About the presenter: Dale Williams, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, BRS-FD is a Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Florida Atlantic University, where he serves as Director of the Fluency Clinic. He is also a consultant with Language Learning Intervention and Professional Speech Services, Inc. A board-recognized fluency specialist, Dr. Williams was Chair of the Specialty Board on Fluency Disorders from 2008-2010 and currently coordinates the Boca Raton chapter of the National Stuttering Association. His publications include the books Stuttering Recovery: Personal and Empirical Perspectives and Communication Sciences and Disorders: An Introduction to the Professions (both published by Psychology Press [www.psypress.com])

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

The News About Stuttering

by Dale Williams
from Florida, USA

The most important aspect of the phenomena surrounding the movie The King's Speech is, of course, how it affects me. And one of the ways was an introduction to TV media.

It all began back in January when Osman Qureshi, one of the Boca Raton support group regulars, successfully made contact with a local health issues reporter. Said reporter agreed to do a story on our February meeting. Specifically, he was going to interview Osman and me individually, then collect footage of the meeting itself.

When the day arrived, the reporter put Osman on camera first, in the place where we regularly meet. Thus, Osman had to ignore people filing into the conference room and concentrate on reporter's questions. I observed this scene and decided that: 1) Osman is brave, 2) it will be great to get out the word about stuttering this way, and 3) I want no part of this. It's not that I can't talk on the topic; it's more that I have a propensity for saying stupid things and a gathering crowd would only inflate this tendency.

Fortunately, the reporter suggested a more professorial setting for my interview. Even better, my office, which is basically looks like landfill with a desk, fit his definition of professorial. So we bulldozed several piles away and the 3 of us - the reporter, me, and the technician (the reporter's son, who looked to be about 8) - gathered in my office and went through several questions. The tech then set his Game Boy down and filmed several minutes of the meeting. The reporter left with a statement that the footage would be edited into a story to be aired in about 3 weeks, to coincide with the telecast of the Oscars.

Well, the week of the Oscars arrived we'd heard nothing. I didn't know it at the time, but this was the first of many indicators of how the television industry works. On Tuesday, Osman contacted the reporter for specifics. The reporter's response was to request that Dr. Williams get in touch with him to schedule a live interview on Friday. This seemed like a good idea so, after 3 or 4 hours of shivering in a fetal position, I called. Here was the drill: I was to show up at a downtown West Palm Beach TV studio at 7 am and go on the air at 7:15. I would be briefed regarding the specifics, but was told to expect questions similar to what I had been asked at the support group meeting (like I really remembered those). My final instruction was to call on Thursday if I hadn't heard any specifics.

Thursday came and I had no additional information. Television industry indicator number 2. I called again and this time was given a list of 4 questions that the health reporter would ask me on the air:

  1. What difficulties are there living life with a stutter?
  2. Do people treat you differently?
  3. What help is there for people who stutter?
  4. If kids develop stuttering, what should parents do?
I would have 3-5 minutes to answer all 4 questions, the very sort of time pressure that stuttering individuals live for. As I looked them over, I realized that a lot of good information could be conveyed through my responses. What I mean, of course, is that I saw ways to manipulate the answers in order to talk about The King's Speech, the National Stuttering Association, Specialty Recognition in Fluency Disorders, my book, and, of course, me. The problem was keeping the answers within the assigned time frame. I edited and timed my responses, cutting them again and again. Finally, I had removed enough book references that I could do 3 minutes down to the second, provided I closely followed my talking points: Despite my scripted responses, there was a problem. Two actually. Seven in the morning is really early. On top of that, my son was working as a ball-kid for the International Tennis Championships and, because he was 16 and could not drive after 11 pm, I would have to stay until the last match was completed Thursday night. I had visions of third set tiebreakers and rain delays into the wee hours of the morning, but fortunately, the players cooperated with blow out matches and I was home by 11.

I wasn't sure where the studio was, so I got up at 5 am and left an hour later. Unfortunately, the reporter's directions were idiot-proof and I arrived at 6:30. Actually, that wasn't so bad as it gave me an opportunity to look over the 4 questions again and finish my travel mug of coffee.

At 7 am I went into the studio with the health reporter. I immediately found out that we had been bumped back to 7:45. I'll call this indicator number 3. A producer took down my name and affiliation and went over the protocol. The health reporter and I would be interviewed by the morning anchor--

"I thought I was doing the interview," said the reporter. For the purposes of this story, this is indicator number 4. You're not getting all of the details, so in real life I'm sure there had been at least a half dozen by this point.

There would be more.

Anyway, at this point the reporter protested that he didn't know enough about stuttering to be an interviewee.

