Scripting the News

When I first heard about scripting news packages, it seemed redundant and time consuming.

Scripting in film seemed necessary, but for multimedia journalists (MMJs) who are shooting and writing their own pieces, it seemed silly.

Perhaps this was because it was explained to me like this: scripting is important so that the story can be easily imported onto other platforms such as the teleprompter or the web.

I struggled through my first few scripts, editing, and often times redoing. Then it suddenly hit me.

Logging tape and scripting is not just for the ease of others in the newsroom, whether editing the package or in the control room. Scripting ensures the most control of the package, and when mastered creates a stronger, more directional story.

If news packages are thought of as mini-documentaries, similar principals should be applied.

Documentaries do not just unfold together, but like any other film need direction. With out direction, it is pointless to brainstorm an angle to take the story, because it is too easy for the story to take a mind of its own.

Especially when making a demo reel, it is vital to have the best products put forward. Preparing your packages allows you to look the best to your future employer or intern supervisor.

I do want to note that some instances are exceptions.

For instance, stand ups. While I usually have a few notes or churn in my mind along the lines of what I want to say, I typically don’t script it or memorize it. This causes it to be less emotional or natural, and instead causes the need for multiple takes, because of stress to get it “right” the first time.

This is something I’ve had to practice again and again, and am still working on. Stand ups are supposed to offer an “at the scene” feel of urgency.

At some time in your career as a journalist you might have to piece together a package without getting a chance to churn out a script. It is a good skill to have. However, often times as students we don’t have the same burning deadlines as those in the industry and will rarely feel the pressure of “breaking news.” Therefore, we can craft our pieces with care and precision.

I wanted to share an example of a script I worked over my summer internship.

I was given many tips by various reporters/MMJs my time there, but one producer I worked with gave me the best applicable tips.

The first tip she gave me was that even if the piece was a stand alone, to still write an anchor’s introduction. It is a good habit to get into. “Write the intro like you’re telling your mom what happened in the story.”

The package I worked on was about illegal tattooing and a teenage girl who allowed herself to be in a dangerous situation because she wanted a tattoo.

My intro became:
It is not uncommon for young people today to get a tattoo. Tonight we bring you a story that all parents should listen to, about a teenage girl who gets a tattoo from a mere stranger.

It is important that this intro is a lead into the story, precise, yet doesn’t give everything away. It is a lot easier to write this before the rest of the script, otherwise it is hard to be creative and not create repetition to voice overs used in the script. The intro is like your first instinct.

The next step in creating a script is logging tape. This means listening to your interview and choosing the best clips. Even a 2 second clip can be very powerful. Also, scan for natural sound bites that can be laid over voice-overs or popped in between clips.

Once the best clips are selected, make the script as conversational as possible. Just like in print journalism, voice-overs should be an introduction to what the interviewee is going to say.

A great story can be created purely with clips. News often times does not have the time available for feature length packages, and therefore a reporter’s voice drives the story. Make sure that your voice-overs add to the story, and that each clip you use is not wasting time.

The example I give you is a 1:20 minute script and package. If natural sound pops are used, this can lengthen the final product, but also add a lot to it, so keep these extras in mind!

The tag can be a voice over or a look live and is the appropriate time to add in any additional comments or parts of the resolution not covered. It can also add a website, or contact information if needed. I usually over think the tag, but it should be one of the easiest parts of the script!

You’ll see included my script and the final package. Good luck with your future packages!


MelHeadshotMelissa Prax is currently a student at The Ohio State University. As an editor and promotional video producer for the honors and scholars program at OSU, she is continuing to do what she loves in and out of the classroom. Her first taste in writing and editing goes back to her high school's Interactive Multimedia class. Now news director, PR manager, and a member of the cast and crew for Buckeye TV, Ohio State's student run television station. Melissa also writes for the Her Campus branch at OSU, a national online magazine geared for college aged women. Her hobbies include running, music, yoga, adventure sports, and traveling.