Announcing/A Brief History of Announcing

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This chapter examines the history of announcing, positioning it within the broader context of the art of vocally communicating to an audience.

Announcing's Ancient Roots[edit]

The profession of announcing is considered to be a relatively recent one. But the origins of modern announcing practice can be traced back thousands of years, to the earliest recorded efforts to improve the process of vocally communicating to a public audience.

Almost three thousand years ago, the citizens of Greece would debate the important issues of the day in the w:ancient agora of Athens. The agora was the public forum where decisions were made, justice was determined and policies established. Essentially, if you wanted to get something done in Athens, you went to the agora and gave a persuasive speech. Now as you might imagine, some people were better at giving speeches than others. Those who were good at it could make a pretty decent living by charging others for their talent. Some of the most successful ancient Greek "speakers for hire" became known as w:sophists, and their practice was called sophistry. Like modern day announcers, the sophists were professional communicators.

Perhaps the most famous sophist was w:Protagoras, who lived in the fifth century BCE. He was reportedly a master of w:orthoepeia, or the proper use of speech. In other words, he had a way with words. Perhaps his best known words were these:[1]

Man is the measure of all things:
of things which are, that they are so,
and of things which are not, that they are not.

Now think about that saying for a moment. It sounds pretty good, but what do you think it means? Some people think it means that people decide what is true and isn't true, at least for themselves. But it's not entirely clear if that was what Protagoras was getting at...and that may have been his purpose. You see, Protagoras and other sophists were skilled at speaking well; they didn't seem as interested in speaking clearly. That may be why today, the word sophistry has come to mean "subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation."[2]

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right)

It could be that sophists have been given a bad rap.[3] After all, just about everything we know about them come from their two most famous critics: Plato and his student Aristotle, widely regarded as the founders of Western philosophy. They didn't much care for the sophists. For one thing, they didn't think it was right to get paid to speak on behalf of others. But more importantly, they felt the sophists gave too much emphasis on form, and not enough on content. To put it simply, they argued sophists cared more about how they said something than what they said. And that could lead to people believing something just because it sounded good, even if it wasn't true. Sort of like a w:Ron Popeil commercial.

Aristotle did more than criticize the sophists; he wrote a book about public speaking, one that has informed much of western thought on the subject for over two thousand years. The book was simply called "Rhetoric," although today it is most often referred to as "Aristotle's Rhetoric."[4] It was written in Greek, of course, but you can read one of the more popular English language translations here. Aristotle is considered to be the founder of the field of rhetoric, the study of persuasive speech. Aristotle argued that if one is going to be successful as a persuasive speaker, one must not only persuade an audience, but speak the truth. Rhetoric would become one of the three original "liberal arts" of the trivium (the other two being logic and grammar), which was one of the earliest recorded organized approaches to education. For much of human history, becoming an educated person meant studying rhetoric.

So you might be wondering what all this ancient Greek stuff has to do with announcing. Well, it's important to understand that the professional practice of announcing is greatly shaped by cultural norms--widely held beliefs of what's right and wrong, good and bad, true or false. And many of our strongest cultural norms are rooted in traditions that date back to antiquity. So if you want to learn how to be a good announcer, a good place to start is by learning more about what people mean by "good." And a good place to start learning that is by understanding Aristotle's ideas about rhetoric.

The Modes of Persuasion[edit]

There were many things that Aristotle wrote about rhetoric, but much of what he said he summed up in this passage:[5]

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds.
The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker;
the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind;
the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.

These three "modes of persuasion" have come to be known as Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. You may have heard those words before, perhaps in a speech class. You may even remember what they mean. I'm going to suggest a real simple way to think about these three concepts. I realize that such an approach glosses over a lot of the details, but I think it fairly captures the "bare essence" of Aristotle's concepts. If you have a tough time remembering what these three important words mean, try this...

