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Broadcast vs. Newspaper and Web Writing
Broadcast News Writing 231
Broadcast Script Format
Broadcast scripts are written in two columns, with directions for the technical crew
on the left and the story text on the right. Most newsrooms use a computer program
that automatically formats the scripts. The reporter’s text is usually in capital letters,
while the sound bites are in uppercase and lowercase letters. Sources for sound bites
are identified by a machine called a “character generator,” which produces titles that
are superimposed under the video to identify the speaker.
TV stations have different methods of writing directions. Some stations
identify sound bites as SOT, meaning sound on tape. At KTUU each sound
bite is on a different tape so the bites are identified as A roll on one tape, B roll
on another tape and so on. Many of the terms previously used in scripts are
changing. The script should contain a slug (a one- or two-word title), which
is usually assigned by the producers. The reporter’s copy is usually written in
capital letters, and the sound bites are typed in uppercase and lowercase letters.
While you no longer have to be concerned about typing directions in columns,
you should not split or hyphenate words at the end of a sentence. Remember
that the script will be read on a teleprompter, and the anchor or reporter needs
to see the whole word.
Here is Jennifer Zilko’s script about the eagle story; compare it with the print
story that follows from the Anchorage Daily News.
SHOW EAGLES IN SOAP
TREATING THE EAGLES
THE BIRD TREATMENT AND
LEARNING CENTER IS TRYING TO
SAVE THE LIVES OF MORE THAN A
SINCE LAST NIGHT 18 BALD
EAGLES HAVE BEEN BROUGHT
TO THE CENTER AFTER DIVING
INTO THE BACK OF A TRUCK FULL
OF FISH SLIME IN KODIAK…AND
MORE ARE ON THE WAY.
TAKE: TAKE SPLIT
AND AS CHANNEL 2’S JENNIFER
ZILKO TELLS US – WASHING
AMERICA’S CHERISHED BIRDS IS A
VOLUNTEERS, IT TAKES ABOUT AN
HOUR TO CLEAN EACH EAGLE.
232 Part 3
TAKE: A ROLL (Jennifer speaking)
(also called SOT—sound on tape)
TAKE: B ROLL (also called SOT)
(This is the sound bite
and the time on the tape plus the CG)
Cindy Palmatier, director of Avian care,
Bird Treatment Center
TAKE: AUDIO CUE
TAKE: C ROLL (third sound bite)
CG—Gina Hollomon, volunteer,
FIRST EACH BIRD IS DUNKED
INTO A WARM BATH OF SOAPY
THE SECRET WEAPON?
DAWN DISH SOAP.
AFTER BEING METICULOUSLY
SCRUBBED, THEY’RE THEN RINSED.
VOLUNTEERS GO THROUGH
EVERY FEATHER ON THE EAGLE
TO MAKE SURE ALL THE SOAP IS
BUT EVEN AFTER THE WASH—
SOME OF THE EAGLES AREN’T
<12:53 We have to wait until they’re dry
and then we go through a sniff test. If
they smell like a wet eagle, you’re good.
If they smell like Dawn, you’re good. If
they smell like fish, not good.03>
IF THE EAGLE SMELLS LIKE FISH
IT IS SPOT WASHED AGAIN.
THE REASON IT’S SO CRITICAL
TO GET ALL THE OIL OFF IS
THAT EAGLES REGULATE THEIR
TEMPERATURE WITH THEIR
FEATHRS AND THE OIL INHIBITS
THAT ABILITY—MAKING THEM
SUSCEPTIBLE TO HYPOTHERMIA.
BUT EVEN THOUGH IT’S GOOD
FOR THEM SOME OF THESE EAGLES
DON’T EXACTLY LIKE HAVING A
ONE VOLUNTEER GOT NIPPED
<27:31 No hard feelings, none whatsoever.33 If I was being manhandled,
I might nip myself. 38>
TAKE: LOSE IT
Broadcast News Writing 233
THE CENTER SAYS EACH OF THESE
EAGLES EATS ABOUT 400 GRAMS
OF SALMON A DAY SO THEY’RE
ASKING FOR PEOPLE TO DONATE IF
YOU HAVE SOME EXTRA SALMON
IN YOUR FREEZER.
JENNIFER—WHAT CONDITION ARE
THE EAGLES IN AT THE CENTER?
