Ten tips for writing TV news

People who think writing TV news is easy have probably never done it well. What’s easy (unfortunately) is finding examples of BAD news writing–“simplistic, cliché and shallow,” says Jessica Grillanda, who teaches at Cambrian College in Ontario, Canada. Getting it right takes a lot of skill, she says, because you have to synchronize the elements of sound and video into a cohesive story “that appeals to both the eyes and ears.”

She’s absolutely right. I often tell print journalists that their TV counterparts are a little like Ginger Rogers to their Fred Astaire–both were amazing dancers, but she had to do everything he did backwards and in high heels.  That takes a lot of concentration, coordination and confidence.

So how do you learn to write TV news well? It wouldn’t hurt to consult Grillanda’s 10 tips. Some of them are as basic as it gets, but they’re all useful reminders:

YOU CAN ONLY TALK FOR AS LONG AS YOU HAVE IMAGES It sounds simple, but a good television piece is planned well before you hit the record button on your camera. If it’s important to explain—“David Pearson is the science director of Science North in Sudbury. He is also a leading researcher in Ontario on climate change”—you need visuals to cover your words. Plan ahead and ensure you shoot not just your interview but sequences of Pearson studying weather charts or giving a talk on the subject.

IMAGES SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS Images can be deafening. If your visuals do not support your words, your audience will remember the visuals but not the news. If you are explaining how faulty wiring led to a blaze while showing video of the charcoal remains of a house, don’t expect your audience to pay attention to your well-researched details. If you say it, show it.

DON’T SAY WHAT THE PICTURES DO, SAY WHAT THEY DON’T  Nonetheless, don’t waste your time trying to say what the pictures already do. What insight does your audience gain by showing a quiet suburban neighbourhood and then saying, “This is a quiet suburban neighbourhood”? Give your viewers the information to understand why they are looking at those photos. “This is the first murder on record in Sleepytown.”

The rest of Grillanda’s tips are online here.


9 comments for “Ten tips for writing TV news

  1. ted
    June 12, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    i’ve seen hundreds of these writing sites, but none of them provide a sample news script with time code, sig out, etc.

  2. Deborah Potter
    June 13, 2008 at 7:23 am

    Fair point, Ted. We do have sample scripts in the online workbook associated with the Advancing the Story text, but not yet on this blog. I’ll make it a priority to add an example or two soon. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. Calvin
    March 30, 2009 at 6:45 am

    i’m a first year BA Journalism student at the University of Johannesburg, very interested in the traits of journalism and anxious to learn/know more about journalism.
    As part of learning more i’ve got an assignment on the “future of journalism” due mid- April.I need all the assistance i could get in diversities,for, the assignment has no specific focus,but covers journalism as a whole.
    If any one is more than happy and willing to help me please e-mail me.Your assistance will definetly help me.

  4. nasir
    April 25, 2009 at 4:46 am

    its great and very usefull for young reporters .

  5. April 28, 2011 at 2:17 am

    The guide you provide is the best I have ever read, the number two is educative of all, you show your audience what you say not say a different thing from the picture running on the screen. thank you for a free lesson.

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