Thursday, June 25, 2009

How To Speak Like A TV Newscaster

The first thing you need to do if you want to be on TV giving the news is to stop using the words is, are, was, were, has, have, and had. You cannot say those words in the first sentence of any story you’re reading.

As an example, “Madison police looking for a suspect in a shooting last night”. Or, "Michael Jackson dying of a heart attack". I know, I know, it looks and sounds like a sentence fragment, but that’s the way they do it. And, most of the time, they’re not looking for a suspect. A suspect is a named person, so if they don’t know who the shooter is, they’re looking for a shooter, not a suspect.

Or, try this one: “Fourteen motorists pulled over in a drunk driving sting”. You can’t put the word “were” after “motorists” if you’re going to sound like a TV newscaster. But - and I know this is hard to follow if you’re used to speaking English - you COULD say ‘Fourteen motorists ARE pulled over in a drunk driving sting”. That violates the rule against saying “ARE” in the first sentence, but it forces the sentence (incorrectly and ungrammatically) into present tense, which is something else you have to do to be on TV.

And never mind that it should be “drunken driving”. Nobody on TV gets that one right.

Oh yes, and that “forced present tense” thing - it’s only for the first sentence. It’s far too much to ask people who are allegedly professional writers and speakers to understand the difference between active voice and present tense. Don’t even get me started.

You must also learn to deliberately mispronounce two very common words: “a” and “the”. Any time you see the word “a”…not the letter, the word…you must pronounce it “ay”, with the “long a” sound. And every time you see the word “the”, you must pronounce it “thee”, with the “long e” sound. Like “Jack and Jill went up thee hill to fetch ay pail of water”, the way most people would say it - NOT.
Never mind the rules of how vowel sounds are pronounced in English, such as making the “long” sound only when the article precedes a word beginning with a vowel. That sort of thing is way too esoteric for news readers.

One more thing. Any time you do a story taken from the police or sheriff’s online reports, it’s very important to repeat the last sentence of the agency’s news release, and end your story by saying “the incident remains under investigation”, clearly signaling to your viewers that the police are not just going to ignore an unsolved crime. Never mind that it would be news if the police decided NOT to investigate.

That should hold you for now. Practice these techniques in your daily speech, and don’t mind that people look at you like you’re from another country where English is not a spoken language.


  1. Colonel,

    Excellent! Spoken like the truly incisive media maven you are!

    Steve Erbach
    Neenah, WI

  2. "Janet Jackson takes the stage last night..." that is a direct quote from a TV nooz reader this morning. Miss Jackson either took the stage last night or is on stage currently, but she can't be both!
    Between the forced present tense and the breathless excitement of the weather goons (it might rain today), I seem to have fewer and fewer minutes available to waste on local TV.
    A sad state indeed...