PALMATIER, THEY’RE ALL DOING
WELL EXCEPT FOR ONE OF THE
THE CENTER DEEMED THAT
EAGLE IN CRITICAL CONDITION
BECAUSE IT’S HAVING A LOT OF
PROBLEMS WITH TEMPERATURE
THE CENTER WAS EXPECTING
TO GET 13 MORE EAGLES IN TODAY
BUT THE WEATHER IN KODIAK
WAS TOO BAD TO FLY THEM TO
Courtesy of KTUU-News Channel 2, Anchorage, Alaska
The story posted on KTUU’s Web site was offered in video, not text. This is how the
Web page appeared after the eagle story aired:
The Web site for the Anchorage Daily News also featured the eagle story with a
photo slide show:
Courtesy of Anchorage Daily News, Anchorage, Alaska
234 Part 3
Here is how the story was reported in the local newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News.
Note that in the print version of the story, the reporter used description that would
be unnecessary with video. Also notice that the print version is more thorough than
the broadcast version, and attribution is usually at the end of the sentence.
Slimed eagles get
SURVIVORS: 20 others died
in a truckload of fish waste.
The hot, humid air inside the warehouse smacked of fishy funk, giving
away the 18 bald eagles tucked into kennels inside. They, along with 13 others
still in Kodiak, were the lucky ones.
About 50 eagles swarmed into an
uncovered dump truck at a Kodiak processing plant Friday, leaving 20 dead
after being either crushed or drowned
in the fish-gut sludge inside, according
to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Now the survivors need a bath.
“We’ve never seen a flood of bald
eagles like this before,” said Megan
Pool, events coordinator at Anchorage’s
Bird Treatment and Learning Center.
“It’s definitely more than we’ve dealt
with at one time, ever.”
The last batch of surviving eagles
was scheduled to arrive Monday afternoon but could not get off the ground in
Kodiak because of inclement weather,
Pool said. The U.S. Coast Guard hopes
to fly them up today, she said.
The influx has strained the resources
of the center, which has three paid staff
members and about 60 volunteers, Pool
said. Despite the strain, volunteers
were on track to finish hour-long baths
for each of the raptors on hand by late
Monday, she said.
Cleaning the eagles requires scrubbing them off with unscented Dawn
dish detergent to remove the fish oil and
slime that soaked their feathers, then
rinsing them in a wood-framed structure covered in plastic to keep things
hot and humid.
After they are rinsed, the birds are
placed into individual kennels in a
warming room, where propped-up hair
dryers blow hot air on them, though
they continue to need supervision.
“They can overheat, now that they’re
clean,” said Barbara Callahan of the
International Bird Rescue Research
Center. “These birds are exhausted, and
they really couldn’t be more stressed.”
After they dry, the birds are reevaluated to see if they are completely
rid of the oil, which keeps them wet
and reduces their ability to retain their
body heat. Those that still need scrubbing are spot-cleaned, particularly
under their wings and on their upper
legs, Pool said.
While most of the eagles looked
understandably irritated at the process,
one, No. 08-03, remained in critical condition, its listless body leaning against
the back of the dog kennel where it was
drying. Its blood work—yes, the eagles
are having lab work done—didn’t show
any problems, but its body temperature
remained low, Pool said.
Broadcast News Writing 235
Like all the rest, No. 08-03 is a
male, said Mary Bethe Wright, a board
member at the center. Nobody knows
why female eagles escaped the stinky
fish waste, but the women workers
seemed to enjoy the gender bias.
“I don’t think we have any idea. The
females were smarter, maybe,” Wright
said with a laugh.
The opportunistic scavengers eat
about a pound of salmon a day at the
center, which cared for 44 bald eagles all
of last year and is asking for help with
heating costs—the building is being
kept near 80 degrees—and donations of
Recovered eagles should be released
in a few days, Pool said, but getting them
back down to Kodiak may be a challenge
because of weather and expenses. Even
if they make it to Kodiak, they won’t be
released in the same area, she said.
“We always try to release the birds
as close to where we found them as
possible, but we’re not going to release
30 birds back at the processing plant,”
The fish and wildlife service is investigating to see if Ocean Beauty Seafoods
will face charges because of the incident.
In general, a first offense of this type
would be a misdemeanor, said spokesman Bruce Woods, though intent factors into the decision about whether
charges will be filed.
In a prepared statement, company
spokesman Tom Sunderland said the
plant adhered to its normal policies for
transporting fish waste. The shipment
was bound for a fish meal plant, and
company procedures call for the load
to be covered after the truck exits the
garage, Sunderland said.
