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00:00:09From The Center from the Study and Teaching of Writing at
00:00:10The Ohio State University, this is Writers Talk. I'm Doug Dangler.
00:00:15Scott Rankin has been a professional writer in media communications for 35 years.
00:00:20He has worked in multiple genres including news releases, news articles, brochures,
00:00:25proposals, adds, speeches and videos.
00:00:28He's been a writer, producer, director, teleproduction manager, state public affairs
00:00:33manager, and a local nighttime news producer, winning an ITVA golden reel and two ADDY
00:00:39awards along the way. He also scripted the weekly Ohio Lottery Cash Explosion TV game show and he'll let us
00:00:45know how writing can make cash explode. Welcome to Writers Talk.
00:00:50Thank you, Doug.
00:00:51Well, lets start off at the beginning. How did you get started as a professional writer?
00:00:54Were you really into commercial writing as a kid? Did you just love reading ads in newspapers?
00:01:01How does that get started?
00:01:03You know, I've really got to go back to Mrs. Gallaway's 9th grade English class.
00:01:07And like every other kid, I was suffering through English classes.
00:01:11I was doing ok, you know. You're conjugating verbs, you're remembering lists of helper words-- be, am , are, is,
00:01:18was, were, been, have, has, had, do, is, done. You know, all those things.
00:01:20Very nice.
00:01:21You know, but it was all just assignments and a chore and it wasn't until 9th grade Mrs.
00:01:26Gallaway had us doing some creative writing. She has us starting with short stories.
00:01:32So I had developed a little character called Aloysius and found that from week to week I
00:01:40can have Aloysius just do different things and have all these adventures.
00:01:44And all of a sudden writing was fun, it wasn't a chore anymore and that light went off.
00:01:50So, that was kind of the start. I think the professional aspect of it came in college and afterward with broadcast work.
00:02:00I was a radio TV major, so news, news writing and that kind of thing was a place to get that kind of thing started.
00:02:07What did you start off with at news and news writing? That was probably a different landscape at the time.
00:02:14Yeah. Coming out of school I started in some part-time and some small-town radio stations in
00:02:22Marion and Mansfield and Ashland. And so you'd fill in for the news director for the week and then you'd fill in for the
00:02:28sports director for a week and then you'd fill in for the guy doing the farm show for a
00:02:32week and all of those things had writing requirements. And deadlines.
00:02:38And so that was great discipline for learning how to write fast, to get done on time and be interesting.
00:02:48How did you make the farm report interesting?
00:02:52You just brought up the number of cows sold that week? What was your?
00:02:55I grew up in the country but I didn't listen to the farm report.
00:02:59Well I, for example, I'd never heard of such a thing called spaghetti squash, you know,
00:03:02until I was doing a farm report and talking to a gardener who was coming in with recipes for spaghetti squash.
00:03:09So that, you know, that's the kind of thing you find out when you're in that kind of
00:03:13learning and professional environment. So.
00:03:16You've. We've talked about a bunch of different genres at the beginning that you write.
00:03:20Tell me how you approach them differently if you're going to write a proposal verses an ad?
00:03:25Is there a different way that you do the setup to come to it?
00:03:28Yeah. That's. Honestly, that's got to be the most fun part of what I've been doing throughout my career.
00:03:35Because when you're writing for multiple medium, media, every genre has its own particular voice and tone.
00:03:45So what that means as a writer, you've got to have the ability to write in voices other
00:03:50than your own natural writing style. In fact, I write in enough types of things I'm not even sure
00:03:55I have my own original, natural writing style.
00:03:59But, you know, for example, there are times when I need to write journalistically.
00:04:06An example of that would be, there are little stories in The Columbus Dispatch that we do at Mills James.
00:04:15They're actually ads, but they run in the section called Columbus Market Place and
00:04:20they're written in classic, inverted pyramid, journalistic style with a headline, a
00:04:26photo, a cutline and 300 words of text. So, that's a very reportorial style of writing.
00:04:35Another would be writing promotionally, and that's a whole other genre of things.
00:04:44So those might include things like ads that might appear in Business First or trade publications.