  • When you think of ethos, think of ethics. In essence, ethos is a persuasive appeal based on the ethical character of the person making the argument. If I say something like, "trust me, I know what I'm saying," and you have no reason to believe that I'm not a good and trustworthy person, you may indeed be persuaded to trust me. And if you do, I've just succeeded in using the first mode of persuasion: ethos. Of course, ethos is not exactly the same as ethical, but the two words share a common etymological history. The concept of ethos was one of Aristotle's main arguments against the sophists. In a sense, he was saying that the sophists' emphasis on the techniques of public speaking wasn't enough, that if you really want to be a good speaker, first make sure you are an ethical speaker. In other words, don't just speak...speak the truth.
  • When you think of pathos, think of "emotion." Of if you prefer, think of empathy or sympathy. Both empathy and sympathy contain the word "path" inside of them, just like pathos. And both empathy and sympathy refer to emotions. When you seek empathy from someone, you want them to share the emotions you are feeling, When you seek sympathy from someone, you want them to have emotions toward you (to "feel" for you, or "feel sorry" for you). In either case, when you stir the emotions of an audience--when you get them to cry or laugh or feel sad or feel happy--you are engaging the second mode of persuasion: pathos. So if I say something like, "you love your children, so please please buy life insurance so your kids don't have to go hungry if you die," I'm attempting to use pathos. I'm appealing to your emotional side. Many, if not most of the messages delivered by announcers make extensive use of pathos.
  • When you think of logos, think of logic. In order to persuade someone to do or buy something, it helps if it makes sense to do so. No matter how much of a believable person you seem to be (ethos), and no matter how much you engage my feelings toward your message (pathos), part of me will resist being persuaded if I can't grasp the logic of your argument. So the third mode of persuasion, logos, can be a very important part of a persuasive message. This is especially true if you are trying to persuade someone to do something that has significant consequences. There's very little consequence in deciding what kind of soda to buy. There's much more consequence in deciding what kind of house to buy. Announcers who work in broadcast news rely on logos (along with ethos and pathos) to communicate effectively. It may not seem like newscasters are in the business of persuasion, but to some extent they are, since they must persuade you to watch them, and hopefully watch them regularly. News stories that are clearly written, logically sound and internally consistent are more likely to be successfully communicated.

Ethos, pathos, logos... these three concepts of Aristotle's have had profound impact on our understanding of the process of communication for thousands of years. And they still have impact today. While we might use different words to describe these concepts, Aristotle's three main points about effective communication have withstood the test of time. They have certainly shaped the practice and study of public speaking, and by extension, they have significantly influenced many of the practices of the announcing profession. While announcers might not credit Aristotle for the role of ethics, emotion and logic in the effort to persuade an audience, these three "modes of persuasion" are very much apparent in much of what announcers do every day.

The Rise of Journalism[edit]

Powerful people (at least the smart ones) have long known that information about what was happening in the world could help them stay in power. Rulers would gladly pay for "inside information" about what their enemies were up to. Espionage is one of the oldest professions, and documented examples of spying can be found in ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Hebrew and Indian societies.

Thucydides

Now espionage and journalism may seem like two very different professions, but they share more than you might think. Both spies and journalists rely on carefully observing what they see. Both carefully document the details of what they observe. Both tend to identify the most relevant information from their observations by drawing from the dominant sociopolitical perspective of their culture. And both try to concisely but thoroughly report those details in a way that their "customers" can understand and take advantage of. Of course, spies usually work in secret, risking their lives in the pursuit of the "truth." Journalists only do that some of the time.

The nascent democracies of the ancient world recognized the power of information. Participants in the ancient Greek agora needed to be fully informed in order to make effective decisions. While many of the "speakers for hire" in the ancient agora were paid to deliver persuasive messages, others pursued the arguably more noble cause of regularly reporting information. And perhaps the most famous "reporter" of the ancient world was Thucydides, who pioneered a very careful system for documenting evidence in reporting.

The Birth of Broadcasting[edit]

The first time a human voice was heard on radio was on Christmas Eve (December 24), 1906. w:Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor and pioneer in radio technology, used this occasion to demonstrate a system for transmitting voice over the airwaves. Fessenden transmitted a signal from Brant Rock, Massachusetts to ships at sea, in which he included a reading from the Bible, some holiday music and a wish to all of the sailors who could hear him: "Have a Merry Christmas." Because his experimental broadcast included music from phonographic records, Fessenden could be called the first "disc jockey," although it would be decades before that term would be coined.

Notable Announcers[edit]


Wolfman Jack Johnny Gilbert

Notes[edit]

  1. This is referenced in Plato's Theaetetus, available from Project Guttenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext99/thtus10.txt.
  2. See http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/sophistry.
  3. For an interesting defense of Protagoras, see http://www.geocities.com/inescapableennui/s12.html.
  4. Actually, it would be more accurate to say Aristotle's book was called "Rhêtorikos," but even that is a "transliteration" of the actual Greek letters ῥητορική.
  5. This is from Part 2 of Book 1 of Aristotle's Rhetoric at http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/rhetoric.1.i.html

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