“In this case, the birds went to the
waste trailer before the cover could be
applied,” he said.
—James Halpin, Anchorage Daily News
236 Part 3
The Radio-Television News Directors
Association (RTNDA) is the largest
organization for electronic journalists. Although many television stations have their own codes of ethics,
the RTNDA code of ethics serves as
a guide for the broadcast industry.
You can find the entire code online
at www.rtnda.org; link to the code
on the navigation bar. Here are a
few of the main principles:
Professional electronic journalists should recognize that their
first obligation is to the public.
Professional electronic journalists should pursue truth aggressively and present the news
accurately, in context, and as
completely as possible.
Professional electronic journalists should present the news
fairly and impartially, placing
primary value on significance
Professional electronic journalists should present the news
with integrity and decency,
avoiding real or perceived
conflicts of interest, and respect
the dignity and intelligence
of the audience as well as the
subjects of news.
Professional electronic journalists should defend the independence of all journalists from
those seeking influence or control over news content.
Teasers and Lead-ins
A teaser, also called a “tease,” is a short blurb to entice viewers to tune in or stay tuned
to a newscast. It is broadcast during the day before the newscast or during the newscast before a commercial break. Don’t tease the regular segments in general terms
like weather and sports; tease something interesting or unique in your program that
will affect the viewers. Write a tease as though you were telling a friend, “Guess
what?” or “You won’t want to miss this!” Teasers can include audio and video.
Here is a mid-day tease of two items for the 5 p.m. newscast on KTUU:
GOOD AFTERNOON. HERE’S WHAT’S
GOING ON AT THIS HOUR.
LAWMAKERS ARE BEGINNING
TO ARRIVE IN JUNEAU . . . AHEAD
OF TOMORROW’S START OF
THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION. WE’LL
TAKE YOU TO THE CAPITOL FOR A
AND, MORE THAN 45 STATES
SIGN ON WITH NEW RULES TO
KEEP TEENS SAFE FROM SEXUAL
PREDATORS ON MYSPACE.
THE STORY . . . TONIGHT ON
CHANNEL TWO NEWS.
And here is a tease that anchor John Tracy read before the commercial break that
came in the middle of the 5 p.m. newscast after the eagle story on KTUU.
COMING UP ON THE 5 OCLOCK
REPORT . . . TWO FOSTER CARE
TEENS SUED THE STATE SAYING
IT DID NOT KEEP THEM SAFE.
NOW BOTH SIDES AGREE TO A
AND KEEPING KIDS SAFE
ONLINE . . . MYSPACE JOINS FORCES
WITH 49 STATES INCLUDING
ALASKA TO CHANGE THE RULES.
Broadcast News Writing 237
Other introductions to teasers before the commercial break can be phrases such
as “Just ahead,” “Still to come,” or “When we come back . . . .”
Sometimes fragments can get the point across better than complete sentences.
In a moment . . . sex behind bars. A
scandal brewing in Georgia.
Lead-ins: The anchor reads a lead into a package by a reporter. The lead-in should
give the essence of the story and sometimes the context for how it occurred. It should
not repeat the reporter’s lead. It ends with a statement that the reporter, cited by
name, has more information or just the reporter’s name as in this example:
MANY WOMEN EXERCISE HARD
TO GET IN SHAPE. BUT A NEW
STUDY SAYS TOO MUCH EXERCISE
CAN OFTEN LEAD TO SERIOUS
HEALTH PROBLEMS FOR WOMEN.
ILEANA BRAVO TELLS US HOW
SOME FEMALE COLLEGE ATHLETES
COULD SUFFER FROM EATING
DISORDERS AS A RESULT. . . .
—NBC News Channel
Writing for Radio
Writing for radio news follows many of the same principles as writing for television news, but the copy is shorter. Stories can be more like the TV teasers in length.
A radio newscast may total about 90 seconds with six or seven stories unless it is
National Public Radio, which offers longer stories. A typical story might contain
fewer than 100 words. And because you can’t show video; you should create word
pictures by describing the scene.
Peter King, CBS News Radio correspondent, covers complicated stories in a clear,
concise way. In an interview with the Al Tompkins, the Poynter Institute’s broadcast
leader, King offers this advice for writing radio news:
“You have to be able to pick out the most important information and not get
caught up in the minutiae. And you have to keep it simple. It’s a big mistake to try to
cram too much information into too little time, which is why you have to prioritize
and do it quickly.”
