Thursday, November 7, 2013

What's the Dog's Name?

When I was a reporter, I often felt frustrated with viewers who seemed to focus on what I felt were inane details: what I was wearing, whether my hair was blowing in my face during a live shot, whether my lipstick was flattering. I kid you not.
And privately I would fume about all that inanity,waving my hands wildly and soap-boxing about how could they just gloss over the fact that I was talking about taxes. Or death. Or war. I mean, really.

At one point, a wise reporter told me that whether I liked it or not, the Golden Rule of Reporting was: Always Answer This Question:

What is the dog's name?

Simple. And so, so true.
Meaning, don't forget the details viewers care about.
Kinda like Elmore Leonard saying, cut the parts readers skip.

Because on tv, the viewers WILL care about your clothes and your look, and if you interview a guy about the fact that his property taxes just went up and there happens to be a dog with the guy, the viewers will email, NOT about the details of the taxes, but to ask WHAT IS THE DOG's NAME?
And I know this because it has happened to me, and thus  I do, I do believe in the Golden Rule.

So imagine my surprise when I became that dreaded viewer myself. The other day I was listening to a terrific interview on NPR. Steve Inskeep, who is brilliant, was talking to SECDEF Chuck Hagel about the future of training women for combat. This interview followed Secretary Hagel's lunch with some non-commissioned officers, one of whom was antsy during the visit because his wife was in labor.
And this detail was the LAST detail in the piece before Inskeep signed off.
And when he closed out the piece live on the air, I was waiting. But he never said it.
I wanted to hear the baby's name and gender!! That's how you end it!! You can't close with that cute little detail and then NOT say, in your live tag, "By the way, Corporal So-and-so and his wife had a baby boy/girl." You just can't. Golden Rule. (Ok, so adjust accordingly because probably Corporal So-and-so doesn't want his brand new baby's name broadcast.) 
But you can still tell us BOY or GIRL and thus tell us what the listeners want to know. Besides how we're planning to train women for combat.

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