How American broadcasters all ended up sounding the same

How American broadcasters all ended up sounding the same

How American broadcasters all ended up sounding the same

  • A viral clip showed a reporter switching from her “broadcast voice” to her natural Boston accent.
  • The typical pattern of broadcast speech, which has no regional accent, is a holdover from the 1970s.
  • An expert told Insider that broadcast voice standards were set when the industry was less diverse.

New Hampshire. Khakis. The water.

Depending on where you are in the United States, these words can sound very different when spoken by people with regional accents. But you’ll rarely hear those differences when surfing the news broadcasts and listening to the anchors talk.

A viral clip of a journalist switching from her carefully practiced “broadcast voice” to her natural Boston accent caught the internet’s attention over the weekend and sparked a virtual discussion about media standards and the lack of regional accents in the information disseminated.

“The response has been incredible,” Ellen Fleming, the reporter for local news station WWLP-22News who posted the video of herself, told Insider. “I didn’t expect it to go viral, I just thought it was a dumb video. I’ve had colleagues in the past tell me to drop the accent for the industry, so I worked on it.”

Experts tell Insider that the stereotypical broadcast voice, identified by sharp enunciation and a distinct lack of regional accent, is a holdover from the newscasts of the 1970s and 1980s, when media was less diverse and expectations of professionalism meant that everyone looked and sounded the same.

“There was definitely a set pattern that people wanted to follow, whether it was how they presented the news with voice, or how they presented themselves in a visual sense as well,” Kathleen Cairns, Voice Trainer for Journalists and communications strategist at reputation agency The Fallston Group, told Insider. “You know, the women had the same hair. The men were trying to look the same.”

Shirley Brice, founder and owner of Talent Trainers coaching services, told Insider that women back then were expected to practice lowering their voices and avoiding a very feminine intonation — and that unspoken expectation remains just as pervasive today. today than she was during her years as a broadcaster in the late 1990s. Fleming told Insider that she, too, always practices speaking in a lower voice for broadcasts.

In the early nightly news broadcasts, typified by anchors like Walter Cronkite, reporters spoke with an authoritative cadence and rhotic dialect. Rhotic speakers utter the hard “r” sound in words like car, bar, and farm, and wherever they are written in a word, where non-rhotic pronunciations turn “r” sounds into “ah” sounds, like cah, bah or fahm or selectively uttering hard “r” sounds.

“There’s something called a newscast type voice,” Brice told Insider. “And I really try to train people not to have that voice. In fact, I regularly train people to sound more like themselves. People try to imitate other presenters and journalists, and to in my opinion, it causes them trouble.”

While broadcasters still typically use rhotic pronunciations, voice coaches like Brice and Cairns are now focusing more on training the sibilant “s” sounds and reducing high voice and vocal fry when working with journalists. Upspeak involves the speaker’s pitch rising instead of falling at the end of a sentence as if asking a question, while vocal fry is a specific clicking of the vocal cords – often characterized as a “Valley Girl” voice – that some listeners find grating.

“We’ve definitely evolved, just like the news industry has evolved, to a different mindset,” Cairns told Insider, adding that listeners are now looking for signs of authenticity from their personalities. media. “With people being inundated with content, their expectations have changed. People don’t want the typical woman with big hair and a perfect voice, with a certain look.”

Instead of trying to weed out regional accents like Fleming’s Boston pronunciations, Cairns told Insider, speakers who speak with accents should just focus on making sure their speech patterns don’t distract. not what they are trying to say.

“It’s like your hairstyle – you have your own style of voice.” Cairns told Insider. “Use it. It’s part of what identifies you. Don’t let it distract from the message.”

Listeners reacting to Fleming’s viral clip echoed the sentiments of seeking authenticity shared by Brice and Cairns, calling for more regional accents in broadcast news and describing his accent as “so pure and awesome” and “endearing.”

“A lot of people tell me to keep my accent and that news anchors should have regional accents,” Fleming told Insider. “I’ve definitely reconsidered using my regular voice on my shows.”

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