February 2008

How much is that in real money?

One more thing about converting foreign currencies to local in news stories: Sometimes you can just convert the foreign amount and treat it as if it were local money.

Soon Yen pays about a dollar-sixty to ride the bus into town every day.

In other situations, where you’re talking about large cash amounts that would obviously have been transacted in the foreign currency, it’s wise to subtly signal that you’ve converted.

Britain’s Royal Air Force has settled an anti-gay discrimination lawsuit, offering a payout to a former sergeant major worth more than 100-thousand dollars.

The use of the word “worth” indicates that the settlement was equivalent to $100,000, rather than $100,000 in crisp greenbacks. By the way, you can also use “equivalent to” with the same effect.

Link of the Week: U.S. Military Ranks

I was never in the military (duh), so I find military ranks and insignia somewhat confusing — and they come up in OutQ News stories pretty often, because of gays in the military.

Fortunately, there’s a handy website that not only shows all the ranks in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, in order, with their insignia, with officer ranks color-coded… it also provides their pay grade and puts it all in a tabular format so you can compare the ranks across services.

It’s all on one convenient page of a website aimed at fans of Tom Clancy novels, movies, etc.: The Tom Clancy FAQ Military Ranks page.

Get ‘thee’ gone!

For the last installment of my trilogy on delivery, I want to weigh in here against a bush-league mistake (in my opinion) that you still hear all over the place — sometimes even from experienced professionals.

How many times have I cringed when I hear a supposed newsreader pronounce the indefinite article (“A thing”) as “Ae” (like the letter of the alphabet) and the definite article (“The thing”) as “Thee”? Nothing is more of a dead giveaway that you are reading (except of course for a “read-y” monotone). Native English speakers almost never pronounce the articles that way, which is to say, it ain’t conversational at all. So always pronounce “A” as “uh” and “the” as “thuh.” Always.

Well, having said that as emphatically as I can, let me admit for ‘thuh’ one exception that I can think of. Regular people sometimes do pronounce the articles as “thee” or “ae” to emphasize them. For example, you often hear it spoken that way in a context like “thee one and only.” So put this rule in that rather large class of “nevers” that have an exception for “to achieve a specific, desired effect.”

RIP: Tony Malliaris (1961-1995)

Tony MalliarisOne of my first big schoolboy crushes was Tony Malliaris, back in middle school in Berkeley, California. I was a closeted gay nerd, he was the hot little Italian Greek stud on the M.L. King Junior Junior High campus. But he was always nice to me, which I appreciated a lot.

After 9th grade, my family moved to nearby Oakland. I changed schools and pretty much lost track of Tony. But about ten years ago, I was watching a TV documentary on HIV, and imagine my shock at seeing that my old crush was now a proud, loud, gay activist with ACTUP. I tried finding him online, but web searching was in its infancy and he did not appear in any results (I may also have been misspelling his name at that time, I’m not sure).

A couple of years ago, I just happened to randomly try again, and this time, he did turn up: He had, for an ACTUP event in 1990, composed and performed a rap called “Storm the NIH,” which had been captured on video, now posted online. It was a great little performance, and the rapper was definitely my old crush, still clearly recognizable all these years later. I tried looking up an email or phone number for Tony, but the rap video was the only reference to him online.

Skip ahead to tonight, when I happened to be watching a recent episode of the gay newsmagazine show In The Life on Tivo. There, in the background of a segment on Larry Kramer was the audio track from Tony’s rap. I was inspired to try again to see if I could track him down online.

I tried everything I could think of (and since I’m a trained researcher, I could think of a lot of ways to find someone), but there just wasn’t anything besides the 1990 rap performance. I didn’t want to pay for a full public records search, but the free part of those searches informed me that his full name was Antony Guy Malliaris.

You’re probably way ahead of me here. His full name was enough for me to take my search to its logical conclusion. I checked the Social Security Death Index, and there he was, of course. He had died in 1995, five years after the ACTUP rap, and just two years before the introduction of protease inhibitor medications that would probably have extended his life indefinitely — ironically, just the kind of drugs he so dramatically demanded access to in the rap.

