Reality television consumes a massive amount of air time on our cable/satellite waves. It also festers in our conversations and entertainment stories that we read online.
It seems that we talk more about trashy events on television or celebrities lives rather than serious issues occurring across the globe.
What can we as journalists learn from the popularity of reality television and gossip magazines, while also remaining the austerity and ethics of our own practice?
1. Being simple and to the point
It’s not hard to get the point when watching a reality television show. Often the story goes: this boy cheats on a girl– she gets revenge on him– huge fight and then resolution.
When it comes to structure, news stories are not so different. We point out the issue in the lede, explain both sides of the story and the action that goes on in between, and end with either a resolution or what may occur in the future.
However, our audience wants brevity and meaning with each word. That means that each sentence should keep readers or viewers on their feet, curious about what is going to happen next. While we want to put in every detail that we personally find important and hate it when our editor’s cut content, it’s a necessary action.
Let’s not muck a story by unnecessary details and make each word count.
2. Connecting with the audience
While an appealing factor of reality television is watching people who lead a different life, another contributing factor to the addictive viewership is the connection a viewer has with an actor or conflict.
It’s easy for reality television shows to connect with viewers since they market towards a specific group and create content accordingly, but news writers can also connect with their audience.
A journalist covers a massive trial and listens to the hearings, and speaks with the lawyers and attorneys. That information is important, but delve deeper. What about the family of the defendant? How are they feeling? What about the parents and friends of the victim? Readers may connect more with a conversation with the family rather than a lecture from a lawyer.
3. Conveying your voice
The actors in reality television shows definitely have a distinct voice. I’m pretty sure most teenage girls could recognize Snooki’s voice without needing to see her face.
Obviously news writers don’t convey their voice in the same sense as they want to remain objective, there is no reason that your writing (or broadcasting) should not have a distinct edge to it.
Think of your favorite news broadcaster or news writer. There’s a reason they’re your favorite and a reason they stand out to you. Whether it’s by the way they form their sentences, or their exquisite attention to miniscule details, every journalist has a voice.
Editors have a more difficult time connecting with viewers than a director for a reality television show does. But while maintaining our moral integrity, there are a few things that journalists can learn from these shows and appeal to more viewers.