Editing and Writing

A writing tip from KARE 11’s Boyd Huppert:

 Math was never my strong suit in school, but I’ve figured out a way to turn two hours into four. Some of you are already doing this, but when I bring this time-management technique up at workshops, I’m surprised how many are not.

I always try to write my story’s first couple of lines before or during my logging. Then I run to the voice booth to track. If I do this at 8 p.m. for a 10 p.m. story, I’ve just given my photographer two hours to edit. I’ve also given myself two hours to write. That’s four hours of work-time. If I wait to complete the entire script before I track we each get one hour.

I’m also easing my stress. It’s hard to write with a gun against my head. But once I track the opening couple of lines, I know my photographer/editor is working and I can relax a bit. I’ll write a few more lines, then run back to track those too. I may track five or six times, always making sure I stay ahead of the edit.

Required to do script approval? Just let your producers know what you are up to. They can approve as you go. I’ve never met a producer who didn’t love to see the lead story being edited two hours before the show. We all do our best work with more time and less pressure.



Bud Veazey taught me an awful lot about writing and storytelling.  I worked with him at WSMV in Nashville in the 1980’s before he went on the WAGA in Atlanta. These are a collection of memos Bud wrote to his newsroom.  They are gems that we can all learn from.

Fri, 13 Jun 2003 17:14:19 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers
Subject: “bust” again

Please remember than many of our viewers—those who actually were taught English grammar in school—take great offense at the use of the word “bust” as a synonym for “burst” or “break.”
A balloon is burst, not busted. A window is broken or shattered, not busted.
It’s perfectly acceptable in conversational copy to refer to an arrest or a police raid as a “bust.” However, many of our viewers and yours truly still believe that it is unacceptable to use “bust” as a synonym for burst or break.

Fri, 7 Nov 2003 17:05:39 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters
Subject: “At this hour”

When you’re telling a story to your spouse, significant other, friend or mother, do you ever use the phrase “at this hour?”
It’s a dumb ass journalese convention and cliché that intelligent people ought to be able to wean themselves from using. Humor the old man and stop it. There is nothing wrong with the words “now,” or “right now.” And, please don’t replace “at this hour” with “as we speak.” I’ll have a freaking stroke.

Wed, 17 Dec 2003 17:58:49 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “center around”

It is literally and figuratively impossible to “center around” something. An investigation can center “on” police activity, but it cannot center “around” it. Think about it. It’s common sense. The center of anything is a point. How can a point surround anything? Better yet, how about using a more specific phrase like “focus on?”

Wed, 17 Dec 2003 17:20:27 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers
Subject: “Incredible”

It’s incredible how often we use the word “incredible” to describe things and events that really aren’t all that incredible. Please make me incredibly happy and give the word “incredible” a rest and reserve its use for something that really is “incredible.”

Tue, 17 Aug 2004 18:11:47 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Allegedly”

Please use a little common sense when using the word “allegedly.” We often drop the word into our copy when it is either redundant or meaningless. I suppose it’s a misguided effort to avoid finding someone guilty of a crime before they are tried. If we say, “Police said John Doe shot Jane Doe,” it is unnecessary to say, “Police said John Doe ALLEGEDLY shot Jane Doe.” The allegation has been attributed to authorities.
If someone has been convicted of a crime you can stop saying he ALLEGEDLY committed the crime. A jury has agreed he did it.
And please, when you are writing about an unknown perpetrator of a crime, don’t write “alleged robber.” If we know there was a robbery, it’s an unchallenged fact that there was a robber.
Use common sense and listen to what you write.

Tue, 7 Sep 2004 17:50:12 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: The word most often misused in Television journalism

The most misused word has to be “literally.” Over the weekend I heard the word used incorrectly, or stupidly, more times than I could count by network reporters and local reporters alike.
You won’t go wrong if you will remember one simple rule: Do not use the word “literally” in a sentence unless there is some likelihood that a listener might be confused as to whether you are speaking “literally” or “figuratively.”
If you are standing in water up to your knees, it is redundant and a little silly to say, “The water is literally up to my knees.” Of course it is. We can see it. Is there any likelihood the viewer might think you were speaking figuratively? It’s as dumb as saying something like, “My head is literally splitting,” to describe a headache. If your head is literally splitting, I’m getting out of the way
Strike a blow for the English language. Listen to what you write and say.

