Writing for Broadcast - Storytelling

Fasten your seatbelts! I'm going to tell you something that will "stop the presses."

You will now unlearn all the rules of writing every English teacher has taught you since the third grade! In fact, the simplistic writing of the first and second grade (See Jane run. Run, Jane, run.) is now your goal.

Writing for broadcast requires clear, concise, and cliche­ free structure. It is as simple as Subject- Verb-Object. Your story will have a greater effect if you keep this in mind: one subject per sentence; one theme per story.

Why so simple? Think about it. Broadcast transforms your words into electronic impulses that are there one moment, then gone. When you read the newspaper, a maga­zine, or a textbook, you can back up and re-read that complex sentence with multi­ple clauses, break it down, and then com­prehend the context. Unlike the previous sentence, you can't back up the spoken word.

Another important characteristic of broadcast wntmg is the conversational tone. Often an insecure reporter will try to overcompensate and used lofty words, phrases, and sentence structure in hopes of convincing the viewer that the reporter is intelli­gent! But in reality all this does is make the viewer work harder to comprehend and in doing so, the viewer risks los­ing track of the continual stream of information. When you're speaking with your parents or your best friend, do you use such complicated language? No. So why would you make it harder than necessary for someone who doesn't know you at all?

As a broadcast reporter you will need to take each story and figure out what is the most important fact. You should ask yourself before you begin any story, "Whly do I care?"

This is where you begin to develop your news judgment. If you cannot answer the" WIlY' question, then perhaps you need to dig deeper or find another story. Remember report­ing has a competitive component. You will find that reporters at competing stations will also have the same story. You must find a way to do it better - better sources, better storytelling, better visuals. Viewers have plenty of choices; you want them to recognize your work as the most accurate, most thorough, and most compelling.

Storytelling

When reporting think of telling a story. Remember the fairy tales of childhood? Sure you do! Why? Because they were simple, they were told in a conversational, one-on-one tone, and they were structured. The storyteller used the structure of beginning, middle, and end. The storyteller painted word pictures to stimulate your imagination. You must do the same with every news story.

Every "good" story (report) has a beginning, middle, and an end. Let's look at Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Beginning: Once upon a time there were three bears that lived in a little house in the deep woods. Their names were Papa Bear, Momma Bear, and Baby Bear. One lovely, spring day they decided to go for a walk.

Now before you think I've totally lost it, notice I just properly identified the sources (who), their location (where), the time (when), the activity (what), and the rea­son (why). Your stories must contain the 5-W's of who, what, where, when, and why. Leaving one out will result in an incomplete report. You must also go a step further and include "how."

Middle: While they were gone a little girl with golden locks found their house. Goldilocks went in and found three bowls of por­ridge on the table. The first bowl was Poppa Bear's and it was too hot. The second bowl was Momma Bear's and it was too cold. But the smallest bowl was Baby Bear's and it was just right, so Goldilocks ate up all the porridge.

Are you getting the picture? Goldilocks goes through the same repetitive action for chairs and beds. Repetition helps us remember - be aware of it in your copy. You don't have to continually use different words with the same meaning to tell a "good" story/report.

End: When Goldilocks saw the three bears she jumped up and ran out of the little house in the deep woods. Goldilocks was never heard from again and the three bears lived happily ever after.

Remember every good story has a beginning, middle, and end; an introduction, a body, a closure. Write conversa­tionally. Paint word pictures. Be creative with your words, not with the facts.

Next month:  Broadcast Structure


Yvonne Cappe is a broadcast journalism professsor at the University of Kentucky and a former newsroom executive producer.  She as the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Communications and Information Studies at the University of Kentucky.

Republished from Broadcast Basics by Yvonne Cappe, published by Marion Street Press, 2006