The single most popular post here at Advancing the Story offers tips on writing TV news. They’re just as useful now as they were when we first shared them in 2008, but the Canadian journalism site where we found them has just been updated and the original post has vanished.
Not to worry! Here’s a recap, plus some bonus tips for good measure.
Don’t write more than you have pictures for. Obvious, right? But even experienced TV reporters sometimes write themselves into a corner because they fail to thoroughly screen their video and they have less to work with than they think. The result, too often, is lip flap or words-on-a-screen graphics. Ick. Know what you have and write tight.
Don’t fight your pictures. Pictures really do speak louder than words. Make sure your images and words are telling the same story. If you show two officials smiling and shaking hands, the viewer will get the impression they get along well even if your track says they’re suing each other. If you say it, make sure the video proves it.
Write to the corners of the pictures. The old admonition, “See dog, say dog,” is totally wrongheaded. Don’t tell viewers what they can already see. Use words to add detail, context and meaning to what they’re looking at. Don’t say traffic is bad when that’s what your pictures show; tell how much longer than usual it’s going to take drivers to get downtown.
Connect names with faces. When you introduce a character by name, make sure viewers can clearly see the person you’re referring to. Reporter Boyd Huppert looks for what he calls a “handshake shot”–a head-on medium shot. “There’s no reason to introduce a character without looking him in the eye,” he says. “I don’t want to see the side of the head or back of the head or the person in a shot with other characters so I don’t know who I’m supposed to be looking at.”
Preserve surprises. Don’t use your narration to announce what’s coming up. Let the viewer experience it through video and sound. Instead of writing, “Just as the show was starting, the tent collapsed.” Try something like this: “What happened next wasn’t on the program.” Show, don’t tell.
Parallel park. Use pauses productively. Instead of cutting a sound bite to remove a pause and covering the edit with a cutaway, let the video roll and insert a short line of narration during the pause. Parallel parking your track makes for a seamless story.
These tips should help you write stronger, more coherent stories. If they work for you, please let us know!