Wed, 18 May 2005 17:26:19 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Suspects”

Foolish optimist that I am, I will once again try to explain the proper use of the word “suspect” in the hope that eventually someone will get it.
Police have a “suspect” when—and only when—they know, or think they know, who they are looking for. In other words, an individual has been identified as a “suspect” in the crime. If no one has been identified, THERE IS NO SUSPECT!
Take a moment and think about the logic.
Until a “suspect” has been identified, police are looking for a robber, a burglar, a purse snatcher, a rapist, a murderer, a reckless driver, a bad person, a clown, a mime, etc.
Once again, if police haven’t identified a person as a suspect, THERE IS NO SUSPECT!!
(I know police officers misuse the word “suspect.” If you are using police speak as your example for writing your stories, we have a problem bigger than the misuse of a word.)

Fri, 20 May 2005 12:35:28 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Present Tense Leads

I know this will cause a controversy, but as you all know I have strong opinions on certain topics. The present tense lead is one of those topics.
I don’t care what your last news director told you; there is nothing conversational about present tense leads. Some people think they add immediacy to a story. Usually they do nothing but confuse the listener.
The present tense lead is great for teases when used properly. It seldom works as the lead to a story, especially when the writer adds a time reference or mixes tenses.
For instance, what does this lead mean? “A man dies when his car crashes today on I-20.” Has there been a crash or are we predicting one? Take “today” out and the lead is okay, but I still contend it is not conversational. What’s wrong with saying, “A car crash on I-20 today killed a man?”
Here’s a lead from our Noon newscast today:
“A senior at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont receives a special present during graduation.”
If you are telling this story to a friend, wouldn’t you have said “…received a special present…?” We’re supposed to be telling stories, not slavishly following the rules we learned from some journalism school instructor who worked 15 minutes in Podunk as an associate producer, or some consultant who flunked as news director. Forget the rules. Go with your instincts. If I don’t like your instincts I’ll write another overbearing, opinionated memo.
Here’s another problem with present tense leads from our Noon newscast: “A 16-year-old girl is in the hospital after a gun goes off…hitting her in the chest.”
A girl is in the hospital and a gun goes off. We have a clue that the gun went off because “after” was stuck in the middle of the sentence. Is that really how we speak? If you insist on using a present tense lead—and I wish you wouldn’t—how about, “A shotgun blast sends a girl to the hospital.”
Those are my thoughts. Feel free to argue with me.

Thu, 26 May 2005 17:35:11 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Young Child”

It’s redundant. A child is a young human being. “Child” is sufficient. If you feel the need to be more specific, use words like infant, toddler, pre-teen, teenager, or the child’s age.

Wed, 31 Aug 2005 12:25:11 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: While I’m on my soapbox…

“Destroyed” is like pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. “Completely” destroyed is ridiculously redundant. “Partially destroyed” is “damaged.”

Tue, 25 Oct 2005 18:51:01 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters
Subject: “Tonight”

Please avoid inserting the word “tonight” unnecessarily in your standups and anchoring. The effect of this misguided attempt to add “immediacy” to your copy not only is not conversational, it can also be misleading.
In this evening’s newscast, in the “A” section, a reporter said someone was seriously injured “tonight” even though the injury occurred much earlier in the day.
An anchor said, “A mother and daughter are seriously injured “tonight” after an SUV came crashing into a dentist’s office.” Two common sense rules were broken here: a present tense lead—which is not conversational writing—should never have a time reference. In addition, the people were hurt, not tonight, but earlier in the day.
I know some news director told you once to say “tonight” whenever possible to make an old story new, but it just doesn’t work.

