Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Spoiling the teaser: the answer is "no"

Ever sat through a newscast to hear the news team answer their own question about what is to come, only to learn you waited for nothing at all?

It's a clever plot that leaves the viewer a little disgusted at their own gullibility, and it works more than we like to admit.

Here's what I mean:

TEASER: "We caught up with the team's star player after the game. Stay tuned to find out if he would finally comment about swirling trade rumors that could send him to Boston."
THE STORY: No, he's got nothing to say about that.

TEASER: "Stick around, more trouble for the ferry as it suffers an accident while docked in Ontario. Find out if the accident caused serious damage to the vessel on our exclusive report later in the broadcast."
THE STORY: There was no damage.

TEASER: "Would he respond to allegations of sexual misconduct?"
THE STORY: No. He wouldn't.

If the news team strings you along with a yes/no question to be answered later, the answer is no.

Why? Because if the answer is yes, it will either lead, or the teaser will be open-ended, like this:

"Big news from the team's locker room, as the star player finally addresses questions about rumors that he will be traded to Boston. Stay tuned to hear what he had to say about his future with the team."

"The ferry suffered a serious accident today, damaging the hull and delaying preparations for its maiden voyage. Don't go away, as we'll have a report for you on the extent of the damage and what it means to the project, later in the broadcast."

"Still to come, The senator opens up about his alleged misconduct, and has some harsh words for his critics. Find out what he had to say about the investigation when our reporter spoke to him this afternoon."

It's a dirty trick, but when reporters commit to a story but don't have anything to report, they need to make empty news appear to have some value to interested viewers. If they can’t say what they will tell, be assured, they have nothing to tell you but that they tried to make a story and the story fell flat.

If you want answers, and you are offered only two possible outcomes to the story you're waiting for, just say no, and chances are you couldn't be more right.