So this is for you, Antony Malliaris. And for anybody who might search the web wondering what happened to the guy who performed that fantastic white-boy rap about AIDS drugs, or wondering what happened to their crush from way back when — because I’m quite sure I wasn’t the only guy with his heart tuned to Tony G’s frequency.

UPDATE: A little further investigation reveals that Malliaris is a Greek surname, not Italian as I had surmised.

Link of the Week: glbtq, the encyclopedia of gay culture

My job occasionally calls for research into a gay cultural topic. My first go-to source is always glbtq.com. This site bills itself as “the largest Web site devoted to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (glbtq) education and culture, (housing) the largest, most comprehensive encyclopedia of glbtq culture in the world.”

Headquarted in Chicago, glbtq.com is most definitely not a wiki, but rather a genuine, edited encyclopedia, with more than 2,000 signed entries, and a editorial board of eminent gay academics.

An ounce of script preparation is worth a pound of oops

It’s all well and good, you may say, to wish for a varied and interesting delivery. But how do you actually create one?

One technique many newsreaders use is to print out and mark up their scripts. Underline the words you want to punch. Circle dramatic phrases; box boring boilerplate. Or come up with your own system.

Just the act of reading through the script asking yourself about each word and phrase will be helpful. As you grow more practiced, you may find you don’t need to print and mark your scripts. But no matter how long you’re in the business, it’ll always be useful to at least read through your scripts aloud before you deliver them on the air. Sight-reading is sometimes a necessary evil in a time crunch, but it’s never a good idea as standard operating practice. Things that look good on paper can sometimes sound awful (or worse, be a tongue-twister) when spoken aloud at speed.

Link of the Week: Yahoo! Currency Converter

Whenever you report a specific amount of money, you should always convert it to the currency your audience uses. Because I cover international gay news, I’m constantly having to convert foreign currency amounts to U.S. dollars. There are many, many online tools for this, but my favorite is the Yahoo! Currency Converter.

By default, Yahoo’s tool converts Dollars to Japanese Yen, but this is not something I often need to do. But you can easily set the link you bookmark to your preferred default conversion. Just perform the desired default conversion and save that link. Now each time you click the link, it’ll be set just that way. I most often need to convert British Pounds to U.S. Dollars, so this is the link I use: Yahoo! Pounds to Dollars.

Note that this particular trick works for many database links — so long as the site uses GET method queries (which usually produce a long-ish link with lots of &-signs in it). IMDB and Wikipedia are two examples. Some sites use POST method queries (IBDB, for example), which don’t give you a usable link you can save.

It takes technique to sound conversational

Sounding conversational isn’t only the goal of news writing. It’s also integral to successful news reading, as well. But one of the paradoxes of sounding natural and interesting on the air is that it requires loads of technique. Rookie newsreaders just starting out (say, in college) typically read scripts pretty much the way they read aloud in high school classrooms, namely, in an uninflected, droning monotone. (Think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Bueller? Bueller?”)

But in broadcasting, and especially in radio, you must grab an audience and keep its attention for one to five minutes or more with just your voice. Your ‘read’ must convey the significance, meaning and emotion of each story as you read it. Scripts contain various textures: suspicion, intrigue, conflict, outrage, humor, colorful detail, boring detail, and much more. The anchorperson’s delivery must convey all that, both to help the listener understand what she is hearing, and to keep her interested.

In short, delivery compensates in some ways for what broadcast news lacks in detail. The mental picture you deliver with an interesting, colorful, musical read can be worth a thousand words of print-y minutiae.

So think of it not as ‘reading,’ but as an acting job. Invest your quotes and paraphrases with some flavor of how they might have been said by their source. Sound surpised when you say something surprising. Sound a little sad when you read something sad. Emphasize the important words (more on the various tools for emphasis in future entry), and muscle quickly through the boring, obligatory parts (like most attribution). Vary your read to follow the varying tones of your well-written script and you’ll hold an audience’s attention–right now, and the next time they hear you.

