Writing for broadcast: An artform of elegant simplicity

‘Tight, bright but not shite – that’s my mantra for writing for broadcast,’says Simon Cadman, Independent Radio News’s deputy editor.

‘Brevity is at the core of good writing for broadcast, but without any loss of authority,’he says. ‘If you lose facts as you write tight, then you are failing.’

Most journalists today are expected to master the different styles and content for radio, television, print and online. The key to writing for broadcast is to follow a few simple rules: Write as you would speak, clearly and conversationally.

Use everyday spoken English as if you are talking to a friend, not the more formal style of writing for a newspaper. But don’t use colloquialisms or slang. Use simple conversational contractions where it feels natural so ‘they have’becomes ‘they’ve”, ‘we will’becomes ‘we’ll”.

A radio journalist for more than 20 years, Simon Cadman has a reputation for insisting on high-quality writing from reporters. ‘The writing style should help the listener understand the story.

Sentences should be digestible soundbites for the ear,’he says. ‘One of the biggest differences between broadcast and print writing is that broadcast is just about always written in the present tense.

“Another difference is the word ‘that’should almost never appear in broadcast news copy. It is completely useless and takes up time where every second counts.”

A challenge presented by radio and TV reports is the ‘cue”, where the reporter usually has to write a two-sentence introduction for the presenter cue, as well as their own report. Getting an intro right is a test of the journalist’s ability. The reporter’s intro should not repeat what the presenter has just said.

There are also differences between radio and TV news writing. It’s important that the radio reporter on location acts as the eyes of the listener. A great radio report is one where you as listener can imagine the scene in your mind’s eye.

I often point out to students that radio allows you the privilege of painting pictures in other people’s minds.

In TV you do not have to paint pictures. Instead you have to make sure you play off the pictures that accompany the report. It is important to give the viewer the impression that the reporter knows what is appearing. But don’t be too literal. You can have fun with pictures.

In TV you can cut to an interviewee without introduction if it’s obvious who the

person is, or they will be captioned. In radio just about everybody must be introduced.

The final golden rule of good broadcast copy, says Cadman, is to ‘read it out loud’before transmission. ‘It’s only when you read it out that sentences that look fine on the page suddenly reveal alliteration or other clashes that make it hard to read or understand,’he says.

But once you get the hang of it, writing for broadcast writing is an art form ofsimplicity and elegance.

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