00:04:51They might be brochures. A greeting card, you know.
00:04:56So. I've actually had my own Hallmark moment.
00:04:59You know, promotional brochures.
00:05:02We had done a new documentary last year called The Cartoonist. It's a documentary on
00:05:08the life and times of Jeff Smith, the artist behind the Bone series.
00:05:14So it was a media kit. It went out to the trade press and popular press.
00:05:24So for something like that do you pick up what they've already written on and?
00:05:28Or do you follow Jeff Smith around?
00:05:31How do you create something like this, a promotional piece about Jeff Smith?
00:05:34Well, in this particular case, the, much of the research work about Jeff was already part of the documentary.
00:05:42But this case of putting together a media kit that would be used, that the premier of the
00:05:48documentary at the Wexner Center, that tells the background of Jeff and the Bone
00:05:54series, for those who weren't familiar with that.
00:05:57About the making of the documentary, who all was interviewed for it and some of the
00:06:01behind-the-scenes kind of things and where it's going to be available and how and an
00:06:05interview with the director. You know, all of those types of things that end up making maybe a 30-page kit that would
00:06:13be distributed to the news media and anyone who would be interested in the creative aspects of it.
00:06:19How long do you have to put together a 30-page media kit on something like that?
00:06:23What's the standard time? Do you get a week? A day? An hour? What do you get?
00:06:27Well, you know, in the particular case this was about a project that we had produced so
00:06:32we could control the process a little more.
00:06:35So in the case of this, it might be in the order of a couple weeks.
00:06:39It might be something driven by a client deadline, which might be a day, might be an hour, you know.
00:06:47And. The whole deadline aspect of this part of the business is an interesting thing we can get
00:06:54into, you know, later here.
00:06:56It seems to me like you're paid by the project, not by the hour, so the deadline
00:07:00probably doesn't enter into the fees as much as I might imagine.
00:07:05No, not as much as you think it would.
00:07:07But no. But the whole promotional piece of it is another flavor of writing and there are others.
00:07:13Persuasive writing would be one of those.
00:07:18And that might take the form of proposals for projects that we might be proposing to do.
00:07:23And, so these might be 30 pages, 100 pages, lots of graphics, storytelling, descriptions,
00:07:31background strategy about how a project might go together.
00:07:35So when you approach something like this as a writer, you're incorporating, like you
00:07:40said, all these graphics. You've got somebody who helps you with the graphics or do you have to develop that sort
00:07:47of graphical eye that goes with your text?
00:07:51Well, working in a place like Mills James there's no shortage of great designers at hand
00:07:54to be able to give something a good look.
00:07:57Sometimes that's not possible because of deadlines. So we often work with graphical templates.
00:08:04And I've enough of an eye to be able to stay within a template and give it something of a look.
00:08:13That isn't too obnoxious. And if it's, if it needs something above and beyond that then we'll pull a designer in.
00:08:20So, sometimes it will be a custom look, sometimes it will be something that falls within
00:08:27a Mills James branded look and feel using more of a template approach.
00:08:28But it's still a lot of writing that's got to happen within that templetized show.
00:08:35I'm curious with that stuff that you do. If you?
00:08:37And you don't, obviously I'm not looking for name here, but you occasionally must come
00:08:40upon something and think, 'Oh, this client is nuts, you know.
00:08:44We can't do this with that.' How do you as a writer handle that and create something that
00:08:49still works for you and the person that you're working with?
00:08:54How is it that you negotiate that so that you feel good at the end of the day?
00:08:59Well, ultimately, we think of ourselves as problem solvers.
00:09:02So, at first blush a client may look like there's a request that's unreasonable, but
00:09:09underneath that, there needs to be a lot of good problem solving that's got to happen to
00:09:17address those kinds of situations. It might be a short budget, no time to work on it; there could be any number of things,
00:09:26but it's ultimately all just about good problem solving.
00:09:30Walk me through your day a professional writer. What happens when you come in in the morning and you say, 'Ok, I'm just going to start on
00:09:36the project I had yesterday.' Do you have a really set schedule or is it constantly changing?
