8 – Writing for Broadcast Journalism

Writing for broadcast takes a different level of skills than writing for print. The writer must use all the techniques that he or she has learned in writing for print and must refine those techniques for broadcast copy. The most important of these techniques is that of condensation. The broadcast writer must learn to select and condense information. The writer must learn that an even higher value is placed on brevity than in writing for print.

Audio is the great underdeveloped tool of journalism. Audio has been confined to radio and the forms and production values that radio has constructed for its use. Today, however, audio can be used in a variety of ways that we already know of and some, we hope, that have yet to be conceived.

Explore with your students what they think of audio. Everyone has an iPod or some audio listening device. It’s standard equipment for today’s young people. Music is probably what they listen to the most, but there may be other things that they put on their iPods. They may be using them in some inventive and creative ways.

What do your students know about recording sound? Do they realize how important it is to get clear, crisp sound? Do any of them have any techniques they would like to share?

What recording devices do they have? How do they use them? You will probably have students who are clueless about all of this, but you may get some students who are very sophisticated in their understanding of audio.

This chapter seeks to introduce students to the concepts of using audio as a journalistic tool for gathering and presenting information. The power and uniqueness of audio should be emphasized in your discussions with them.

Video is more familiar to your students, undoubtedly. Video too has been freed of the strictures of television news and may be used more freely and creatively.

In this chapter, students are also introduced to traditional story structures for broadcast writing and to come of what it takes to put a newscast together. Finally, students learn something about conducting an extended interview and putting together a documentary and using these forms on the Web.

By the end of this and the previous chapters, the student should understand this demand for condensation and brevity that is made on the broadcast writer. The student should also understand the essential differences and similarities that exist between writing for broadcast and writing for print.


Key terms and concepts

Students should understand the following terms and concepts:

Differences in style — Throughout this chapter a number of differences in writing style between broadcast writing and writing for print are mentioned. Style rules in broadcast writing are designed primarily to make it easy on a news reader to read out loud. Sentences are short, and punctuation should be kept to a minimum. 

Ambient sounds — the sounds that occur in the environment in which people talk and operate.

Multiple tracks — mixing sounds from two or more different sources.

Framing — what is included in a video shot.

Headroom — the space between the top of the head and the top of the picture in a video shot.

Phonetic spelling — Broadcast writers should learn how and when to use phonetic spellings for words or names that will be unfamiliar to the reader. Students should remember that broadcast copy is often written on deadline, and news readers may not have time to practice reading their copy before they go on the air. A good exercise for students is to have them spell their names phonetically.

Writing for the ear, not the eye — This is the key difference between writing for broadcast and writing for print. Students need to understand that what they are writing will be read aloud, not read silently. The listener has no opportunity to go back and “re-hear” a news broadcast to see what he or she has missed. In that regard, clarity in writing becomes one of the chief goals of the writer.

Selection of news — Although many of the basic news values are still at work in the selection of broadcast news, the broadcast journalist works with an additional set of considerations. Timeliness is one of the most important of those considerations. Broadcast news emphasizes immediacy; the news that is the latest is often the news that is mentioned first. The emphasis on information rather than explanation is another of those considerations. Students should understand that the broadcast medium is generally not one that allows time for a full and complete development of a story. Getting information to listeners and viewers is of primary importance. The audio or visual impression of a story is another important consideration in the selection of news for broadcast. A story that has good pictures or compelling audio is likely to be used over a story that does not.

Dramatic unity — The most common story structure for the broadcast news story is dramatic unity with its three parts: climax, cause and effect. Students should also understand the importance of an attention-getting lead in making sure that listeners hear and understand their stories. Such leads require a deft touch on the part of the writer. They may look easy to produce at first glance, but they are more difficult to do well than they appear.


Chapter notes

Broadcast writing tips. If you learned to write for print first (and most of us did), you may have a bit of trouble switching to writing in broadcast style. Laurie Lattimore has compiled a list of tips for making the switch. That list is on the JPROF.com website.


Newswriting for the radio. Don’t forget about the radio. Broadcast writing is just as important, if not more so, to radio broadcasters. This site offers advice and tips on all types of radio stories including in-depth and vivid styles.


VOA News. One of the best broadcast news sites is that of the Voice of America. VOA is operated by the U.S. government and broadcasts news around the world in more than 50 languages. VOA has a tradition of presenting the news in an unbiased way —even when the news is not favorable or is embarrassing to the government. An additional benefit of the VOA news website is that you can hear the broadcasts in various languages as well as read the news in those languages. If you are trying to learn a language, the VOA news site might be of great help to you.



War News Radio. Students at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania have created an Internet radio station devoted to covering the war in Iraq. But their station, called War News Radio, is different. Instead of gathering Associated Press and other news service reports and repackaging them, they are creating their own reports using sources that are not often heard from and technology that is not often used by news organizations. The students troll the Web for sources of information about Iraq — many of them in Iraq itself. Then they use an Internet telephone service called Skype to call these folks up, interview them and put together their stories. The result is something you would not hear on most radio news broadcasts, even National Public Radio, which, by the way, did a story about War News Radio in January and interviewed two of its producers. Another story about War News Radio has just appeared in the Los Angeles Times. War News Radio is the product of some innovative thinking and initiative, and it could happen anywhere.





Boom goes the dynamite. This is a must see for aspiring broadcast students. No matter how hard you try, you are bound to make mistakes along the way. Hopefully, you won’t ever have a broadcast go as badly as this one did for a college sportscaster.


Cybercollege. A good Cybercollege site on production values.


 Newslab. This site argues for improved quality in television newscasts.



Breaking in. Want to advise your students as to how they can get into broadcasting? The Poynter Institute (which has a whole section on broadcasting journalism) has a timely article on tips on getting started in broadcast journalism. Here’s how it starts:

Dig hard, write well, and maybe even sweep a few floors.

Broadcast professionals say that’s what young journalists should do if they’re serious about pursuing a career in the competitive field of news broadcasting.

Television and radio students who want to stand out from the crowd must become enterprising, information-sniffing archaeologists, said Al Tompkins, Poynter’s broadcast journalism group leader.


You can find the entire article at the Poynter website.



Poynter has a wide variety of articles about all phases of journalism. The people at Poynter also respond daily to the major issues and controversies facing the profession.

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