Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘ISIS

Pronounciation Guides

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Pronounciation Guide

When I was a reporter for the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), pronounciation guides were a necessity. AFRTS facilities were scattered around the world.  Local military broadcasters presented the news to military and their families serving at those bases and posts.  And the last thing commanders wanted was for one of their people to embarass the command by mispronouncing the name of a host nation dignatary.

A pronounciation guide is a list of hard to pronounce words that occur in the major stories of the day.  It’s purpose is to help news readers say the word as correctly as possible.  Sometimes, that means as a company or country or group decides they want it said.  Remember the problem the media was having with ISIS versus ISIL versus DASH?

Sometimes, pronouncing a word correctly means as a community had decided it will be said no matter what “proper” pronounciation says it should be.  For instance, In Cincinnati, there is a main thoroughfare called Reading Road.  Most people might pronounce it as “Read” with “ing” at the end.  But Cincinnatians say it like “Red-ing”.  A pronounciation guide would be very helpful there.  A new hire at a hometown station that says “REED-ING” instead of “RED-ING” is instantly pegged as not a local.

By contrast, sometimes a name is just a nightmare to pronounce.  But anchors and hosts have to speak with authority and if they continually stumble over words, they start to lose their credibility.   Besides, it’s distracting for the listener because they start paying less attention to the story and more attention to the next time the anchor stumbles.  And that stumbling can take a few forms.  As a reader, you see the word coming in the copy with the horrible realization that you have no idea how to say it.  So you crash into it, trying not to break your pace as you butcher way through it and hoping no one will notice.   Or, you start to pronounce it, realize you are pronouncing it wrong and try again, and again, and again.  Somewhere in there, a part of your brain realizes another part of your brain just isn’t getting it.  So you slam another word in place and jerk yourself to another part of the sentence.

U.N. Secretaries General are especially hard.  There was Dag Hammarskjöld.  There was U Thant.  There was Boutros Boutros Ghali.  Without a pronounciation guide, how many anchors fell into those phonetic pits.

Sometimes you think a pronounciation guide is necessary when it really isn’t.  For example, in the U.S., the word “aluminum” (AHH-LOO-MIN-NUM) is pronounced much differently than how the British pronounce it, which is AYL-YOU-MIN-E-UM.  This is sort of similar to the Cincinnati example except it’s really the difference between homophones (words sounding the same but with different meanings) versus homographs (words spelled the same but sounding differently).

I miss pronounciation guides, and it seems some broadcast outlets are missing them too.  For instance, I recently heard a local commentator call the Oregon community of YOU-MA-TILLA, UH-MA-TILLA.  But this isn’t just something small outlets do.  Earlier this week, a reporter on CBS called the Oregon based sportsware manufacturer N-EYE-K, rather than N-EYE-KEE.

But pronounciation guides can be a pain too.  When you’re writing and producing stories, you’re constantly up against the clock.  When airtime is looming, scanning through a pronounciation guide is a luxury and the last thing you have time for.  So many of us in the business assume we know how to say something.

ASS-U-ME

Say What?

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ISIS Syria 2

I just heard an interview where the interviewer was talking with someone who left Syria just before the group ISIS (or Da’ish) began their campaign of retributive kidnappings and murders.  The interviewer asked why they stopped their humanitarian efforts of distributing blankets.  It was a confusing question since the interview centered around the worsening conditions for aid workers in recent years as well as the just confirmed death of aide worker Kayle Jean Mueller of Prescott, Arizona.  To a listener, it would make perfect sense why the worker stopped providing that aid and the question would’ve probably seemed unnecessary.

But in the follow up question, the interviewer asked the former aid worker if they were naïve for going to Syria in the first place.  Again, it was a strange question since, as the worker pointed out much earlier in the interview, conditions were very different at the beginning of the conflict and distributing the aid was both easier and more accepted by local authorities.

Perhaps, as is the practice of many interviewers, this is an example of covering all of the bases by playing “devils advocate”.  But to me, it’s less that than of the interviewer not listening to the answers or thinking through the history of a subject when preparing for the conversation.  These kind of questions are maddening because poor preparation or inattention by the interviewer can confuse a good topic and a cogent interviewee and leave the listener with no clear takeaway.

I’ve talked about this before; questions that dilute or miss the point.  It happens.  I just wish it happened a little less often.

Written by Interviewer

February 11, 2015 at 01:47

Rubber Hits the Road over Charlie Hebdo

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Rubber Hits

As Charlie Hebdo prepares to print 3-million copies of its monthly magazine that is normally only a 60,000 print run, the news program BBCNewsHour reports that BBC management did not make themselves available to speak about the question of whether it would display an image of the latest Charlie Hebdo cover; a cartoon characterature of the prophet Mohammed holding up a sign that says, “I am Charlie” with a tear in his eye and a caption below saying “All is Forgiven.”

BBCNewsHour subsequently said the image is being displayed, but far down and deep within the BBC’s website.  But since this is a blog about interviewing, I think it is very interesting that management of one of the most respected news organizations on the planet didn’t want to talk about a breaking news and key journalistic issue with one of their own journalists.

This, as I mentioned in my previous post about this, is where the rubber for journalists hits the road.  All of the support for Charlie Hebdo is crashing head-on into fears by management and audiences alike, especially in European countries where Muslim populations are high, of how much will supporting the ethics of free speech incite?

I guess when you don’t share a border with a country who was a former colony and for whom now, emigration is a historical reality, you tend to be a little braver.  And when you’re separated from some of those same countries that may be harboring terrorists by a couple of oceans, maybe you’re a little braver still.

In this country, if an indigenous ethnic minority, affiliated with some similar organization, employed radical, random and guerilla style insurgent tactics of terrorists with the frequency that they do overseas, we would likely be more sympathetic to what Europe is going through.  And some American pundits might not sound so much like Ironman.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but there might not be so many of them.

Written by Interviewer

January 14, 2015 at 04:37