00:09:42Well, that's part of the beauty of writing as a profession and that is that I can work from anywhere.
00:09:52So I may be in my office, in the building. I may be working out of my office at home as long as the Internet connection holds up,
00:10:00we're good to go. I might be working sitting on the rocks at Marblehead Lighthouse at Lake Erie.
00:10:07I might be on the lido deck of a cruise ship.
00:10:10You're making this sound better and better as a lifestyle.
00:10:13It does. It sounds very romantic.
00:10:15You know, from a lifestyle-freedom point of view it can be very freeing.
00:10:20The evil downside of that is the whole deadline aspect of anything that is, that involves
00:10:26business writing because, well, for example, I worked all Labor Day weekend on something
00:10:33that was due yesterday morning.
00:10:36You know, it might be a proposal that would be an all-nighter or two to meet a very difficult deadline.
00:10:42So, there's a price to be paid for that.
00:10:47And, Artie Isaac was on the show a few months ago, and of course Artie's one of the great
00:10:51creative minds of central Ohio.
00:10:53And I think he made the point in his presentation that deadlines can be very restrictive
00:10:58and inhibit the creative process.
00:11:01I've found, with my own background, it's just the opposite.
00:11:04Deadlines are kind of like Miracle Grow, they just make it sprout.
00:11:08Or maybe another way to look at it is deadlines are the vice that squeeze out those ideas
00:11:12drop by drop by drop.
00:11:15Wow, that may be the grossest metaphor anybody's used on the show.
00:11:23I'll tell that to students next time, 'Look at this deadline as the vice that squeezes
00:11:26out your good ideas.' So you did a show called, you wrote the script for a show called
00:11:32Cash Explosion and it's still on, you wrote it previously.
00:11:34How do you write the script for the show that I would have taken as a naive viewer as
00:11:40almost extemporaneous?
00:11:42That the hosts were saying things that were not scripted, but apparently they're scripted.
00:11:48That's the hallmark of a good writer for a show like that.
00:11:53I worked on the Cash Explosion show the first year that it came into Columbus and was
00:11:57produced from Mills James studios here, so that's been a number of years ago.
00:12:02But, it was my first experience at writing for episodic television week after week.
00:12:09And, in a game show, extemporaneous kind of format.
00:12:13And you very much want the show to have the appearance of just being done on the fly.
00:12:20And in reality, much of it is because the drama of Cash Explosion comes from the
00:12:26characters on the show itself.
00:12:29And it's kind of fun when you're watching game shows, you look at a show like Price is
00:12:32Right and the contestants are just getting all lathered up for the opportunity to bid on
00:12:39a 5,000 dollar set of bedroom furniture, you know.
00:12:43National television now. You know.
00:12:45And you think a show like Cash Explosion, which in reality it's the only weekly lottery
00:12:49game show that's on in the country, so that makes it kind of unique.
00:12:53And the weekly cash payouts on the show are huge.
00:12:57So it's, it kind of has the reputation of being the winningest show on television.
00:13:01So someone can buy a dollar Cash Explosion ticket, scratch it off, and if the right stuff
00:13:06pops up on the ticket, you're on a live TV game show with the ability to walk off with
00:13:11hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and that's not a 5,000 dollar bedroom set.
00:13:16And so there's a lot of drama that comes out from that kind of environment with real
00:13:20people -- bakers, bait salesmen, emergency room nurses that are, you know, are on the
00:13:26show participating on all the drama and the action.
00:13:29One of my favorite questions is what is your favorite genre to write and why?
00:13:34What do you really enjoy?
00:13:35You get the assignment and you say, 'I'm looking forward to this.' I think the favorite
00:13:40piece of it is writing for radio and for video and for television because you've got two
00:13:45columns to think about.
00:13:47You've got the whole visual channel of thinking about what's the concept, what are the
00:13:52locations, you know?
00:13:55What are the people being interviewed or the stories to be told, the animations, the
00:13:58motion graphics, all the things that are going to be happening on the screen?
