TV News and the Rhetorical Canons

bishopGuest blogger Emily Bishop ’14

This summer I have been working at ABC 2 News (WMAR) in Baltimore, Maryland. On the first day of my internship, I was given a “quiz” so my supervisor could see how my style of writing could compare to a journalists writing. After writing five practice scripts, we went over them, and she showed me some of the scripts that could be used for air (with a little editing) and the ones that sounded like they were meant for someone to just read.

Over the next week, I began examining the scripts that were being written for the show and continuing to practice some of my own. Eventually, my supervisor, along with the other producers, started giving me little stories to write scripts for and eventually, I wrote a package. A package is a bigger script containing sound bites from interviews, so it was definitely something I was excited to tackle.

EB_storiesOriginally, I struggled to find similarities between rhetoric and journalism. But after taking a minute, I realized that there are plenty. For instance, rhetorical canons have everything to do with writing for TV. You have to invent an idea and figure out the best available means of persuasion. And through the available means of persuasion – ethos, pathos, and logos – TV anchors tend to focus on ethos and pathos; whereas, producers focus on logos. Anchors need to appeal to the audience’s emotions and keep them entertained so that they will want to stay tuned for the entire show. And ethos is the credibility of the speaker, so if the anchor is friendly yet delivers the news accurately, then the audience will want to stay tuned in as well.

Next the producer needs to decide how to arrange the show in a logical (logos) order. By arranging ideas in a logical order, the producer is able to make the anchor’s scripts more effective and efficient, meaning the anchor can make easy transitions from one story to another. The linguistic choices the anchor makes are also associated with the means of persuasion, particularly, pathos. The way scripts are read can elicit an emotional response from the audience if written and read correctly. With so much competition in the area, it is important for the news station to make high-quality stylistic choices. Then it is important for the anchor to review scripts before air. By having a firm retention in the mind of the matter, words, and arrangement, the anchors can then deliver the stories clearly, efficiently, and effectively.

By making sure I understood the goals of WMAR and their target audience, I was able to control how I write the scripts for the anchors. By also paying attention to the feedback and audience responses from my scripts, I continued to improve.

abc2My internship has definitely been an interesting learning experience. I have taught myself to change my writing style to fit this atmosphere. I think this practice has shown me how adaptable professional writers can be. By having a good foundation in writing and understanding how to write for an audience, I will only be able to continue to grow and expand my knowledge in the writing world.

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