Types of Journalism Writing for Broadcast News and Online Resources

Although classic journalism conjures up images of the writer hunched over a typewriter, pounding out copy for the front page of the city news, there are other media that need journalists, as well – with the same expertise to ferret out news and gather it, write compelling and succinct stories, understand the basics of grammar and punctuation.

However, writing for broadcast news and online resources is somewhat different, and the journalist who is able to perform well in all environments is likely to get the job, and keep it, before those who have limited knowledge. Let's take a closer look at broadcast news and online media separately.

Broadcast news

Broadcast news is different from print news, because it is intended to be presented to a listening or viewing audience – and not to be read. Print remains in its original form literally forever, waiting for the next reader to engage, but broadcast news leaves the mouth of the newscasters, enters the airwaves, where it may or may not be heard by someone – and then disappears into the netherworld of spoken language. If ever there was an instance where up-to-the-date information was the driver – it is in broadcast news.

However, broadcast and print journalism do share some similarities. For example, both of them are better served to the public with the proper amount of research. And, in both cases, the writer must be adept at creating compelling information with proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

But the broadcast journalist is usually up against some formidable distractions. Most people listen to the news -- they don't sit and stare at the television or radio. That means they are often involved in other activities – cooking dinner, cleaning, driving, etc. In fact, there are so many other activities that people are engaged in while listening to the news, it is usually designed to be background noise with no illusions that you are going to leave an indelible mark on the listener's memory.

Here, as in print news, there are hard hitting stories and soft news – or the variety of human interest and narrative exampless. However, in this case, soft news also refers to the weather, entertainment, and sports.

There are a number of hard and fast rules about broadcast writing, including the following:

  • Writing should be short, simple, and declarative. In fact, a sentence with 20 words is going to be way too long.

  • At the same time, you want the writing to flow, and not sound choppy. There really is an art to writing broadcast news – just as there is to writing print! The writing should sound like a conversation, and have a flow to it you might not recognize in print media. In other words, write broadcast news the way you talk! Why? Because it is written for the ear not the eye.

  • But, at the same time, you should alternate short and long sentences. You cannot have a broadcaster reading a series of short sentences only! It sounds unnatural. In broadcast news, it is perfectly fine to begin a sentence with the words "and," "but," or "because" – historically considered a no-no in print journalism!

  • Whereas adjectives drive many other types of writing, they hardly have a place in broadcast news writing. Instead – the action word, or verb does all the work.

  • Write in an active voice. In other words, the subject of the story is doing the action. This: Tom Jones wrecked his car. Not this: The car was wrecked by Tom Jones.

  • You cannot use abbreviations and symbols to write broadcast news – they can't be "heard." This: street, avenue, boulevard. Not this: St., Ave., Blvd.

  • Most direct quotes should be no more than a single line; the broadcaster is always looking for a sound bite – not a mouthful.

  • Use contractions when writing broadcast news. They sound more natural when they are read aloud. This: don't, hasn't Not this: do not, has not

  • The order of penning quotes from a person should be the quote first followed by the person who said it. This: "Keep it simple stupid," Mary Smith said to the reporter. Not this: Mary Smith said to the reporter, "Keep it simple, stupid."

  • ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS read the story out loud to yourself to hear how it sounds. (Now that's not something the print journalist does!)

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  • Broadcast news stories need to be briefer than print journalism. Newscasters only have a few moments to relate the information, so succinctness is more important than ever.

  • Think about the writing in terms of what you would like to know as a listener. This is a good rule of thumb for all types of journalism.

  • Stick to one fact per sentence and keep your vocabulary fairly simple. Do not use highbrow academic vocabulary in broadcast news.

  • Tell the story in step-by-step fashion.

  • Be original in your story-telling. That is sure to capture the listener's ear more than the same old humdrum and mundane stories that play in and out every day.

  • Make sure stories are simple enough for the broadcaster to read. They often do not have time to read the news story in advance – so the more conversational you are, the more conversational the news reader will be able to be – and that is the heart of broadcast news!

Writing for Online Resources

And here everybody thought the Internet would spell the death knell for writers and journalists – when just the opposite has happened. If you think of the Internet in terms of the universe without end, then you will have an idea of the value of the capable writer to online newspapers, journals, magazines, and more. There simply will not be an end to the need for good journalistic writing (and, unfortunately, even poor writers – but that is not your concern).

First, there are some challenges to the person who reads the Web. As we can all attest to – it is harder to read something on a screen; it tends to take longer than if you are holding the print version of something in your hands – like a newspaper, magazine, or book.