Don’t quote using “quote”

Our policy here at Sirius OutQ News is to signal a verbatim quote by using the word ‘quote’ only as an absolute last resort. It’s a mutation of the old newspaper reporter’s practice of barking copy, punctuation and all, down the phone line to the rewrite desk. It’s therefore corny and print-y; it impedes listener comprehension; and it’s miles from the conversational style we’re trying to achieve. Don’t do it.

There are several good alternatives to the word ‘quote.’ In most cases, you can just do without it. Instead, signal the quote through a tiny pause and change to a slightly higher, more stressed intonation. That’s usually all an audience needs to know it’s an exact quote. And this can work — in fact, works better — even when the quote contains a reference to ‘I’ or ‘me.’

However, in some cases, your quote will contain something controversial that you’ll want to ensure the audience doesn’t mistake for coming from your newsreader’s lips. In that case, use a verbal flag such as “in his words,” or “she described as.” Here’s an example from one of this week’s newscasts:

Transcripts of an audio recording submitted as evidence show Cuadra telling Corrigan the murder – in his words – “made me feel better inside.”

The more vivid the quote, the stronger your signal should be that it is an exact quote:

Jones’s exact words were “You’ll never get me, copper.”

Only in the most searingly hot-button of cases should it be necessary to go beyond these devices and actually use the Q-word. Even then, you should try to think of the way you might put it in conversation. For example:

After the jury was dismissed, Smith leaned over to his lawyer and said within earshot of reporters — quoting now — “I did kill her.”

And that really should be your touchstone when handling most style questions like this. Just ask yourself, “How might I express this in conversation?” It won’t be the right answer every time, but it will be right most of the time.

Link of the Week: Economist Country Briefings

Whenever I need a quick, authoritative summary of a country’s political, economic and social system, I turn to the Country Briefings at Economist.com. In addition to a listing of recent The Economist articles on the country, these briefings include a factsheet, economic data on the country, a short history of the nation, and summary descriptions of the country’s political and economic system. Not every country in the world is covered, but the 80 or so largest are.

Citing foreign press agencies

When citing a foreign wire service, I find it best to use an English language reference. Sometimes that’s the agency’s name in translation. “Agence France-Presse” (AFP) becomes “the French Press Agency,” and “Deutsche Presse Agentur” (DPA) becomes “the German Press Agency.” Or sometimes it’s the name in the original language, with an English description tacked on: “The Xinhua state-controlled news service,” in a story where it’s already established we’re talking about China.

And note that, as in the last example, it’s important to indicate with a word or two (‘state-controlled’, ‘Christian conservative’, etc.) any possible bias a news service (or other source) might have.

‘Tory’ = Conservative

A ‘Tory’ is a member of the Conservative Party in Britain or Canada.

This is not to be confused with a politician who is simply philosophically conservative (small ‘c’). It only applies to a member of the Conservative (big ‘C’) Party.

A quick summary of ‘summary judgment’

The Okeechobee School District has asked federal courts for a summary judgment on whether a Gay-Straight Alliance should be allowed to meet on the Okeechobee High School campus.
  –Port St. Lucie News, 30 Jan 2008

So what the heck is a ‘summary judgment,’ anyway?

‘Summary judgment’ is the term for a ruling in a civil lawsuit made by a judge, without a trial to establish facts. The premise is that there are no disputed material facts in the case, and that all the issues are legal ones. Obviously, the side that makes a motion for summary judgment wants the judgment to be in their favor.

If both sides and the judge agree to summary judgment, it can be a huge time-saver in a case. These motions appear frequently in constitutional or civil rights suits.

Oh, by the way, I think the newspaper lede* above is absolutely terrible, and not just because it uses legal jargon (‘summary judgment’) without explanation. It also does what you should never do in a lede: instead of highlighting the conflict, it hides it. You would never know from this lede that the school district is adamantly, virulently opposed to having a Gay-Straight Alliance.

*(that’s broadcast jargon for ‘lead’, spelled weirdly so as not to accidentally get pronounced as ‘led’)

Study, study, study

Intern Mallory just asked me, “What’s another word for ‘study’? I just used it three times in three sentences.”

How about ‘report’ or ‘analysis’? ‘Survey’ sometimes works, too, if that’s mainly what it was.