Quotes are one of the key elements of a news story.
As reporters we’re always told to go out and get good quotes. Of course, you can write a story without any quotes in it at all, but it becomes a bit like an instruction manual. Boring as bat dung. Yes, it’s full of valuable information, but it’s hardly entertaining or genuinely informative.
Quotes don’t just break up the hum drum of hard news reporting, good ones breathe life into a story and help create colour and emotion. On the other hand, long, clumsy quotes are killers – they will kill your story. If you get into a long, involved quote readers will find it very hard to digest. They can’t follow the speaker’s train of thought and give up. They’ll turn the page or click to the next story.
Some people are brilliant when being interviewed by the media. Barrack Obama is a recent one, a great speaker who gives up some good quotes. Then there’s the great man – Gough Whitlam. Who will ever forget his words on the steps on Old Parliament House on November 11, 1975? “Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’ because nothing will save the Governor General.”. And of course Paul Keating. My all time favourite. Very quotable man.
Unfortunately we’ve also had some very clumsy, mumbling speakers. Bob Hawke used to umm and ah – although he did give us some great liners.
Of course not all quotes are great because they come from the mouths of great orators. George W Bush was deliciously quotable because of the ridiculous things he said.
One of the greatest in Australia’s history was of course Joh Bjelke Petersen. He referred to the media as the chooks and talking to the media as feeding the chooks. He hated the media. One of his quotes: “The greatest thing that could happen to the state and the nation is when we get rid of the media. Then we would live in peace and tranquillity and no one would know anything.” That was typical of Joh. He didn’t want anyone to know what was going on. He avoided the media, but when they did pin him down, they knew they were going to get a ridiculous quote, and they quoted virtually everything he said because it was hilarious. Or it would have been if he weren’t so powerful.
But they’re not really the sort of quotes we’re after. We’re after quotes that inform people, that help a story unfold. What does a quote do to a story? It injects a person’s voice into that story and breaks up the hum drum of our everyday reporting. And very often they give us a bloody good intro. But that’s a story for another day.