King says most of his sentences last only five to six seconds on the radio. “My rule
of thumb is, ‘If it seems awkward and long when you say it aloud, it probably sounds
that way to the listener.’ I try to keep each sentence focused on a single thought, and
keep it simple. And keep in mind: You have to keep asking what the listener will and
won’t be able to digest.”
238 Part 3
Scripts for radio can be written in uppercase and lowercase letters instead of all
capital letters, depending on the preference of the radio station. The following terms
are used in radio:
Reader: a script that a newscaster reads without any background noise or comments from sources.
Actuality: the equivalent of a sound bite.
Natural sound: also called “ambient” sound. This is background sound, the same
term that’s used in television news.
Wrap: a story from a reporter that may include actualities.
Voicer: a story a reporter reads; it may contain natural sound but does not
Here are examples of public service announcements written for radio:
Soon, all over-the-counter medicines
will have one thing in common: simplicity. That’s because all over-the-counter
medicines will feature new, easier-toread labels that clearly show their ingredients, uses, warnings and directions.
Because if there’s one symptom we all
want to relieve, it’s confusion. For more
information, call the Food and Drug
Administration at 1-888-INFO-FDA.
Again, that’s 1-888-INFO-FDA. The new
label—It’s clearly better.
Tired of being confused when comparing over-the-counter medicines? Soon,
all over-the-counter medicines will feature new, easier-to-read labels. For more
information, call the Food and Drug
Administration at 1-888-INFO-FDA.
The new label—It’s clearly better.
—Food and Drug Administration
—Food and Drug Administration
Punctuation Avoid quotation marks. Generally, sound bites take the place of
quotations. But if you want to quote someone, write out the word quote in this
way: “She said . . . quote . . . this situation is impossible” or “and these are her exact
words. . . .” Don’t end the quote by saying “unquote.” The reader’s emphasis should
make the end of the quote clear.
Limit punctuation to the comma, period, question mark and dash.
Numbers Round off numbers when possible. Write out the numbers one through
nine; use numerals for numbers over 10. Write out hundred, thousand, million,
billion and trillion.
Write numbers to be read as follows: 13-hundred, two-thousand, 14-thousand,
one-million, 17-million. More complicated numbers would be written this way:
320-thousand, not 320,000; 15-million-230-thousand, not 15,230,000.
Spell out fractions: one-half, three quarters.
For decimals, write out the word point: “It comes to 17-point-two-million
dollars.” Write out the word dollars also, instead of using the symbol.
Broadcast News Writing 239
There are some exceptions. Addresses, telephone numbers and time of day are
written in numerals, even if the figures are lower than 10: “She lives at 5 Westbrooke
Avenue”; “The accident occurred at 10:30 this morning” (avoid a.m. and p.m.); “The
telephone number to call for information is 5-5-5-1-2-3-4” (separate the numerals
with dashes so they are easier to read).
Limit the Use of Numbers: They can be numbing, especially to the ear. Use
percentages to give comparisons when possible. If you must use numbers, round
them off and reinforce them with a graphic. Say “320-million dollars,” not “320million-122-thousand-three-hundred-44 dollars.” Whenever possible, use an
analogy to help viewers visualize numbers. The world’s largest oil tanker is 15hundred feet, equivalent to five football fields.
Names and Titles Spell difficult pronunciations of names and locations phonetically. Some anchors prefer only the phonetic spelling instead of the real name followed
by the phonetic pronunciation. John Blum would be written as it is pronounced—
John Bloom. Identify a person’s title before the name: “State Attorney General John
Lawmaker is pleased with the results of a crackdown on fraudulent coal dust testing,”
not “John Lawmaker, state attorney general, is pleased with the results. . . .”
Use Contractions with Caution Write them out. Let the anchors contract
them if they want to. Avoid can’t. It may sound too much like can.
Omit Needless Words Words like that and which aren’t always needed.
Timing of Copy Broadcast scripts use 1:30 for one minute and 30 seconds;
2:00 for two minutes and so on.
Like a newspaper story, a broadcast story needs a clear focus, a lead, a body and an
ending. Unlike newspaper writing, however, broadcast writing should be geared to
audio and video.
Bob Dotson, an NBC correspondent awarded more than 70 times for his good
writing, calls the focus sentence a “commitment” statement. It is still a one-sentence
summary of the story, but it is centered more on visual impact—what you want the
audience to take away from the report. Provide the commitment visually.