00:14:01And then tying it all together with a cohesive narrative that we'd think of as the more
00:14:05pure form of writing because that's where the text is.
00:14:09But, being able to weave the two together and being able to think of both at the same
00:14:12time, like having to walk and chew gum at the same time as you're writing and creating.
00:14:18That's a stimulating place to be.
00:14:21I think the most challenging form of writing is the journalist kind of work that would
00:14:28express itself in you know, a Dispatch story, for example.
00:14:31You know. There's 300 words. That's it.
00:14:34So when I'm writing something like that I probably write long, I end up with a 500-word
00:14:38story and then ending up peeling it back a word at a time through these excessive little
00:14:45re-writes and say 'oh, I gained a word!
00:14:47There's another one!' You know, and you get it down to 300 words, each one carefully
00:14:52chosen for a reason to be there, you know.
00:14:56So every word has been agonized over.
00:14:58And. Which is fun in its own way.
00:15:01I once got under a word count by doing a lot of hyphenating.
00:15:04Is that a fair thing to do?
00:15:06That works.
00:15:07You can hyphenate and then the other short cut is just contractions.
00:15:11So it is becomes it's. Boom!
00:15:13There's a word, you know.
00:15:14So you play those games throughout, you hyphenate and.
00:15:16That's usually the opposite of what students in school are doing, which is, you know,
00:15:19pulling things apart to get to the word limit.
00:15:22So, what's you're favorite genre to read when you're not writing something like this?
00:15:26What do you go home and say, I write for a living, I want to read X. Well, I started
00:15:31out my career in broadcast news, small-town radio, and I was working at channel 4 here in town.
00:15:39I was a news producer for both 6 o'clock and the 11 o'clock show.
00:15:43And once you're working in the news business I think it causes chromosome damage because
00:15:46what ends up happening is you become a news junkie and it never quite leaves you.
00:15:52For me, newspapers, weekly news magazines, Time, you know, non-fiction, current event
00:15:59stuff is really my zone.
00:16:01Is that. You said it becomes an addiction, chromosomal damage, does that carry over to you
00:16:07watching things like a lot of CNN, a lot of the news channels that are 24-hour news
00:16:11cycles or are you still attracted to the print?
00:16:14Everything you've mentioned, obviously I set you up to do print, but does that also
00:16:19attract you, the news shows that are 24-hour news cycle?
00:16:24And primarily local news. I mean that's.
00:16:27I spend a lot of time with the local news channels and working in a home office
00:16:34environment gives me the freedom to engage that, kind of, guilty pleasure.
00:16:40It will be good.
00:16:42I'll send them a message of you calling them guilty pleasures.
00:16:45Well, you know, back in news room days, you know, they all monitor each other so there'd
00:16:50be 4, 6, 10, 28 all up on monitors at the same time.
00:16:54So the idea of watching one TV at a time at home is, it just doesn't seem right.
00:16:58It does seem limiting.
00:17:00Have you been able to make that pitch to anybody who lives in your household?
00:17:03Nobody is buying it yet.
00:17:06You've got a bachelor's degree in radio and television from Ashland University, master's
00:17:09of arts and communications with an emphasis on public relations from Ohio University.
00:17:13Ohio State.
00:17:14Ohio State University.
00:17:16That's damaging.
00:17:18Both wonderful schools.
00:17:20The logo is on the screen.
00:17:21Yeah, I know.
00:17:24What was the most useful part of getting those degrees?
00:17:27What was the thing that really has stayed with you that you think, this is what I really
00:17:31needed to know in order to be successful in this career? I think that as far as the
00:17:33Undergraduate degree, the ability to take writing and then fuse it with a medium so that
00:17:41you're not just being a writer in a generic sense, you're a writer in broadcast media.
00:17:50So you're coming out with sort of a hands-on background through class work and
00:17:55internships and all those usual college experiences that really set you up to be
00:17:59employable from the beginning.
00:18:01So, for the undergraduate piece, that was, that's the angle there.
00:18:07For graduate school, at Ohio State, The Ohio State --The Ohio State University.
00:18:18I think the course work, certainly.