This objection was ignored. Instead, we were given the first question the anchor would ask: What did we think of The King's Speech?

"Didn't see it," said the reporter.

As things were still relatively amusing at that point, I laughed and mentioned that this question was not on the list.

"We like to throw people curves," the reporter explained.

No biggie. I saw the movie. But now I had 5 questions to answer in mere minutes. I thought I could do that.

Then another change was suggested. After I babbled on about the movie, the health reporter would be asked a question about support groups. Quite reasonably, given that his support group experience consisted of roughly 4 minutes of filming, he deferred to me on that. But since it had been decided that he would be part of the interview, the producer wanted him to have something to say.

"What about the film I shot of the meeting?" the reporter asked.

"We couldn't get it off your camera. Bring in all the cords and we'll use it later."

It was about this time that the anchor came by. She seemed excited to see us.

"I want to ask about kids being bullied or teased," she told me.

"OK, I can do that." Actually, I was wondering what this would do to my planned 3-5 minute monologue. I had a mental image of that Ghostbusters' scene where Stay Puft Man explodes all over New York City.

The anchor also wanted to ask the health reporter about what worried parents should do.

"Why would you ask me that when you have an expert?" he asked. The anchor shrugged. I told the reporter what to say (and, to be honest, he seemed to know). Later, he would deliver the answer as if he'd done so a thousand times before.

Next we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, a director (well, somebody with headphones) shouted, "Doctor! Get to the set!" It seemed odd that a news show had the same notification system that my mom formerly used to tell me to clean my room.

Several people were available to direct me to a chair and attach a microphone to my lapel. Identical chairs were set up for the health reporter and anchor. These were placed so close together that I soon knew what kind of deodorant everyone was wearing.

"The camera doesn't have that wide angled a lens," explained the health reporter.

The anchor instructed me not to slouch on camera or I'd look "hung over," a directive I soon forgot. She then smoothed out a wrinkle on my sport coat and I think picked a piece of lint off the lapel. It was sort of like having my mom interview me. I half expected her to lick a Kleenex and scrub jam off my face.

While waiting, we watched the weather man. If any of you think you have silly jobs, try watching a guy point to various areas on a solid green square and say things like, "As you can see, there's a cold front over Louisiana, but I don't think it's going to be a player in our weekend weather."

Finally it was our turn. The first question was about The King's Speech. I was ready for it, though my answer seemed a bit long for the anchor's liking, based on the way she was tapping her notes. Then came 3 questions from none of the briefings. Watch me hem and haw (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiAnBPjD5x0 - or click on the picture below).

As we were walking off the set, I remarked that exactly zero of the 4 questions I'd rehearsed were actually asked. The reporter laughed and indicated that this sort of thing was not so atypical.

He added, "I'm not sure why they even bother with prepared questions."

The anchor came by before we left. She talked about a lot of things, but most pertinent to this conference was her expressed admiration for people who deal with stuttering.

On the way out, someone sitting at a computer (maybe he was the director) told me that the video of the interview should be up on the station's web site soon. Soon came and went and, well you know. In fact, 5 days passed with no clip. So I e-mailed the program director.

"The video you are seeking was not posted on our website and, since it was last week, will not be posted," she said, adding that I should contact the newsroom.

The newsroom referred me to a service that said they could send me the 3 minute clip if I paid them $60. I decided to try some other avenues before paying $20 per minute to watch people I routinely see on TV or in the mirror.

Meanwhile, people from the support group (along with students and colleagues) were asking me about 2 videos - the meeting and my interview. I tried the health reporter. He told me that the producer was out of town, that she would give me a DVD upon her return, and that I should keep checking the station's web site.

I emailed the anchor. The response: "Hello - thanks for your email.." I wasn't sure why a 5-word electronic form letter required 2 periods. Perhaps to add length.

I tried the station's web site manager. They "purge all video every day," he told me and suggested I try the producer.

But I already knew she was out of town.

On the various stuttering listservs, meanwhile, I was able to view several media reports related to the movie. As near as I could tell, every other interview about The King's Speech was linked to a newsy web site.

While contemplating this, I finally caught a break. ASHA sent out a media advisory template designed to help speech-language pathologists communicate with media about the movie. I sent it on to my university's PR department. In the same message, I asked if they could do anything to help me get a copy of the interview. Within minutes (yes, minutes), I had the clip and an explanation: "We have a TV service we subscribe to, so it was easy to find."

For them, maybe.

But what about the press release?

The academy awards took place 10 days ago, I was told.


"This is considered old news now."

And the video of the support group meeting? Never heard about it again.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2011.

SUBMITTED: August 29, 2011
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