Do You Ever Shorten Titles On Air?

by on Aug.30, 2011, under In the News, What's New

A story written for the Radio Television Digital News Association:

Aug 30 2011
By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Blogger

Journalism is about informing the public and providing information. While we are producing the stories and videos for the public we want them to be easy to understand, right?

When you work to make something informative and also easy to understand it can sometimes make telling the story a little more difficult. Questions like: what details do you include? and what information gets left out? come up all the time!

Those questions can also go beyond facts about the story to information about the people being interviewed in your story. What do you call them? Do you include their formal title that can be a combination of three, four, five and sometimes more words or do you just shorten it to make it faster to say on-air?

For example: if you interview someone who has a title, “community relations specialists” for Company ABC, do you include the whole title or do you shorten it to “spokesman” for Company ABC?

“Much of the decision about this has to do with how much room we have on the title line,” Tim Sharp a broadcast journalism professor at Ohio University said. “Because of that and because ‘very specific’ titles often are not essential, we often default to just the name of the organization.”

In the example above, Sharp says he would just use the company title, especially, “for people who are designated as spokespeople for an organization.” Sharp is also the News Director for WOUB, a news station in Athens, Ohio.

Ted Houston, a radio reporter in Arizona, says his station has “eliminated use of words like ‘spokesman’ or ‘vice president of community relations.’” Instead Houston says he uses terms like “the airport’s Jane Smith” or “Joe Smith of the FAA says.”

“We have a premium on time,” Houston said. “But…their title doesn’t really matter unless it is someone that they (listeners) know and love.”

Both Houston and Sharp say they use titles when they are relevant.

“If expertise is relevant, such as a nuclear scientist commenting on a power plant meltdown, then we will include such information in the title.,” Sharp said. “This is the case as well for elected officials, and bureaucrats.”

One important question to ask yourself while writing the story, whether it is radio, television or online, is whether or not the reader, viewer or listener will recognize the person. If the title is not going to be one that someone reading the story is going to recognize then you probably do not need to use it. If the viewer can recognize the person as being connected to the company without the title then it can probably be left out. But, if you think it is needed, then include it!

Remember you are writing for your audience. Houston says he thinks it is “part of a trend of being more conversational and relate-able to the audience, I think radio is doing that more.” The goal Houston said is to “sound like they are telling the story to somebody, not reading a news article.”

What does your station do? Do you shorten titles or keep them? Share your thoughts in the comments below or with me, Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com or on Twitter, @LWalsh.

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