Why Tease Writing Is Critical to a Successful TV Newscast

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Ask most TV news producers about writing teases, and you might see their eyes roll and hear them groan. That's because teases are an essential part of producing a compelling newscast, yet many producers hate doing them.

That's usually because tease writing has less to do with pure journalism and has more in common with TV commercials. So producers who aren't properly trained aren't very good at teases. With a few basic tips, they can actually look forward to this part of their daily grind.

News Teases: What Are They?

Teases are what the TV news anchors say to convince viewers to watch the newscast or to continue watching. They typically come in some sort of headline format before the newscast begins and at the end of each block of news, just before the commercial break.

Here's an example of a tease before a newscast: "Next on Channel 5 Action News, why the governor says he's not afraid to raise your taxes. A dog faces death in a house fire but barks his way to safety. Could a hurricane brewing in the Atlantic affect your weekend plans? And see how mushrooms could be the answer to a longer life. Channel 5 Action News is next."

Here's an example of a tease during a newscast: "Still to come on Channel 5 Action News, she's 105 years old but is the newest graduate of a local high school. You'll meet her and see why she didn't give up on getting a diploma. Plus, don't miss an incredible video of a man who survives a shark bite at sea. Stick around, more Channel 5 Action News is coming up."

The goal is to grab attention quickly to keep viewers from changing the channel or flipping off their TV set. As a news viewer, you've seen teases thousands of times. They seem simple to write, but there are key ingredients to remember when writing TV news teases so that you accomplish your goal of keeping your audience.

Knowing Which News Stories to Tease

A news producer may have 20 stories in a newscast. Some stories also appear on rival stations, such as a city council meeting or the governor's news conference. Other stories are unique to the station. Some stories could be considered "important" while others are features.

Just as the newscast itself is a blend of hard-hitting news and lighter fare, teases should also reflect that variety. Teases that contain nothing but car crashes, or on the flip side, stories about puppies and children would indicate that the newscast is lopsided toward one type of content.

In deciding which stories to tease, a producer should consider the station's target audience. That is often determined through focus group research.

That research likely already has a role in which stories get covered. If a producer is in charge of an early-evening newscast that is geared toward women, then teasing stories about health, raising children and quality-of-life issues would be one way to reach them. While this is only a generality, most TV news consultants would advise avoiding teasing crime or sports in that kind of newscast, unless there's a human interest component beyond the basics of the story.

Video Is Important in Teasing Stories

Because we're talking television, video is important in crafting an effective tease. Occasionally, a story is so compelling that words alone will convince people to watch, but that is a rare exception.

It's not just having video, but having the right video, that will make teasing easier. Shots of people sitting around at a meeting will cause yawns from your viewers.

If a news reporter covers a city council meeting about all the potholes in your city, there's an opportunity to entice people to watch the story. That is to show a close-up of a car's wheels banging through a pothole, while writing, "Some local residents are fed up with this rocky ride around town. See what they're telling city leaders to do about these potholes of peril."

The much more common, and lazy approach would be to show the city council meeting, while writing, "The city council met tonight to discuss the problem of potholes on some local streets. We'll have a report from city hall coming up."

That second example not only didn't use the best video available, but the words also didn't contain much energy. A city council meets regularly on all sorts of issues, so the producer didn't sell this story as being interesting to watch.

Common Mistakes in Tease Writing

There are all sorts of sins when it comes to tease writing. The penalty is a wasted opportunity to grow your newscast's Nielsen ratings.

The first common mistake is to ignore any sort of viewer benefit of watching the story. "The Legislature met today to talk about taxes. We'll have more." Far better would be, "Find out which legislators want to raise your taxes.. and by how much."

Another mistake is to include meaningless words and phrases, which dilute the pitch you're trying to make. "We'll have the story." "We'll have more." "Details ahead." Obviously, the story is ahead.

A third mistake is to write a tease that doesn't pass the "So what" test. "Doctors have new information about vitamin C." Tell viewers why they should care, instead of allowing them to say "so what?" "Doctors have new information about vitamin C and why getting too much of it can be bad for your health." Now people want to know whether that glass of orange juice may be hurting them.

A final common mistake is over-promising while under-delivering. Think of a restaurant that promises the world's best apple pie, only to give you something that came out of a supermarket freezer. You would never order the pie again. So, if you say a story is a must-see, incredible, unbelievable with never-before-heard information and money-saving, life-changing tips, make sure you deliver on your promise. Most viewers won't stand for being fooled but once.