00:18:19I got a chance to take some PR courses from Walt Seifert, who is a legend in PR circles
00:18:25and in this area and Dr.
00:18:27Joe Foley in the communications department.
00:18:29But the thing that was really the best experience, I'm going to reach down and grab
00:18:33something here, one second, was the thesis.
00:18:38You know, at first I kind of winced that the thesis track -- oh my gosh, I have to write
00:18:42one of those. But, it took two years to turn that bad boy out.
00:18:47But what came out of that was the discipline of good research, which is something I've
00:18:53used every day since then.
00:18:57-- of having to adhere to a very rigid format, in terms of its style.
00:19:04And with the consequences of knowing that this work is going to be judged by a jury of academic peers.
00:19:12And the degree will be rewarded or not based on whether or not this thing passed the test.
00:19:18So. In hindsight, after all these years, nothing I've written since has been as hard as that was.
00:19:27So, you know, that was a fabulous learning experience.
00:19:31What would you recommend for students contemplating degrees like the ones you have?
00:19:36Are they still really valuable?
00:19:38Is there something else that's on the landscape that you're seeing people come out with
00:19:40now that you think, Ok this is a really good degree.
00:19:43The landscape has sort of changed. There's a lot of changes in journalism, for example.
00:19:48Where do you see that headed for people in the future?
00:19:52Well, one of the emerging majors, there's one right here at this institution and that's
00:19:56digital media, which embraces so much of what's happening now with online communications
00:20:02in its many forms and social media and other emerging things.
00:20:08My fear about that type of a major is the same type of thing that you can say about a
00:20:13radio/TV major decades ago.
00:20:16It kind of dates itself and may not wear well over time, you know.
00:20:20It's very now.
00:20:25The advice I would give would be to attach writing to something that's got some strategy behind it.
00:20:30It's not driven by a media format like radio, TV, online anything, but is driven more by
00:20:38public relations, like a PR major or a marketing communications major or something that
00:20:45is tied to the why of communications.
00:20:50So the tool, whether it's video or the Internet or whatever it might be, the tool is kind
00:20:55of independent.
00:20:58That's something that can refreshed at anytime with continuing education.
00:21:02So, I think those types of majors probably will endure better over time.
00:21:06What do you think the market is right now for writers?
00:21:10What's your take on the landscape?
00:21:13Better or worse in the last 10 years? Last 20? What's it going to be like in the future?
00:21:17You know, I think the market for writers is excellent, but you have to look under the
00:21:23hood a little bit.
00:21:25If you are thinking, 'I want to be a writer,' and it's, you want it to be a pure play.
00:21:32You know, so they come out as an English major and now I'm going to be a writer.
00:21:39I would say those kinds of opportunities are pretty sparse.
00:21:43They're there in academic circles and teaching and those types of things, but beyond
00:21:46that, they're somewhat sparse.
00:21:48I would say it works better when writing is attached to something else.
00:21:53In terms of job opportunities, for example, the traditional journalistic writing
00:21:59disciplines are at something of a disadvantage now as of so many changes happening in the media.
00:22:07But there are other types of things, for example, just on Mills James' website, I checked
00:22:12it this morning and there is a job posting for it's called a video-journalist.
00:22:19That's an interesting job, so I look at what the title is and look down into it and it's
00:22:21someone who is a writer and, but can also shoot their own material and then edit and
00:22:27finish their material into a finished story.
00:22:32Writing is at the core of it because you're going to be a storyteller.
00:22:36So the ability to capture a story and articulate it.
00:22:38But then also having the technical and creative skills to take that story and finish it
00:22:42as a finished piece of video content.
00:22:45That's an interesting thing.
00:22:48So you take writing and you fuse it with an allied skill, now writing opportunities abound.
00:22:56So I've seen ads online and in the paper for things like grants writers for non-profit organizations.
00:23:04Well people who go into grants writing probably come out of a background in, perhaps,
00:23:07public administration or non-profit administration, but they're also, it's 80 percent
00:23:12writing and about 20 percent strategy.
00:23:16And, so where does that piece come from?
