Tom Snyder, the news anchor turned host of the long-defunct “Tomorrow” show on NBC, would occasionally get asked about writing. He would famously reply: “I can’t write. But I can write 90 seconds of television.”
Snyder’s answer was a snarky assessment of TV news as much as his own talent. It also overlooked the genuinely thoughtful writers of TV news: Charles Osgood, David Brinkley, Bob Dotson and Tom Petit (who? I loved Petit in the 80s) on a national level; Marc Pickard, Jon Shirek, Jaye Watson, Jerry Carnes, Jeff Dore, Randy Travis and a few others locally.
For the rest of us, see the video above.
When I worked at a TV station that valued every manner of so-called breaking news, and boilerplate surveillance-video “exclusives,” (“take a good look at this man…”) I often leaned on formulaic writing. With every deadline seemingly a few minutes away, and the stories mere variations of the story told the day before, the formula worked. Nobody called me on it, because the stories were clean, understandable and made slot. My formula included the occasional offbeat adjective or adverb, which gave the writing a bit of faux creativity. But I knew it was formulaic.
My position at WXIA has raised my game somewhat. The stories are more varied. The talent in the newsroom, writing-wise, is the best I’ve ever seen. But this blog also plainly showcases the limitations of my own writing talent, which seems to lean to the straightforward, with a decent grasp of basic high school grammar and spelling but little flourish. Every morning, I wake up irritated that I can’t write with the elegance of Shirek or Pickard, or with the madcap observational ability of this guy.
I’m now struggling a bit, writing-wise, with some specials that will air in February. The subject matter calls for new formulas.
I’ll figure it out. But my inspiration won’t come from Charlie Brooker or Tom Snyder, though both men are obviously inspired in their own way.
Snyder, especially, for the haircut alone.