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Writing for different media “Writing, when properly managed, is but a different name for a conversation.” Laurence Stern, 18th century clergyman and novelist
Print Advantages: • Can provide more depth, context and detail. • Readers can process at their own pace. Disadvantages: • Space is limited. • Emotion can be lost.
Broadcast Advantages: • Emotional appeal, realism and immediacy. Disadvantages: • Time limits and depth.
What the critics say • Broadcast journalism, critics say, treats news as entertainment. It avoids complex issues and sensationalizes conflicts, crimes, car chases. • Print journalism, critics say, isn’t entertaining enough and fails to connect with ordinary people.
What we do know • Watching or listening to a news broadcast generally requires less intellectual effort than reading a story. • Reading a news story in print is a one-dimensional experience.
And finally … digital Advantages: Immediacy like broadcast. Interactivity: can provide additional information with links, video and audio. Can be both brief AND in-depth.
Digital Disadvantages: Technology is changing at a rapid pace: requires constant learning. Technology can be seductive – raises genuine quality concerns. You can make your mistakes “disappear.”
The nature of broadcast As a rule, most broadcast news stories are brief; stories are measured by time. A typical TV news story may have just four sentences and last less than a minute. Broadcast scripts: 150-180 words spoken per minute.
The nature of broadcast Broadcast newswriting must be concise, and remain shallow. The writing must be fast-paced, but superficial. Broadcast news writers must quickly boil ideas down to the most essential thoughts.
In other words … “That’s the way it is. … for more information, consult your local newspaper.” ~ Walter Cronkite, late U.S. new broadcaster
Writing for broadcast Speaking out loud is not the same as reading: our brains receive the information differently. Differences in style and syntax. A story with compelling video or audio is considered more newsworthy than one without it.
Broadcast guidelines • Don’t write in the inverted pyramid form. • Broadcast scripts must finish strong. • Use present tense as often as possible. • Wrong:The government said North Korea was a threat. • Correct:The government SAYS North Korea IS a threat.
Broadcast guidelines • Use a friendlier, more conversational tone. • Write like you’re talking to family & friends. • Keep it short. Simple. Easy to follow. • One thought per sentence.
Broadcast guidelines • Contractions are acceptable, even for hard news stories. (“You’dthink that professors would have a clue …”) • Attributions and quotes are treated differently. • Psychology differs by medium. • Attribution comes first in broadcast.
Broadcast guidelines • Add phonetic pronunciation wherever possible. • Numbers: Round them off and spell them out. • Broadcast: “Eighteen thousand Hong Kong dollars.” • Print and digital: HK$18,000.
Broadcast guidelines • Use punctuation to help – not hinder – the delivery. • Avoid abbreviations and symbols. And finally … • It’s not about you.
Keep writing concise For example, consider this passage for print: The Japanese foreign minister today traveled to Beijing in an effort to repair and, he hopes, improve relations with the Chinese after the Japanese prime minister’s fifth consecutive recent visit to the Yasukuni shrine caused angry outbursts from the many Chinese who recall the history of Japanese atrocities on the mainland during the Sino-Japanese war.
Keep writing concise For broadcast, you can tighten to this: The Japanese foreign minister today traveled to China to repair relations between the two countries. The journey comes after Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s fifth visit to the Yasukuni shrine, and more angry outbursts from the Chinese.
Radio Radio: “Theatre of the mind.” Radio’s challenge: how to be heard. Radio news writers tools: spoken words, sounds and the human voice. Keep it simple, think of images.
Richness of language The conference hall was without any special decoration, just a large empty space awaiting the delegates. That made their entrance all the more colorful as delegates from the minority regions came in native costumes. The room seemed to glow in a riot of reds and blues and yellows. Long flowing robes, and multi-colored capes and hats. There was almost a festive air to start these serious proceedings. A line of young women carrying large bouquets of flowers kept the celebratory spirit alive and added the rich smell of a spring garden to the chill in the air.
Radio’s challenge What are the sources of information? To make your story better than the competition: Watch television for images Make some phone calls – interview!
Television Writing has a general structure: • An opening scene which may feature the reporter; • A development section where one or more characters may be introduced; • Short selections (sound bites) from interviews are used to emphasize key points; • A closing narration from the reporter.
Broadcast: examples China today launched its first astronaut into space, becoming only the third country in the world to develop its own capacity to explore space with human beings. [27 words, 10 seconds to speak]
Broadcast: examples Hurricane Allen is gone with the wind, downgraded to a tropical storm. Its winds greatly reduced, the storm is now moving from the Texas coast toward Mexico. But when Allen swept ashore in Texas from the Gulf, it caused extensive damage, though less than feared. [45 words, about 18 seconds to speak]
Broadcast: examples But what about … Hurricane Allen is gone, now just a tropical storm. As it moved from the Texas coast to Mexico, Allen left behind extensive damage but much less than originally feared. [29 words, about 12 seconds to speak
Beware of traps • Adjectives: • They are subjective. (show, don’t tell!) • Powerful facts can act as adjectives. • Demonstrations: • Get the best possible estimate and source it.
Digital • Writing for “scanners”: • Write a short summary and then provide links. • Writing for people who want depth: • Documents, transcripts, complete video or audio of interview. (“Snow Fall”)
Digital guidelines One idea per paragraph. Integrate keywords that “link.” Writing can be “one on one.”
Digital guidelines Create lists with bullet points: Forbes magazine predicted that the five most-visited cities in the world for 2012 would be: • London• Paris• Bangkok• Singapore• Istanbul
Online ‘bullets’ Press release text: Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. In 1996, some of the most popular places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,126 visitors), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge(85,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Range State Historical Park (28,446).
Online ‘bullets’ Online news story: In 1996, six of the most visited places in Nebraska were: • Fort Robinson State Park• Scotts Bluff National Monument• Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum • Carhenge• StuhrMuseum of the Prairie Pioneer • Buffalo Bill Range State Historical Park
Use, don’t abuse tech Live-blogging and Twitter are great tools for breaking news. • But no substitute for a proper story or package. Mobile phone photos & videos can add drama & impact to a story. • But no substitute for quality images
Use, don’t abuse tech Accuracy and verification remain the most important values. Delivering the news quickly is every journalist’s goal. But explaining what the news means is every journalist’s job.
Exploiting each medium • Does the story have compelling video? • Use video • Strong emotion? • Use audio of dramatic/emotional interviews • Lots of complexity? • Use text to explain and links for background
Think multiple platforms Stories come alive with voices from characters. • Quotes for print • Photos (slideshows) for online • Audio for online / radio • Video for online / broadcast
Want to learn more? Suggested reading: Chapter 10 of “English-Language News Writing,” Pages 235-267