In speeches he makes to journalism groups, Dotson offers these tips:
Beginning: Write to your pictures first. Build your lead around a visual that foreshadows the story to come.
Usually no more than three to five points, which you prove visually.
Use strong natural sound to let the viewer experience what happened.
240 Part 3
Use people engaged in compelling action that is visual.
Use surprises to keep viewers involved and lure uninterested viewers.
Use short sound bites.
Ending: Build to a strong ending throughout the story, and make it visual. Make
your viewers care about the story and the people.
Here are some ways to structure each part of a package, a story that contains
video and sound bites:
An anchor will introduce your story, but every story in a package needs its own lead.
Max Utsler, a broadcast journalism professor at the University of Kansas, said the
No. 1 consideration for a lead is that it must fit the pictures the viewer sees. “Good
television writing is not the craftsmanship of words; it is the presentation of the
words and pictures fitting together,” he said.
Once you have decided which images to use at the beginning of your package, you
can decide whether the story needs a hard or soft lead. Feature stories may take softer
leads; a breaking-news story calls for a direct approach. In all cases, you must get to
the focus—the nut graph—very quickly, generally by the second or third sentence.
Put a human face on the story whenever possible: Try to find someone personally
affected by the issue. You can start with the specific, using a person first, and then
going to the nut graph:
IRIS DUNCAN WOKE UP ONE
THOUGHT SOMEONE HAD PUT
WAXED PAPER OVER HER EYES.
SOUND BITE: IT WAS ALL FUZZY
AND CLOUDY AND I COULDN’T
SEE. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS
SHE WENT TO HER DOCTOR
THAT AFTERNOON. SHE LEARNED
SHE HAD GLAUCOMA. THE
DISEASE STRIKES ONE OF EVERY
Starting with a general statement and going to a specific person is less effective:
GLAUCOMA STRIKES ONE OF
EVERY 200-THOUSAND PEOPLE.
IRIS DUNCAN IS ONE OF THEM.
SHE WOKE UP ONE MORNING AND
SAID SHE THOUGHT SOMEONE
HAD PUT WAXED PAPER OVER
The You Voice: Not all stories directly affect viewers’ lives. But when possible,
try to stress the impact within the first few sentences. Use an element that will make
viewers care or understand why this story is important, unusual or of human interest.
Broadcast News Writing 241
Don’t be afraid to use the pronoun “you,” especially in consumer stories, to heighten
impact. Instead of writing a story about a drought in California that will cause lettuce
prices to increase, try this approach:
YOU’RE ABOUT TO PAY MORE
FOR YOUR SALAD. A DROUGHT
IN CALIFORNIA IS RAISING THE
PRICE OF LETTUCE.
Impact Leads: Lead with the effect on viewers as in the previous lead. An impact
lead often uses the you voice.
IF YOU TOOK YOUR CAR TO SEARS
FOR REPAIRS IN THE PAST TWO
YEARS, YOU MAY GET A REFUND.
THE COMPANY AGREED TO
SETTLE CHARGES THAT IT CHEATED
CUSTOMERS BY DOING SHODDY
OR UNNECESSARY CAR REPAIR
AN ESTIMATED 12-THOUSAND500 MISSOURIANS WILL BE
ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE 50-DOLLAR
CREDIT COUPONS FOR ANY SEARS
Advance the Lead: When you can, advance the lead by stressing the next step
to gain immediacy:
Immediacy: TWO PEOPLE REMAIN IN SERIOUS CONDITION FOLLOWING
A CAR ACCIDENT THIS AFTERNOON.
No immediacy: TWO PEOPLE WERE INJURED IN A CAR ACCIDENT
Focus on a Person: The focus-on-a-person lead works as well in broadcast as in
print, especially for a feature or a news story that the anchor introduces with a hardnews lead-in. Like The Wall Street Journal formula, this type of lead goes from the
specific to the general. The person is one of many affected by the problem.
JUDY AND JOE WESTBROOK
SPENT THE MORNING CLEANING
UP THE FURNITURE IN THEIR
FRONT YARD. THE BLUE RIVER
HAD OVERFLOWED ITS BANKS
AND FORCED ITS WAY INTO THEIR
MORE THAN 25 FAMILIES SHARE
THEIR PREDICAMENT. LATE THIS
AFTERNOON ALL OF THOSE
FAMILIES WERE AWAITING WORD
ABOUT THEIR FLOOD INSURANCE