistake, just stop recording and try again. It's a slow process, especially when you do 10-15 takes of just one sentence, but that's what it takes to do it right as even professional announcers and broadcasters do this. If you are doing everything in 1 take every time, then not only are you the first person in the history of recording to do so, but you are also doing it wrong. In other words, expect to do multiple takes of each paragraph. You are not just reading the news, you are a presenter and entertainer as well - so make it sound good.
A very common recording (and speaking) mistake is to not follow punctuation correctly. In the following sentence :
- "The Nelson Mandela Foundation released a statement which said that thirteen-year-old Zenani Mandela, who celebrated her birthday on June 9, died in a single vehicle accident and that no one else was injured."
there should be a pause (and a tonal shift) between "thirteen-year-old Zenani Mandela", "who celebrated her birthday on June 9" and "died in a single vehicle accident and that no one else was injured." because there are commas there. Reading it straight through does not sound correct, so please follow punctuation - remember, you want to make the story interesting for the listener because flat, dry readings are not interesting.
A finished recording should sound something like this:
Often, if you have not pre-read what you are going to record, then you will inevitably go off track and make a mistake. Punctuation can be tricky, especially when reading news copy because there is a lot of information condensed down into short bursts so you really have to prepare by doing a trial run out loud and in your normal speaking voice before recording. In other words, know what you are going to say before you say it.
A note about pronunciation. Some names are just impossible to pronounce so do the best you can. Often you can google "pronounce name" and it will give you an audio file that you can listen to, but that isn't always reliable. So, when in doubt, pick a pronunciation that seems as close as possible to what the name looks like and stick with it. Use the same pronunciation each time you have to say it. Also, say it like you mean it, even if you think it's wrong. It's not the end of the world. I often write my scripts to include as little hard to pronounce names as possible - for example, when a volcano in Iceland erupts, your chances of pronouncing anything in Icelandic (unless you are a native) are slim to none, so just say something like "A volcano in southern Iceland".
There are some decent resources available to assist you pronouncing those hard to say names, places and things. There is, of course, no one stop shop so you will probably wind up using all of these at one time or another.
- Pronounce Firefox addon : A great little plug-in for Firefox that uses the online Merriam-Webster service. After installing the add-on, just highlight a word on the screen, right click on it and select "Pronounce" from the drop down menu. The pronunciation will then play over your speakers / headphones.
- YouTube : YouTube is actually the best resource for figuring out how to say those really obscure, difficult and "recent in the news" names and places. All you have to look for is news clips that people have posted and listen to the broadcast to pick out the correct pronunciation. Even if a video is not in your native language, you can still usually hear a proper noun being read because often it comes at the beginning of a broadcast. Sometimes you have to rewind and replay to really catch it, but I've found YouTube to be the most reliable resource to pronounce just about anything. Note You can also use this method on the NPR or BBC radio websites (depending on your country) by typing in the name in their searches and listening to the stories they have already recorded.
- Forvo : Forvo is a good, all around service that has a decent database that is continually updated with many of the latest names and odd words in the news. They often present more than one audio file so you can choose a male or female voice or a person from the country of origin of the word you are listening for. When used in conjunction with the above two methods, Forvo will pretty much cover all other pronunciations.
- Howjsay : Howjsay works just like Forvo and often will have words and nouns that Forvo has not yet uploaded. Usually when doing a google search for "pronounce this", either Forvo or Howjsay will be the top search result.
This guide will help you warm up your voice and mouth just as an athlete stretches and warms up before an event. You should really do these everyday.
NOTE : Keep a glass of water handy when you are speaking to keep from getting thirsty. Also, stay away from dairy products before speaking as it will make you sound like you have phlegm in your throat (gross).
Diction Exercises for 'B' words
Betty bought a bit of butter, but she found the butter bitter, so Betty bought a bit of better butter to make the bitter butter better.
