USC Annenberg Media Resources

Broadcast News Writing Basics

Conversational style, storytelling, accuracy and simplicity are hallmarks of good broadcast news writing. When viewers hear a broadcast story they have only one chance to absorb and understand it. They can’t go back and listen again. Therefore, the sentence structure and choice of words in a broadcast story must be accessible to the ear.

SIMPLE, SIMPLE, SIMPLE !

Use short, declarative sentences that convey one thought at a time Don’t cram a bunch of facts into one sentence (especially the lead). Split long sentences into two, even three sentences, if necessary.

PROBLEM: THE 75-YEAR-OLD CONVICTED BANK ROBBER OUT ON BAIL WAS SENTENCED TODAY TO TWO YEARS IN PRISON, BUT ALLOWED TO DO COMMUNITY SERVICE INSTEAD.

SOLUTION: A 75-YEAR-OLD CONVICTED BANK ROBBER WON’T HAVE TO SERVE TIME IN PRISON. A JUDGE TODAY SENTENCED HIM TO TWO YEARS IN PRISON, BUT ALLOWED HIM TO DO COMMUNITY SERVICE INSTEAD.

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PROBLEM: TODAY MARKS THE EVE OF THE EXPIRATION OF THE JANITORS’ MASTER CONTRACTS WITH DOWNTOWN BUILDING OWNERS. SOLUTION: THE JANITORS’ CONTRACT WITH DOWNTOWN BUILDING OWNERS EXPIRES TOMORROW.

Beware of Clauses Clauses can make broadcast sentences too long. They are difficult for the anchor to read and for the listener to absorb because they contain too much information in one sentence.

PROBLEM: JOE SMITH, THE COMPANY’S CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, ANNOUNCED THE LAYOFFS TODAY.

SOLUTION: CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER JOE SMITH ANNOUNCED THE LAYOFFS TODAY.

If the sentence can’t be rewritten to eliminate the clause, make it into two sentences.

PROBLEM: FAMILY AND FRIENDS GATHERED TO SAY FAREWELL TO THEIR LOVED ONES TODAY AS THE U-S-S JOHN C. STENNIS, A NUCLEAR POWERED AIRCRAFT CARRIER, SET SAIL FOR AFGHANISTAN.

SOLUTION: THE U-S-S JOHN C. STENNIS IS ON ITS WAY TO AFGHANISTAN. FAMILY AND FRIENDS GATHERED EARLIER TODAY TO SAY GOOD-BYE TO THE CREW AS IT SET SAIL FROM SAN DIEGO.

More information on news-writing can be found in the ATVN Broadcast Handbook:

The Lead Sentence

Setting the Tone

Broadcast Dos and Don’ts

 

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