Script Writing and Media Production
Radio, television, and online - or Web-based - journalism are specialized forms with unique demands and requirements.
Broadcast journalists use not only words, but also sound and video in constructing their stories.
What they write must be written to be heard, not read, by the audience. Like their TV counterparts, online journalists can include sound and video in their stories, as well as interactive elements that allow a reader to explore the story at his or her own pace.
The basic broadcast story forms are the reader story, the V/O or voice over, and the wrap or package.
• A reader story is a story without additional sound bites or video - usually presented by the newscaster in the studio.
• A V/O is a television term for a story told with video but no sound bites. The newsreader will read the script for the story while the video is playing.
• A complete story by a reporter is called a wrap or a package.
Broadcast stories are written for the listener’s ear, not the reader’s eye.
Journalists must write copy they can read out loud: clear, conversational copy that is easily understood. The broadcast audience can’t go back and take a second look or listen to a story that didn’t make sense the first time.
Broadcast journalists tend to be more concise than their newspaper colleagues. They have to be. The printout of a half-hour news broadcast would fill only a page or two in the newspaper.
Script Writing and Media Production
Broadcast news is written in a more conversational style than news in print. Put another way, broadcast journalists should write the way they speak. For example:
A newspaper story might read, “The man escaped in a red Toyota truck, police said.” But in broadcast, attribution comes first, so the script would read, “Police say the man escaped in a red Toyota truck.”
To maintain a conversational tone, broadcasters don’t need to use complete names and titles in news stories.
To make sure they know how to correctly pronounce difficult words, broadcast journalists often include phonetic spellings in their scripts.
Correct spelling also matters more today, because many stations post their stories online. Some stations also have computer software that automatically converts scripts into closed captioning or subtitling for their newscasts as a service to deaf viewers.
In both cases, misspellings reflect badly on the reporters and the station.
Broadcast journalists make a habit of reading their copy out loud before going on the air in order to catch problems, as well as potentially embarrassing double meanings that are not obvious on paper.
Reporting on a charity golf tournament, you don’t want to say that someone, played a round with the prime minister. (Play around, in English can be understood as misbehaved with.)
Even though broadcast scripts are written to be read out loud, it’s just as important to spell correctly for broadcast as well as print. Misspellings often result in stumbles or mispronunciations on the air.
Broadcast writers must be wary of language that might be correct on the printed page, but sounds ridiculous when read aloud. For example:
When the American actress and TV entertainer Lucille Ball died, a print story called her “the 83-year-old Ball.” On the radio, the story said, “Lucille Ball was 83 years old.” (It thus avoided confusion over other meanings for “ball” in English.)
You should also beware of words that sound alike but have different meanings. In English, for example, miner could easily be confused with minor. These words must be used in the proper context so their meaning is clear.
Writing News Scripts
journalists need to be able to pick the best, most newsworthy audio clips, and write clear and informative scripts that introduce the material they have collected.
The script is what makes sense of the sounds. It is the framework for your story. It brings together the most important elements, and helps your audience understand the significance of the points made.
Start the script by addressing the main point made in your introduction. Later in the script you can add context and analysis to try to help the audience understand the issues raised by those you are interviewing.
Always end your script with a fact and not a vague line such as "we will have to wait to see". Your audience wants information, not clichés. Consider asking your interviewees what’s likely to happen next and summarize their expectations in your last paragraph.
Read the script back to yourself. Have you left any gaps? Do you need to do any further research? Check it with a colleague.
The script should offer the audience introductions to the audio you are including. It should tell the listener what’s coming up without repeating the words they are about to hear.
Don’t summarize too much; you should not take away from the power of the clips in your piece. The language should be in the active tense. The most important information must feature in the first few sentences. However, the quality should be consistent throughout, and the script must not tail off at the end. You have a responsibility to set out the information in a way that doesn’t lead or mislead.
Writing a News Story
News writing uses exactly the opposite technique. You start with the essence of the story and then add extra information.
When you write an essay for a project or devise a presentation for a meeting, you assemble all the information, set it out in an orderly manner, link it together as appropriate, and finally present your conclusion.
It is an upside down pyramid, with the point - the conclusion - at the bottom, and all the supporting arguments and information above.
The nose of the news item is at the top of the pyramid, and then additional information is added according to its relevance and newsworthiness.
It's a simple but effective technique and it relies entirely on how well focused you are.
For example, the story headline could read, "The price of cotton has fallen by 15 per cent" you then add extra information - what impact will it have on producers, the textile industry, the national economy, world markets, consumer prices, employment, poverty; was it unexpected, what is being done about it, is it a short- or long-term change, how are people reacting to the news, and so on.
If you are very interested in this story, you will read every word, if not you can stop reading or listening, having established what the story is about by reading the top line. This structure is a pyramid.
Producing a News Story
Focus on who is tuning in for the information you are delivering and what they need to know. A local, region or national audience is not the same as an international audience. Each will have different needs, and will require a mix of information.
Structure, timing, and letting the interview breathe are the three essential elements for ensuring a general news package works.
It's also important not to cram too much into an item, perhaps just three points.
