Reading the news off a teleprompter may sound easy, but it’s actually more complicated than it seems. Anchors and reporters have to develop a reading style that comes off as natural, but isn’t too fast, too slow, too nuanced, too accented, too high-pitched, too quiet, or some other extreme.
Practice Makes Perfect
The best way to start is to practice reading news stories that you’ve written for class. If your school has a student TV station, doing some on-air work there is also helpful, as you’ll probably be able to get a recording of it afterward. You can also record yourself with various apps on your phone.
It’s hard to be objective about your own reading, so it’s a good idea to ask others their honest opinions. Does your reading sound natural? Is it hard to understand for any reason? Would your listeners want to hear you read more?
Things to Work On
Speed is one important consideration when reading the news. If you read too slowly, viewers may get bored and impatient and consider changing the channel; if you read too fast, they may have a hard time understanding you. Typically news anchors read between 150 and 175 words per minute, and some stations may time new reporters or anchors to get a baseline for that individual’s usual reading speed.
If you find you’re talking too fast, it may be helpful to concentrate on enunciating clearly—sometimes this helps people slow down. Of course, people often talk faster when they’re anxious, and your first time reading a story on-air can be nerve-wracking, so sometimes the problem resolves itself after you’ve simply spent more time doing the job.
Talking too slowly is less common for students learning to read the news, but if this is a problem you can ask the teleprompter operator at your campus station to intentionally go a little faster than you. (It’s a good idea to practice this for a while when you’re not actually on-air.) If you’re practicing by yourself, you can try reading from a computer or tablet screen and scroll through the words a little faster.
Sounding Natural and Conversational
Another common problem students face when learning to read the news is sounding as if they’re reading. Most of us sound very different when we read something aloud than when we’re having a conversation with friends. It’s also very easy to sound robotic when you’ve been reading for a long time and your attention has started to wander—something that can easily happen to an anchor, particularly during a slow news day. (This is an especially big problem with morning shows, which can go on for 1-2 hours instead of 30 minutes, and often involve reading the same story several times.)
You can practice by reading a news story and pretending that you’re telling it to a friend. You don’t want to ad-lib or change the wording (which may be more formal than the way you normally speak), but you should otherwise talk the way you normally would. This can be difficult, especially if you’re also trying to speak more slowly or enunciate more clearly, but sounding natural is an important aspect of reading the news. After all, if viewers wanted to hear the news in a monotone, they could just ask Siri to read the day’s headlines.
Accents and Dialects
There are many different “accents” associated with American English. Depending on where you grew up, you may sound like a southerner, a New Yorker, or, if you learned English as a second language, you may have an accent associated with your first language.
While there is no single correct accent for American English, most broadcasters prefer reporters speak with a General American accent (most common in the mid-west and on the west coast)—or as close to it as you can reasonably get. Some people already do this, but for those with a strong accent, becoming more linguistically neutral can be difficult.
If you find you have a strong accent, you can listen to reporters or anchors who read the national news—those reading to the entire country have to be the most linguistically neutral—and practice speaking like them. Sometimes it’s helpful to listen to one sentence, pause the recording, and repeat it a few times yourself, then listen to it again. It may not be possible to get rid of your accent entirely, but if you can move it closer to General American, you will probably improve your prospects of finding an on-air job.
If you have difficulty shaking a strong accent, you might consider working in an area where that accent is common. Although General American is preferred in most places, the tendency to speak with a southern drawl likely won’t be as much of a problem in the south as it might be in other parts of the country, for example.
Of course, it should be noted that the United States has a vibrant foreign language news media. The most obvious is Spanish language, but there are Chinese, Korean and Japanese news operations as well. Univision and Telemundo (owned by NBC) are national networks, with local affiliated stations. The other languages tend to be represented by small, generally local outlets.
Adjusting Tone for Content
In general, when you read you should sound moderately upbeat, but not overly chipper. However, you’ll need to adjust your tone when reading somber stories, like those involving deaths or serious injuries. Sometimes slowing down and speaking more quietly can help you convey the seriousness of a sad situation.
This should extend to the whole story, including the reporter’s “standard out” and anchor tags. Recently there was a news story about the death of a twelve-year-old boy in a house fire. The reporter sounded appropriately somber while reading the details of the story. However, when she read her “standard out” (usually something like “Reporting live, Jane Doe for XYZ News”), she suddenly sounded very upbeat and chipper. My guess is that she practiced her standard out this way, and it probably worked fine for most news topics. Unfortunately, in this case it was a sharp contrast to the rest of the story and seemed both jarring and awkward.
For this reason, it’s also helpful if producers can plan content to avoid going directly from an extremely sad story to a happy one. There is no good way to transition from reading about a tragedy to “So, I hear we had an exciting day in the world of sports! Tell us more about that, Bob!” If you can wedge a more neutral story or a commercial break between sad stories and happy ones, you’ll be doing both the anchor and the viewers a big favor.