Bill had a billboard. Bill also had a board bill. The board bill bored Bill, So Bill sold his billboard And paid his board bill. Then the board bill No longer bored Bill, But though he had no board bill, Neither did he have his billboard!
Diction Exercises for 'D' words
Did Doug dig Dick's garden or did Dick dig Doug's garden?
Do drop in at the Dewdrop Inn
Diction Exercises for 'F' words
Four furious friends fought for the phone
Five flippant Frenchmen fly from France for fashions
Diction Exercises for 'H' words
How was Harry hastened so hurriedly from the hunt?
Diction Exercises for 'J' words
James just jostled Jean gently.
Jack the jailbird jacked a jeep.
Diction Exercises for 'K' words
Kiss her quick, kiss her quicker, kiss her quickest.
My cutlery cuts keenly and cleanly.
Diction Exercises for 'L' words
Larry sent the latter a letter later.
Lucy lingered, looking longingly for her lost lap-dog.
Diction Exercise for 'N' and 'U' sounds
You know New York, You need New York, You know you need unique New York.
Diction Exercises for 'P' words
Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, Where's the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?
Pearls, please, pretty Penelope, Pretty Penelope, pretty Penelope, Pearls, please, pretty Penelope, Pretty Penelope Pring.
Diction Exercises for 'Q' words
Quick kiss. Quicker kiss. Quickest kiss.
Quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly...
Diction Exercises for 'R' words
Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran.
Reading and writing are richly rewarding.
Diction Exercises for 'S' words
Six thick thistle sticks
Theophilus Thistler, the thistle sifter, in sifting a sieve of unsifted thistles, thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.
The shrewd shrew sold Sarah seven sliver fish slices.
Sister Susie sat on the sea shore sewing shirts for sailors
Moses supposes his toses are roses, But Moses supposes erroneously, For nobody's toeses are posies of roses As Moses supposes his toses to be.
(Pronounce the word 'toses' to rhyme with 'Moses'.)
Diction Exercises for 'T' words
Ten tame tadpoles tucked tightly in a thin tall tin.
Two toads, totally tired, trying to trot to Tewkesbury.
Diction Exercises for 'V' words
Vincent vowed vengeance very vehemently.
Vera valued the valley violets.
Diction Exercises for your tongue
Red leather, yellow leather...
Red lorry, yellow lorry...
'I am the very pattern of a modern Major-General; I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral; I know the Kings of England, and I quote the fights historical, From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical; I'm very well acquainted too with matters mathematical, I understand equations, both simple and quadratical, About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news, With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse. I'm very good at integral and differential calculus, I know the scientific names of beings animalculous, In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral, I am the very model of a modern Major-General.'
Diction Exercises for consonants
High roller, low roller, lower roller.
I need a box of biscuits, a box of mixed biscuits, and a biscuit mixer.
He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.
Friday's Five Fresh Fish Specials.
Imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie.
The Leith police dismisseth us.
Twixt this and six thick thistle sticks.
She sells seashells by the seashore, and the shells she sells are seashells.
The sixth Sikh Sheik's sixth sheep's sick.
Three free thugs set three thugs free.
Charles deftly switched straight flange strips.
Gwen glowered and grimaced at Glen's gleaming greens.
Diction Exercises for vowels
Fancy! That fascinating character Harry McCann married Anne Hammond.
Lot lost his hot chocolate at the loft.
Snoring Norris was marring the aria.
Diction Exercises with a little bit of everything
Eleven benevolent elephants.
Girl gargoyle, guy gargoyle.
She stood on the balcony inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping and amicably welcoming him in.
Six sick slick slim sycamore saplings.
Diction Exercises known as repeaters
(repeat each one as fast as you can)
You know you need unique New York.
Three free throws.
Blue black bugs blood.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Giggle gaggle gurgle.
This section will deal with writing the AW:NB script and will focus on elemnts such as structure (lead story, second story), presentation (maintaining interest by using a late reveal) and article editing (for word flow and content).