Audio Story Formats
The dramatic unity structure is to broadcasting what the inverted pyramid structure is to newspaper and web writing.
The most common structure for broadcast news is called dramatic unity.
This structure has three parts: climax, cause and effect.
The climax of the story gives the listener the point of the story in about the same way the lead of a print news story does; it tells the listener what happened.
The cause portion of the story tells why it happened — the circumstances surrounding the event.
The effect portion of the story gives the listener the context of the story and possibly some insight about what the story means. The following examples will show how dramatic unity works (note, too, some difference in style rules from print):
Taxpayers in the state will be paying an average of 15 dollars more in income taxes next year.
The state senate defeated several delaying amendments this afternoon and passed the governor’s controversial revenue-raising bill by a 15 to 14 vote. The bill had been the subject of intense debate for more than a week.
The bill now goes to the governor for his signature. Estimates are that the measure will raise about 40 million dollars in new revenue for the state next year. Elementary and secondary education will get most of that money. Passage of the bill is a major victory for the governor and his education program.
Many children in the city school system will begin their classes at least a half hour later next year.
The City School Board last night voted to rearrange the school bus schedule for next year as a cost-cutting measure.
The new schedule will require most elementary school children to begin school one half hour later than they do now. Most high school students will begin one half hour earlier.
Broadcast journalists think of their stories as completed circles rather than inverted pyramids. While the pyramid may be cut without losing the essential facts, the broadcast story, if written in this unified fashion, cannot be cut from the bottom or anywhere else. It stands as a unit.
Broadcast journalists and their editors are not concerned with cutting stories after they have been written to make them fit into a news broadcast. Rather, stories should be written to fit into an amount of time designated by the editor or news director. For instance, an editor may allot twenty-five seconds for a story. The writer will know this and will write a story that can be read in twenty-five seconds. If the story is longer than it should be, the editor will ask that it be rewritten.
Because they are so brief, broadcast news stories must gain the attention of the listener from the beginning. The first words in the story are extremely important. Getting the attention of the listener is sometimes more important than summarizing the story or giving the most important facts of the story. The broadcast news lead may be short on facts, but if it captures the attention of the reader, it has served its purpose. Here is an example:
The lame duck keeps limping along.
Congress met for the third day of its lame-duck session today, and again failed to act on the president’s gas tax proposals.
The first sentence has very little in the way of facts, but it gets the listener into the story. This sort of story structure is only appropriate for certain stories, however. If the facts of the story are strong enough to gain the listener’s attention, they should be used to open the story. For example:
The five-cents-a-gallon gas tax is law.
The president signed the bill authorizing the tax today while vacationing in Florida.
In both of these examples, the writer has not attempted to tell the whole story in the first sentence. Rather, the stories have attention-getting leads and are then supported by facts and details in subsequent sentences. This structure for broadcast news writing is a common one that should be mastered by the beginning student.
Here are some more examples of newspaper/web stories and the attention-getting leads that could be written for broadcast:
Americans overwhelmingly oppose the taxation of employee benefits, and congressmen who tamper with such tax-free worker benefits may face trouble at the polls, two Roper Organization surveys say.
Keep your hands off employee benefits.
That’s what Americans are willing to tell congressmen who want to tax things like retirement payments and educational allowances.
The United States is turning out inferior products that are too costly for foreign customers and the problems go beyond a strong dollar, high wages and high taxes, a presidential commission reports.
Many American products aren’t worth what we are asking for them.
A lone juror, a city sanitation department supervisor, forced a hung jury and a mistrial of Midville Mayor Reggie Holder’s trial on perjury and conspiracy charges involving alleged illegal campaign contributions.
One man has made the difference in the perjury and conspiracy trial of Midville Mayor Reggie Holder.
Audio stories are measured in time — minutes and seconds. While a newspaper can devote 300 words to a story, a broadcaster may have only twenty to thirty seconds for it. The broadcast writer must keep this time factor in mind during every stage of the writing and editing process. Broadcast news stories cannot go into the detail and explanation that print or web stories can. The broadcast writer has to omit certain facts and explanations if the story is to fit into the time allowed.
Get a FREE copy of Kill the Quarterback
Get a free digital copy of Jim Stovall's mystery novel, Kill the Quarterback. You will also get Jim's newsletter and advanced notice of publications, free downloads and a variety of information about what he is working on. Jim likes to stay in touch, so sign up today.