Is that a Quote, a Bite or a SOT?

I’m a journalist and I work in a newsroom that isn’t print or broadcast. It’s both. In fact it’s all three. Every reporter, who does a story, is expected to produce it for television and radio, and they have to write a print version for the station’s website. If this sounds crazy you may have a point and reporting on three platforms has its challenges.

Here’s one. Cultures are different from one medium to the next. So is the lingo.

A verbatim quotation from a source you’ve interviewed is called a “quote,” but only in print. On radio, that quote is reproduced in audio and it’s called a “bite,” as in soundbite. But in TV it’s called a SOT. A what? SOT is an acronym that stands for Sound On Tape, even though nobody uses tape anymore (all modern technology is digital) and on TV it’s not just sound, it’s video too.

So what do you call a quotation from a source? Where I work it depends who you’re talking to.

After we started producing our daily evening television show I learned another piece of TV jargon. Pop. This refers to a piece of environmental sound you use to lend a story information or atmosphere. In radio we called it ambience. A normal human would call it… well, I guess they’d just call it sound.

There are other differences in jargon that are even more back-office. A short, produced broadcast story is called a package or a “mini” among the TV people. Radio people a superspot, not to be confused with a mere spot. By the way, if a radio story (spot news or otherwise) doesn’t have any ambient sound it’s just acts and tracks. Acts means actualities (soundbites in other words) and tracks are the reporter’s recorded voice tracks.

A “pinwheel” is a collection of stories by different reporters that are linked in a single broadcast. One reporter does her SOQ (Standard Outcue) then the next reporter states his name and launches the next story.

A similarly connected collection of voices of interviewees (on radio) is called a VOXPOP, and of course you can’t do your VOXPOP until you do you gather your MOS. Those are Man On the Street interviews, in case you wondered.

The former newspaper reporters in our newsroom are typically old dogs who think journalism is going to hell and their jargon is the most exotic. We give them puzzled looks when they ask why your story doesn’t have a nut graph. You can prewrite most stories, they say, just assemble the A-matter and fill in the news at the top when it arrives.

Okay, a nut graph is the paragraph in a feature story that tells what the story is about, and it typically follows the anecdote or scene-setter that opens the piece. A-matter is background information on a subject that remains the same whether the subject is current or past, alive or dead.

Obits are assemblies of prewritten A-matter that are just waiting for someone to die. Was it cancer or heart disease? That’s the news you fill in at the top of the piece. Did I explain what a piece is? You know what I mean.

The language that we call jargon serves a purpose. It’s conversational shorthand, of course. But it also tells us who’s in and who’s out. If you know the jargon you’re a member of the club. And the inability to agree on what you call a quote means you’ve got a workplace with social schisms.

Will the TV, radio and newspaper people at KPBS ever forge a common language? I dunno.

Let me say one more thing. There’s one old newspaper expression I’ve always loved. The highest compliment you can pay a reporter’s writing is to tell them their copy sings. Hearing that would be music to my ears! But that’s a cliche. Shit.



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