Friday, February 26, 2010

T-t-t-Too C-c-c-Cold For ANYBODY To Read

When you were in school and had to give a speech to the class, odds are you spent quite a bit of time preparing your speech, and practiced it out loud several times. Your teachers told you that practice makes perfect. Actually, the quote is “practice to be perfect”, which is more than slightly different.

Professional speakers are often challenged to do a “cold read” of a script, flawlessly. Cold, in the sense that you’ve never seen it before, and you’ve got to deliver it without stumbling. Same concept in the music business, where the top studio players can “cold read” a piece of music they’ve never seen, and play it without a mistake. While the skills involved in cold-reading script and music are different, the concept is the same.

Cold-calling in the sales profession is giving a sales presentation to a person or group you’ve never met, and “winging it” through your tailored pitch. Sales, speaking, music – to do it “cold” requires substantial skill.

News anchors, particularly radio news anchors, are called on to “cold-read” news copy constantly. TV folks generally have the luxury of reading scripts from a TelePrompTer - scripts which they’ve had time to review and “practice”. The amateurs and pros are separated not when the TelePrompTer breaks down, because there’s usually a printed script on their news desk, but when they’re narrating live coverage of a breaking news event without a script of any sort.

This is the point in this rant where you find out it’s still another slam against the children who are attempting to write (and in many cases attempting to deliver) news these days.

I have a friend who’s a morning radio news anchor on the number-one news station in one of the largest markets in the nation. I have had the pleasure of working with her, and I’ve never worked with anyone who was better at “cold-reading” a piece of news copy. She’s a top-flight professional. Often, she’s handed a script just moments before it has to go on the air, and one of the reasons she’s so good at what she does is she can “sight-read” right through typing errors, grammar errors, spelling errors, and make the copy “sing”.

Last week she sent me a copy of a script she was handed in the middle of a live newscast. Just for fun, try reading the next three sentences out loud, as if you were a big-time newscaster:

“The lawyer and wife of imprisoned former Illinois Governor George Ryan say they’re asking President Barack Obama for clemency because of health concerns. The 75-year-old was sent to says Ryan has kidney disease and other problems, andprison after his 2006 conviction on corruption charges. His attorney his wife has a terminal lung disease”.

I’m willing to bet there’s not a person alive who could read that paragraph without stumbling.

It looks like it’s a horrid copy-and-paste job that went fatally wrong. I mean, even if the writer stole the copy outright from some other news source, you’d think they could do a better job of lifting it. It’s obvious whoever “wrote” it never proof-read it. There’s only so much even a top-notch pro can do to save a mess like that.

Reminds me of the sort of thing I hear on weekend newscasts around here.


  1. I agree with Dad29. Cheap to hire at least - if your credibility has no value worth protecting.

    That paragraph would be easy enough to read - for a haircut in a blazer. But not for a sentient person. The twerp who wrote it should have been dragged on camera and made to apologize.

    After reading it a few times in amazement, I went here to get my translation skills reset:

  2. Gad! I could see the copy-and-paste problem after staring at it for a minute. The story makes sense when the C&P pieces are re-arranged. But just what did your morning news anchor friend do? I'm trying to imagine what would be a standard cover for poorly written copy...

    "...because of health concerns. The 75-year-old was sent to says Ryan... [pregnant pause] ... we'll have more details on this story as it develops. Stay tuned to WKRP in Cincinnatti for all your news needs."

    Something like that?

    Steve Erbach
    Neenah, WI