Research has also revealed that people are changing their reading habits because of the Internet (and, to be fair, our overload of broadcast mediums). In other words, people are less and less inclined to read long passages of anything. Instead, when they get on the Internet, they simply scan or skim through words, hitting the bold headlines and captions, but hardly taking the time and effort that comes with immersing oneself in the process of deep and long reading. Because of this, news is taking on a more promotional approach. The writer is advised to be extremely concise – even thinking in terms of bullet-pointed information and news telling – perhaps combining headlines and bulleted data.

For example: Consider how the following information might appear in print.

Nebraska will draw up to 75,000 visitors this summer to their various attractions. Many will visit the most famous sites, including Fort Robinson and Scottsbluff. Tourism is expected to generate over a million dollars in revenue. Learn more about travel opportunities by visiting their state homepage.

Do you see the makings of the inverted pyramid? Now, let's rewrite it as it might appear online.

Nebraska Tourism

· 75,000 expected to visit Nebraska this summer

· Fort Robinson State Park – 30,000 tourists

· Scottsbluff National Monument – 20,000

The difference is immediately obvious. In a print format, the first example is most acceptable, but online the second is most common. Now, that does not mean there isn't a need for good writing on the Internet. People appreciate, and are drawn to, good writing -- no matter where they find it. If a website is filled with spelling and grammatical errors, there is less of a chance that people will spend time reading it – or return to it in the future. All of the requirements of the journalist in other segments of the industry hold true for online writing, as well. You still have to be able to spell correctly, use proper grammar, and create text that is interesting.

Some studies have found that people will still read an article that captures their interest on the Internet, but are more likely to scroll through it quickly, again, only searching for the highlights. That means that every word counts more in online writing than probably any other forum!

The inverted pyramid still has a place in journalistic writing for online resources. Here again, some of the rules for broadcast writing overlap. For example, the journalist should write in an active voice and use simple, declarative sentences. The writer should be precise and use everyday words, not stuffy language. However, you don't want to sound choppy in online print any more than you would anywhere else. It is a good idea to read your writing back to yourself to make sure it is appealing. Content is the focus of online journalism – not self-promotion.

Now, where in broadcast there is no use of abbreviations, or data and figures, without accompanying visuals, the online journalist has great opportunity to include them in the news story – particularly as there are so many word processing and visual choices that can be easily added, subtracted, or changed. In some ways, the online journalist almost needs to be an amateur artist, or at least have facility with the breadth of word processing options that can enhance a story – in light of the fact that readers of online journalism are drawn as much to the style as to the content!

However, familiarize yourself with words and phrases that are absolutely not to be used – either because they have been overused and are now clichés, or because they have no place in the online environment.

Important things to remember about online journalism:

  • Only 50 percent of it should be print.

  • The print needs to be enhanced with bullet points, graphs, images, and similar items.

  • There should be frequent paragraph breaks.

  • Use hyperlinks where appropriate or permitted.

  • Eliminate unnecessary words.

Let's Review – Broadcast and Online Resources

Journalism for broadcast news and the Internet are very different from writing for print media. That is not to say there are no similarities. Most importantly these include having a command of grammar and spelling, and being a good writer, in general. Too, it is helpful for the budding broadcast and Internet journalist to understand all aspects of the industry at the same level as the print journalist. That means he or she should know what makes a good story, and how to find them. The broadcast journalist should understand how to research, take notes, and manipulate the various writing structures – including narrative, hourglass, chronological, and inverted pyramid.

But the differences are pronounced, as well. When writing for broadcast news, the journalist should learn to construct the information in a way that is more conversational. That is because the recipient of the news is listening to it, not reading it. It is advisable for broadcast journalists to get in the habit of reading their work back to themselves to ensure that it flows and is not choppy.

At the same time, where print news might lend itself to longer sentences, broadcast news and Internet journalism absolutely do not. In both cases, the writing should be much shorter, with one thought per sentence. Moreover, when writing for the Internet, there is the additional need to look at the work in terms of style and appeal. Pages of print that are not broken up into smaller paragraphs, or do not have bulleted commentary, are probably going to be passed over by readers. There's just something about a full page of writing on a computer screen that is unappealing, and opposite of how most people feel about the printed page. Finally, the Internet journalist should be competent in the use of the variety of tools that allow them to make their pages interesting to the eye, and simple to peruse. Learn about the different options that are available through your word processing program – and other sites that can support the addition of visuals and graphics to enhance the page.

To be sure, Internet or online journalism and broadcast news writing are very different from print writing in many ways. Today's student of journalism would do well to become competent in all of these writing styles.