Fri, 30 Dec 2005 17:47:02 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Out of”

You can go “out of” a door; you can run “out of” money; if you’re Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet” you can be working “out of” robbery division. However, breaking news happens “in” a location not “out of” a location.
We don’t have a “report on breaking news OUT OF Atlanta. We have a “report on breaking news IN Atlanta.
Please put “out of” on the list of phrases which, when misused, really get me agitated. I’m too old to get agitated.

Wed, 11 Jan 2006 12:26:22 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Very latest”

Just call me Don Quixote, but I’ll tilt at this windmill until I shuffle off this mortal coil.
“Very latest” like “very pregnant” or “very unique” is ridiculously redundant. The news doesn’t get any “later” because you add “very.”
Once upon a time long ago a news anchor uttered “very latest” and a news director and consultant said “this is good.” From that time forward “very latest” joined the lexicon of journalese clichés such as “at this hour,” “only time will tell,” “winter wonderland,” “the nation’s midsection,” and “officials say.”
Please help me in my crusade to stamp out “very latest” before I go to that big newsroom in the sky.

[A 2008 version of this memo follows]

Wed, 20 Feb 2008 16:07:00 (EDT)
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “completely destroyed” redux

Please add to your list of redundant phrases to be avoided “very latest.” If it’s the “latest” it ain’t going to get any “later” just because you added “very.” Sometimes I think we go for word count instead of making our words count.

November 11, 2003
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Another Pet Peeve

Please don’t lapse into police speak and say things like “…the victim was shot multiple time.” (We’ll ignore the passive nature of the phrase for now.) I believe if you were telling the story to your dear old Granny, you might say, “…the victim was shot SEVERAL times.” When you write your stories, think of your dear old Granny.

August 30, 2002
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Conversational, active voice copy

One of our common goals is to write conversational copy—telling a story to our viewers much as we might tell it to a friend.
If that’s our goal, why in the name of Walter Cronkite do we write sentences like: “Anyone who may have any information on the crime is asked to call the police…”
Make is active. Make it conversational: “If you have any information on the crime, call the police.”

September 17, 2002
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Snuck”

Even though I am sure it will eventually sneak into the English language as acceptable usage, at the moment there is no such word as “snuck.” The past tense of sneak is “sneaked.” Please wait until I go to the big newsroom in the sky before using the word “snuck” in our news copy.

July 18, 2002
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “Brutalizing”

We said in our 5 p.m. newscast that the Inglewood police officer was caught on tape “brutalizing” a suspect in handcuffs. In my opinion this is an editorial comment and is inappropriate. The objective, observable facts are that the officer is seen on tape slamming the young man into the hood of the police car and he is seen striking the handcuffed man in the face. Whether he “brutalized the man is up to either the police department’s internal affairs division or a jury to decide. Be careful of subjective words.

January 30, 2004
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: “No Word Yet”

“No word yet.” Here’s a phrase that needs a rest. Often “no word yet” is the beginning phrase of the last sentence of a v/o, for instance, no word yet how the fire started, no word yet on the condition of the victim, no word yet on what caused the accident, no word yet on who shot John, etc.
“No word yet” often is code for “the P.I.O. hasn’t returned my call.” If you don’t know the information and it’s important to report that we don’t know the information, just say “we don’t know” or “we’ve been unable to find out…” or use your creativity to explain our lack of information.
The first question to ask yourself is, “Why do we need to tell our viewers what we don’t know?”
“No word yet” doesn’t need to be banned, but at least there ought to be a moratorium.
Also, please keep in mind that nothing sounds dumber than the phrase “no word yet” in an evening news story about an event that happened at 7 a.m. in the morning.

May 14, 2004
From: Veazey
To: Reporters, Producers, Managers
Subject: Whether or not…NOT

This is one of those losing battles, call me a stubborn tilter at windmills if you must. “Or not” when used with “whether” is redundant and therefore unnecessary.
For example: A jury will decide whether a person is guilty of something. We don’t know whether dinosaurs could talk.
It’s understood when you use the word “whether” that there is a choice between two conditions, usually true or false. “Or not” is superfluous.

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