quotes

Who said that?

We’ve already discussed a few of the ways in which direct quotes are used differently in broadcast scripts from the way they’re handled in print. We’ve talked about dangling attributions, signifying the start of a direct quote and paraphrasing.

Another important difference is the necessity to restate — frequently — who’s being quoted. This is very simply because listeners have no quotation marks to tell them when a quote begins and ends. As I mentioned before, the best way to signal the start of a quote is with a slight pause, or with a phrase like “in his words.” Don’t use the word “quote.” Likewise, we don’t use “unquote” to end a quotation — that’s even hokier than using “quote” at the beginning.

Instead, we rely on the modern audience’s default assumption that direct quotes in broadcast news stories are short — one or two sentences at most. This means that for quotes longer than one long sentence or two short sentences, you must re-identify the speaker.

WRONG: Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe says, “This is a really exciting political season for the LGBT community.We’re extremely proud of the out candidates who are stepping up to run for office all across America, and of the role that the Victory Fund plays in preparing and supporting these candidates.”

BETTER: Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe says, “This is a really exciting political season for the LGBT community.” He says, “We’re extremely proud of the out candidates who are stepping up to run for office all across America, and of the role that the Victory Fund plays in preparing and supporting these candidates.”

Using long quotes works even better if you reduce the number of times you use the word “says.” For example, because the first sentence is fairly short and pithy, you can replace one attribution with the word “adding”.

BETTER: Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe says, “This is a really exciting political season for the LGBT community,” adding, “We’re extremely proud of the out candidates who are stepping up to run for office all across America, and of the role that the Victory Fund plays in preparing and supporting these candidates.”

(Of course, in this example, the second sentence is on the long side, which makes the “adding” formulation less than ideal.)

Another way to prune back the use of “says” is to use the paraphrase that’s really a direct quote.

BETTER: Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe calls this “a really exciting political season for the LGBT community.” He says, “We’re extremely proud of the out candidates who are stepping up to run for office all across America, and of the role that the Victory Fund plays in preparing and supporting these candidates.”

Don’t use the quote-ees name every time, nor a pronoun (e.g. “he”) every time. Instead, ping-pong back and forth between the last name and a pronoun.

The last point I should make is that it’s best not to overuse direct quotes in broadcast copy. Again, broadcast isn’t print. Ideally, you should have actuality (i.e. “sound bites”). If you don’t limit your direct quotes to only the pithiest stuff, and paraphrase the rest.

BEST: Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe calls this “a really exciting political season for the LGBT community.” He says he’s proud of the out candidates who are “stepping up to run for office,” and of his group’s role in backing them.

To coin a paraphrase

I’ve laid out some kinda complicated rules about how to handle quotes in broadcast copy, but really, it can be simplified to this:

  1. In general, you should use exact quotes sparingly (don’t be promiscuous about them; limit yourself only to the best and pithiest quotes)
  2. When you do use exact quotes, treat them as if they were paraphrases.

For example:

Governor Fletcher said, “Kentucky has not discriminated against the gay community.”

This follows the rules I’ve laid out for quote handling. But read aloud it seems stilted and awkward. The following much smoother and more natural:

Governor Fletcher said that Kentucky has “not discriminated against the gay community.”

The difference between these two is very subtle (really, just a “that” versus a comma). But syntactically it’s all the difference in the world.

Note that in the second case, it would not necessarily be clear to the audience that they’re hearing an exact quote, which makes this approach unsuitable for cases where the audience really needs to know that.

In such instances, you’ll need to signal an exact quote, as discussed previously:

Over the weekend, in the words of a Beshear campaign spokeswoman, the “Fletcher camp hit the panic button.”

Cody Castgna’s lawyer said, “Unfortunately, I mean I hate to admit this on behalf of my client, but it’s a prostitution case. And frankly my client didn’t offer it or solicit it.”

In the second example, we didn’t use a ‘flag phrase’ like “in his words.” But it’s immediately clear it’s an exact quote because the speaker uses the first person right at the beginning of the sentence.

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.

That’s quite a dangling attribution you’ve got there

One of the most common problems I see in newbie broadcast newswriting, especially among those who have prior print newswriting experience, is the dreaded ‘dangling attribution.’ That’s where the who-said part of a quote ‘dangles’ off the end. For example:

“That’s the last time we shoot first and ask questions later,” said Sheriff Williams.

This is one of those rare never, never, nevers in broadcast writing, for two simple reasons. First, it isn’t conversational. No one in the history of ever has used this construction in conversation (okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but not by much). The second, related reason is that it makes it hard for the audience to understand who’s talking, the newsreader or the person being quoted.

The correct formulation for broadcast writing is:

Sheriff Williams said, “That’s the last time we shoot first and ask questions later.”

This way, the audience understands who’s talking when they hear the quote.

There’s an additional issue as to the best way to signal that this is an exact quote, or whether that’s even necessary, which I’ll get to in a future entry.