00:23:18So, there are a lot of great writing positions out there, they're always fused with
00:23:20something else.
00:23:23What industry publications do you follow?
00:23:25Or how do you keep up with your field?
00:23:27What really lets you know what's going on?
00:23:29Are you a Twitter junkie?
00:23:32That would seem to go with that whole news fix. Facebook? What is it?
00:23:38Well for me, and everyone's got their own kind of zone, but for me it's subscribing to
00:23:44Ezine so they just show up in my inbox.
00:23:48And these are daily or weekly things that I just need to be on the list for.
00:23:52And for me they tend to be things that are specific to the media and the production
00:23:56industry, with kind of a slant on marketing and PR.
00:23:59So, for example, there's one that comes out once a week called Klickz. This is about
00:24:06paper-click marketing and online marketing, those sorts of things.
00:24:10There's another one called Studio Daily, which is about the studio media production business.
00:24:16Another one called Millimeter, which comes out daily and weekly.
00:24:19Another one called Shoot, another one called Videonuze, all one word.
00:24:25These are all just e-mails?
00:24:26You know, it's an e-mail zine.
00:24:31And many of these are also monthly print publications with a component that comes out
00:24:34online daily or weekly.
00:24:36So, there are dozens of those types of things that just pop into the inbox.
00:24:42And I'm the kind of person who likes to forward things.
00:24:46So I'm, Oh, here's an article you might like, so all of the folks I work with keep
00:24:50getting these things from me.
00:24:52So what's the next big trend based on what you've been getting?
00:24:54What do you see that's really going to be the next Twitter, the next Facebook?
00:24:59What is your take on Yammer, for example?
00:25:02Well, I think.
00:25:05What's the next Twitter going to be?
00:25:07It's hard to know.
00:25:08It's Twitter.
00:25:09Yeah, I know, but what is clear is the transition of the whole media landscape to a
00:25:16mobile, handheld smartphone environment -- that's just inescapable.
00:25:20You know the idea, how are we going to be watching television.
00:25:23You know the idea of watching at home on a twenty-seven inch or a forty-two inch screen might be.
00:25:28I mean it's a nice way to view it, but it may not be the only way.
00:25:31That's how you get your multiple TVs, though.
00:25:35You can have four or five handsets arrayed in front of you instead of the televisions.
00:25:39Those of us that are thinking we're going to get, you know, stuck to an appliance
00:25:43someplace --a computer desktop or a TV desktop at home.
00:25:45You know, mobile is changing dramatically.
00:25:49So yeah, I may end up with a droid and, you know, an iPhone and have four or five of them.
00:25:55I'll put them all together with duct tape so I can, you know, watch.
00:25:58There's nothing ironic about the high tech being held together by duct tape.
00:26:01No, works for me.
00:26:02I like the way that works out.
00:26:04My final question in just the little bit of time we've got left.
00:26:08You work in the commercial field and you see a lot of other commercial products, right?
00:26:12How often do you say, Ee could have done that better or I really like what happened
00:26:16there? It's an occupational hazard.
00:26:21You're out looking at something and you think, 'Oh, here is a flaw.' I'm not asking for
00:26:25I'm curious.
00:26:27You end up being a major critic of everything media, you know.
00:26:33Whether it's news you're watching or films, you're not sitting there watching the movie
00:26:36and enjoying it, you're talking it apart.
00:26:39That's kind of an occupational hazard.
00:26:42As far as TV commercials are concerned, a lot of our clients at Mills James are
00:26:46advertising agencies so they bring in concepts that are all ready to go -- it's fleshed
00:26:51out and it's a matter then of taking a concept and executing it, you know, for the screen.
00:26:56So yeah, we'll look at a lot of stuff that's on television and say Wow, that's a badly
00:27:00executed piece of work there. That's a piece of very clumsy animation.
00:27:06What were they thinking? No names.
00:27:12Well I thank you very much, Scott Rankin, for coming on and talking to us today.
00:27:16Thank you.
00:27:17This is Doug Dangler.
00:27:19Keep writing.
Note : Transcripts are compiled from uncorrected captions