Just forget the words and sing along

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The personality-driven newscast. As the name suggests, it is a newscast where the newscaster injects a lot of his/her personality. The newscaster may make snide asides or comments about the news stories that he/she is reading, all in keeping with the newscaster's personality. It is one of the most difficult kinds of newscasts to do because the line between "news story" and "editorial" gets very blurry very quickly. A grasp on journalistic integrity gets highly tenuous. My news instructor at NAIT was often left struggling to find a good example of this kind of newscaster in the Edmonton radio market, and often cautioned we students against trying it.

Sonic 102.9 is looking for a personality-driven newscaster. That became apparent in the feedback they gave me.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

They wanted me there at 6AM, so, as is my way, I was there at a quarter to. A comination of nerves and a lumpy matress left me with insomnia. I was lucky if I got maybe 2 hours of sleep last night.

6AM, I'm in the building. Introductions are made, and they put me to work. They don't have any of the fancy radio news software like Newsroom yet, so I had to do it the old fashioned way. They pointed me to some of their preferred prep websites, gave a copy of the Edmonton Sun, opened up Microsoft Word, and told me to start writing. It was about quarter after six at this time, and my first newscast was at 7:30.

So, I got to work. I had absolutly no idea as to what they wanted for a newscast. All they told me was that it had to be 90 seconds. And NAIT, they wanted 2 minutes, so I'd have to make things shorter. Their morning guy told me that one of the hot stories of the morning was Edmonton's 30th murder. It wasn't in the papers yet, so he gave me what little I had. Sonic's sister station, CKER, was also running the story, and the CKER news guy was e-mailing me his newscasts. Plus, when no one else was around, I'd tune the radio to 630 CHED, Edmonton's news/talk station. In the mornings, CHED runs the news every 15 minutes. And yes, borrowing like this happens in radio all the time.

So, murder was my lead story. The number two story seemed obvious. Granted, they said that most Sonic listeners aren't interested in politics, but everyone is looking forward to their $400 prosperity bonus. And, it was just announced that the bonuses won't be coming in time for Christmas, despite what was originally promised. That was a good number 2.

For a 90-second newscast, four stories is a good amount. And, I did listen to the morning guy do newscasts at 6:30 and 7:00, to get some idea of what was expected. They wanted lots of wacky news; pop culture and bizzare stuff. OK, I can do bizzare. For my first newscast at 7:30, I found a story about a couple in India who were arrested for playing their porn movies too loud. Turns out porn of all kinds is illegal in India, so for this little infraction, this couple was actually facing 3 months in prison. My second one had to do with Martha Stewart. She was going to come to Canada for a pumpkin festival, but it turns out she's banned from the country as part of her parole.

Had a few extra seconds to throw in a bit of a sportscast, so I figured I should at least mention that it was the start of hockey season. I had it done, I timed it to 90 seconds, did my revisions, and I had my first newscast ready by 7:20.

7:30. Go time. I had issues with this newscast. I was a little bit rusty, so my inflections were way off. I didn't like my pacing either...it felt like it was going on too long.

I wanted to head back to the makeshift newsroom and get to work on my 8AM newscast, but they held me back. They wanted to do some banter; kind of spring an impromptu job interview on me on the air. So, I played along. Here's where I got a little goofy and cracked a few jokes. Made 'em laugh, so that always counts for something.

7:45, I finally got to work on my 8AM newscast. Just 15 minutes to write it...just like the good old days. the murder and the prosperity bonus stories could be recycled...it's perfectly OK to recycle a news story in radio, just as long as you completely rewrite it and offer up a sentence or two of new information. Grabbed a couple of new silly stories...Conan O'Brian is going to be doing an "all U2" show, and "chick flick" and "bikini wax" have now been added to the dictionary.

8AM newscast...I was a lot more relaxed. Pacing was better. Inflections...still rusty. This time I got a laugh from my silly news stories. All things considered, it was an improvement from 7:30.

After this, they break it to me that there's not going to be an 8:30 newscast, like they originally planned. But, after two more songs, they were going to drop their feedback on me on the air. Oh, joy.

The majority of their feedback boiled down to one thing: I wasn't funny. Like the good little newscaster I've been taught to be, I played it straight and didn't go for anything daring like a personaliy-driven newscast. I didn't crack jokes, I didn't make snide comments, I didn't give the silly news stories punclines. "Aw man, with that porn story, and Martha Stewart, there were so many jokes you could have made!"

The one thing that surprised me, though, was the feedback from the Edmonton Sun reporter who's judging this. Now, for those who don't know, the Sun is very pro-conservative and, most days, little more than a mouthpiece for the Klein government. Now, when the Sun reporter called me out for not making jokes about the prosperity plan and how the cheques are going to be late...I thought I fell into a mirror universe.

They picked up on the things I picked up on...they agreed that the second newscast was better than the first, that my pacing and inflections were off, that I was more relaxed during sports. (I'm always more relaxed doing sports, because, as they taught us at NAIT, it's really the only part of a newscast where personality-driven is expected. Besides, sports is always at the end and, by that point, I just don't care anymore.)

But they were confused, too. From my demo at the open auditions a few weeks ago, I WAS funny. That was a different situation, too. They passed me a pre-written newscast with one serious story and three joke stories. I wasn't rewriting the news as much as I was rewriting jokes. Regardless, they made it very clear that my original demo that I did at the mall was more in line with what they wanted.

Off the air, they also added that, apparently, I've already picked up a little bit of a fan club. Back on Monday, someone dropped in at the station to root for me and, yesterday, they got a caller from someone claiming they went to high school with me and that person proclaimed me "the smartest person on the planet."

So...where do we go from here?

I really don't know. In their feedback and comparisons to my original demo, they made it clear that I'm capable of giving them what they want, but, when it came time to deliver, I didn't.

There's a lot of checks in the "for" column. And a lot of checks in the "against" column. The way I see it, it can go either way.

If I had to choose, I would say that, on Friday, I will be getting a call saying I didn't make it to the next round. Yeah, I'm a pessimist, but something deep down inside says this is the end.

Aftewards, to celebrate my victory or drown my sorrows (can go either way, remember) I bought a bunch of DVDs I'd already bought (upgraded to the brand-new 2-disc special editions of Mallrats and Star Trek: Nemesis) and went to see Serenity. I really enjoyed Serenity.

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