By Mark Willis, RTDNA Region 4 & 5 Director
Recently I put some thoughts down as to why there has been a flood of mispronounced words on the air. It really is embarrassing for a station to put someone on the air that doesn’t know how to pronounce community street names or towns correctly. It shows the station disconnect with the people they are licensed to serve. It also shows that the news person is not willing to take the initiative to learn about who they are broadcasting to and where they are broadcasting from. Here is my take on it. Be more than a prompter reader. Be more than a radio script reader. Learn about your community. Get it right and say it right. Several people agreed with me.
Bill Deane wrote: “Yes, when I was told I had mispronounced a word as a young wise guy kid, new in the business, an old pro explained, somebody has to set the standard or we won't be able to understand each other. And that's what it's all about, isn't it? When I got to the network, I quickly learned how important my bosses considered the use of words. And they are right. We must have communication in this communications business.”
Bob Beyette wrote: “The first thing I teach new news people at my station is that the name of the Village of Chauncey, Ohio is pronounced CHANCE-ee. Also in Ohio, Lancaster is pronounced (LANG kuhss tur). I once heard a CBS anchor pronounce a town in Georgia as Mar-teen-ez. Nope. The name of suburb of August, where the Augusta National Golf Course is actually located, is pronounced mar-TUH-nez. Everywhere you go something is going to be pronounced in a way you might not expect. I once lived in Humphreys County, Tennessee. That's pronounced Umphreys. I've always wondered that if a former US vice president had come from Tennessee, if he would have been called Ubert Umphrey. By the way, my last name is pronounced BAY-et.
Sandy Heimlich Hall wrote that this problem isn’t unique to news people. Disc Jockeys also have had the same problem: ” I learned the hard way as a young thing right out of J-school it is better to ask first, then look like a moron after.(Lone Butte - I figured it was like butter without the "r". Wrong.) These days I often find myself having to read a sports cast on radio due to staffing issues. Even though sports interests me as much as a jab in the eye. I always check the names. Especially tennis. Come on - are those real? Let me leave you with this -- it's not just the news people that can make a station sound idiotic. We had a disc jockey go on air to put out a wind warning for the Juan de Fuca straight. Do NOT read that phonetically. He did.”
But where does the problem really start? Is it with the newscaster or reporter? Or is it with the station management? If you are a newsroom manager, lead your troops. Give them the tools they need to succeed, as Rob McLennan describes: “The first thing journalists in my newsroom receive is a pronunciation guide featuring phonetic spelling of local places, streets and towns. This document also contains a warning: if you're not sure, ask before going to air. Any ND who does not take these steps is asking for trouble. Listeners/viewers believe 'outsiders' do not understand local issues, and that is poison when it comes to credibility.”
Nikki Burdine is taking things a step further. She wants to leave some helpful information for the next person. She writes: “As a local news anchor and reporter --- I completely agree with you. I have though, been guilty of mispronouncing towns, streets, etc, especially the first week in the job here. For the most part, viewers were kind and sent an email to the tune of, "sweetheart, we know you're not from here, but it's pronounced xx." I responded to the emails with a big THANK YOU! Because otherwise, I would have never known I was saying it wrong! Like all cities, Lexington has towns, streets, etc that most people would pronounce one way, but here in Kentucky, it's another way. Example: Versailles, Ky, is not pronounced "ver-sigh." It's "Ver-sails." Exactly. So while I should have asked before I sat on the desk the first time, I certainly agree that station management should have a sit-down with talent about common mispronounced words in the area. Maybe I will create an index of "how to say things in Kentucky the right way." That will be my legacy here :)"
The key here is for you to lead your station. Millions of dollars in equipment, the latest technology on live trucks and a dozen reporters on staff are not going to help the station credibility, if you fail to capture the basics. People will not call you for the most part, to compliment you for a job well done. But they will certainly call you when you drop the ball and mispronounce something on the air. Set the standards for exceptional coverage in the field and in the studio. You are just a click away from your audience finding your competition which is doing it correctly.
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