Writing is one of the most challenging journalistic disciplines. The simple editorial rule about creating short, clear sentences with a subject, verb, and an object is essential.
Don't try to be clever with words. Use words that make the most sense and can be understood by all.
Read through your bulletin several times. Shorten the sentences and replace complex concepts with simple terms that avoid any ambiguity or any possible misunderstanding.
Write news stories as if you were telling the story to a friend. This means: short, simple and straightforward sentences.
You need to be clear, focused and memorable. Crafting complex information into simple sentences is a skill. Don't obscure the essential facts with verbiage.
The bulletin should be a compilation of short but powerful stories. This format makes it easy for people to grasp the information.
Audio creates emotions. An attractive voice that catches the attention of the audience is important. The last thing you want is a grating voice that makes people switch off.
Avoid the sing-song voice that plays the same tune for every sentence, going up in tone at the beginning of the sentence and then dropping down at the end regardless of what is being said.
And never give the impression that you think you know more than the audience. There will be someone listening who knows far more than you. Never patronize.
Your audience will have a wide range of interests and concerns including health, education, jobs, homes, science and technology, culture, social developments, sports etc. Most of the time this means that you have to provide a mix of news, current affairs and other information items.
For example, If you are covering politics you must highlight how the issue affect the lives of your audience and not dwell on the politics alone. Always find someone affected by the issue and don't just feature those in positions of power who are talking about the issue.
Technology and social media are shifting the power balance from publishers and broadcasters to consumers.
The audience, empowered with tools to choose, create, enrich and share, is the new superuser, offering alternative sources and channels of information to those of mainstream providers.
To survive, media organizations must create a clear editorial differential and embrace changing audience behaviour.
Harness Social Media
Some have done well to adapt to their new role, others are struggling to keep up. Media organizations must harness social media for news gathering and news dissemination, and create fact factories to deliver content to every device their audience turns to for information.
By doing so they could free up resources in order to focus on producing quality, original journalism. If they don't they could suffer.
When publishing and broadcasting was just about print, TV and radio, the publishers and broadcasters, were the superusers.
Technology and social media tools have now made the audience the superuser. The audience is reworking content, enhancing it, making it more relevant for their peers.
We must watch and respond to changing audience behaviour to remain relevant.
Technology has empowered the audience to the point where they are now users rather than consumers.
Power and Control
The audience have choice, and turn to peer groups and trusted networks for news recommendations.
Content has to be available in the format the audience demands, otherwise it has less chance of being used.
Broadcasters and publishers no longer control the process, the audience does.
Most media organizations struggle with the fact that news has to be delivered to the audience on whatever device they turn to, not just on the main legacy platform.
The industry tries its best to respond as new devices/platforms appear. and things are changing.
Media managers and journalists understand that if they share and work together they can create a more dynamic, compelling and user-focused product than if they fight for the status quo.
Publishers and broadcasters have created websites and produced mobile and digital versions of their content to try to keep up. Much of it, is a copy-paste version of the main product, sometimes produced off-site, in some cases by a different team working away from the main newsroom.
This effort is fraught with problems, many of which are down to a lack of an overall editorial strategy by most media organizations.
Media and news organizations must ensure that they are delivering content to all devices that the audience is using to access information.
If there is a platform where they don’t have a presence, they are missing an opportunity.
If production priorities, workflows, roles and responsibilities and resources are all focused on one platform only, they may be not only limiting the growth of news organizations, but also losing audience and revenue.
S3 Type Story
This story type will be a general news piece that requires little effort. It will be a straight-forward breaking or developing news item.
For TV, it will probably be a voice-over script, perhaps with an piece to camera at the end. In interactive terms, it’s probably a straight 300-word read with an image or graphic.
An S3 story shouldn’t take too long to produce.
S2 Type Story
This story type is also important, but perhaps not the lead or second lead story. It will be a story that demands fewer resources and less effort.
For example, an S2 story type might have a shorter package for TV, with perhaps two clips putting different sides of the story, it will involve some footage, a graphic and there will probably be a piece to camera.
In interactive terms it will probably be a 300-500 word read with some video clips. There will be some social media response and one or two related stories.
It will take less time and effort to produce than an S1 and, therefore, the journalist producing it will be working to a shorter timetable.
S1 Type Story
An S1 story will probably be an exclusive, or a massive breaking/developing news story which is of importance to your audience. Therefore, it makes sense for you to ensure that you allocate sufficient resources to the story in order that it is told properly.
For example, an S1 story might involve a lengthy package on TV with lots of footage illustrating the issue being covered, there might be some graphics, and it could include a piece to camera (stand up), at the end.
In interactive terms, an S1 story might involve several related stories, video clips, an infographic, a bullet-point fact file, interactive maps, a photo gallery, and, perhaps, a poll/vote. It will certainly include social media engagement.
The parameters will have been set earlier as senior editors aim to cover the needs of the target audience, manage the newsroom resources that are available, priorities output, and ensure content is produced for all devices.
It helps editors brief reporters and producers because they already know what is expected.
And news delivery deadlines are clearer, and therefore more likely to be met.