How “Radio Magic” Helps You Sound Articulate

Posted November 10th, 2010 in Uncategorized by Jeff Bentoff

Get nervous about talking to a reporter, especially if it’s for radio or TV? Thinking: “Will I sound stupid?” “What if I say a lot of ‘um’s” and ‘uh’s’?” “What if I stumble through my answers?”

Never fear. Thankfully, you likely will be rescued by the magic of editing.

I was reminded of this phenomenon by this great NPR piece about radio editing that re-aired on “On The Media.” The story referred to such editing as “radio magic.”

Reporters – print, TV and radio – will often, and usually unconsciously, help clean up your actual remarks. Why? Not necessarily because they want to help you. Mainly, because crisp, articulate interviews make for more compelling reading, listening or watching – and shorten the length of pieces.

This won’t be the case if you’re the president of the United States (think of the wide coverage in all media of verbal gaffs by presidents, such as George W. Bush) or if you were  just charged with a crime. Assume under such circumstances, every poorly chosen word, every pause, every um, will be parsed and reported.

But for the average interviewee – a small business person or the director of a non-profit – other motivations are in play to make you sound halfway intelligent.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should be careless when talking to reporters. As you hopefully learned growing up, you can’t assume that someone else will clean up your messes for you. But still, it might be of some comfort to know that the system conspires to avoid making you sound like a total idiot.

A print reporter will often either paraphrase a poorly worded answer or pull together the best parts to make a partial quote, a quote with ellipses or sometimes even a new quote.

On TV, assuming you’re not live, a reporter will let you give your answer again (unless it’s a “60 Minutes”-style interview) to avoid a jumbled sound bite that serves no one.

And on radio, it’s even easier to edit, as there’s no corresponding video to worry about. The On The Media piece is worth listening to online, especially if you’re an NPR listener. It might surprise you to hear how it’s done, and how often.

Just how do the reporters and interviewees always sound so good? Radio magic to the rescue.

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