Chapter 7: Writing for Broadcast

Key terms and concepts

Chapter notes

Writing for broadcast takes a different level of skills than writing for print. The writer must use all of 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.

By the end of this chapter, 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 :

Selection of news
— While 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 impact 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.

In going over these considerations with your students, you may want to review the news values discussed in Chapter 4 and talk with them about how these values are changed or enhanced by the considerations of a broadcast journalist.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Chapter notes

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 web site.
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.

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 web site.

Network news sites. Each of the major television news networks maintains extensive news web sites. That makes it convenient to see how each is covering a news story. Select a major news story of the day and go to each of these sites to see what they have said about it. Does one site have more or different information than another. This is a good project to do when there is a big, breaking news story.
CBS News
ABC News
FOX News

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 web site 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.

RTNDA. One of the best ways to keep up with the state of broadcast news is at the Radio and Television News Directors Association web site. The foundation for the organization produces an extensive report each year on broadcast news and the public's reaction to it. Those reports are usually in PDF forms, and they may take a while to download, but they contain some excellent information.

State of radio and television. The Project for Excellence in Journalism has produced an extensive report on American news media. The report contains separate sections on network television, local television, cable television and radio, all of which are worth reading. The section on local television begins this way:

In nearly every aspect of local television - from viewership to economics to ownership structure - there are mixed signals of health and challenge. The next few years may determine whether the industry ultimately heads up or down. But at least one survey shows more people who work in local television news are pessimistic than optimistic about the industry's future.

Viewership of local news has begun to decline, much as it did years earlier in network news. Since 1997, the share of available viewers commanded by local early evening newscasts around the country has dropped 18 percent. . . (More)

Put your news on the pod. Podcasting is one of the new terms in online journalism. It simply means putting news and information into an audio MP3 format and making it available to folks who own MP3 players – millions of them. News web sites, particularly broadcast sites where this is a natural, are beginning to use this method to reach those who want to do more than just listen to music on their MP3 players, according to Jonathan Dube, (In addition to the MP3 players, there are lots of cellphones that have MP3 capability.) Dube cites an article in that says the BBC used this method for extending one of its programs late last year, and the file got 100,000 downloads. The technology and technique are not confined to broadcasters, of course. Any news outlet can create these files and offer them to an audience that might not otherwise be exposed to its content. (Podcasting comes from Apple’s iPod, which dominates the world of MP3 players.)





Additional resources from

Broadcast writing tips

What journalists and bloggers can learn from each other

Writing with verbs

• And check out the Broadcasting section of

1: Sit Down and Write | 2: Basic Tools of Writing | 3: Style and the Stylebook |
4: Writing in the Media Environment | 5: Writing for Print | 6: Writing for the Web |
7: Writing for Broadcast | 8: Writing Advertising Copy |
9: Writing for Public Relations | 10: The Writer and the Law |
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