Writing in Stereo

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WiS II - Lesson One - The Reader

August 22nd, 2010

This is the first of the eight lessons I always referred to as the Writing in Stereo Workbook.  Here in the blog it's been referred to as Writing in Stereo II.  This was the text of the broadcast journalism instruction, my bible in Beginning Writing/Reporting for Broadcast classes at Pueblo Magnet High School.  From these I developed my own instructional materials, and I'll make suggestions to help you do the same as we consider each lesson.

The reader is the basic news announcement in broadcast journalism.  In this first lesson we’ll learn the basic parts and practice some typical rewrites from the school announcements and newspapers.workbook.gif

Club and class sponsors, coaches and teachers are not trained to write in broadcast news style.  So we have to rewrite their daily announcements before we can read them as part of a newscast.  In fact, we use the daily announcement items in much the same way journalists use a publicity press release.  We scan the item for important information, but we rewrite it in a completely different form.  We try to write these in what we call active voice.  I use this example.  Which of the following reads better and sounds more comprehensible? 

                        The ball was kicked by the boy.

                                                or

                        The boy kicked the ball.

As I write this, my word processor has underlined most of the first sentence above.  Even the computer program knows passive voice when it sees it.  The second sentence is much better.  The person initiating the action is the subject, and that subject belongs at the front of the sentence.  A strong action verb should follow, and the object receiving the action brings up the rear.  You will hear much passive voice on the radio.  I have not had time to enlighten every young broadcast journalist in town.  That’s no excuse for poor writing; every college textbook on the subject stresses active voice writing.  The Associated Press broadcast news wire service is notoriously poorly written.  Many broadcast news readers do what we call “rip ‘n’ read.”  They take the AP wire copy and simply read them as they’re written.  Not recommended.  Here’s how we do it at Warrior Radio News.

Soft lede

Who is doing what?  Usually this is just an opening sentence that does not offer much information.  The “who” is the subject, the person or club or class or whatever planning the meeting, etc.  An example would be, “The junior class has a meeting planned.”  Notice we didn’t say much.  We just want to get the listener’s attention.  The “is doing” part ought to be an action verb.  They’re doing something.  “Have” or “has” is okay.  There are lots of ways to write these.  See how many you can invent.

Some examples:

            … has (or have) a meeting today.

            … plan a meeting tomorrow.

            … have scheduled a meeting next week.

            … plan to meet today.

When you write three or four meeting announcements in a row and then add those planned for today or tomorrow, you’ll discover how important it is to find different ways to express this verb phrase.

Titled source says …

            Our second sentence begins with the job title of our source.  We start with the source because it’s more natural than to end a statement with “according to so-and-so.”  So “Principal Richard Carranza says …”  Notice he’s not “Mr. Carranza” in broadcast style.  We seldom, if ever, use personal titles like Dr., Mr. or Mrs.  This is just the way broadcast and print journalists write these things.  It’s part of the style.  We use his first name and last, but after that he’s just “Carranza.”  That is not disrespectful; it’s common practice in both broadcast and print journalism.  We almost always use “says.”  If we try for variety here, we look like we’re trying to impress listeners, rather than inform them.  Sometimes sources “deny.”

What they say in this sentence can be as simple as just another important detail of the story or important meeting agenda item planned.  Or it can be a lede-in or write-up to an actuality if you have an interview recorded.

The actuality or

  … the third sentence can be yet another fact if there is one.  If it is the actuality or voice of the source, he or she should be heard just to characterize the event, cite specific details or offer opinions best heard from the horse’s mouth—so to speak.  Save the when’s and where’s  for your write-out.

The write-out

This is the last sentence in our little meeting announcement.  We save the when and where for last.  We don’t want listeners to miss it.  I ask students to put each of these details in a separate short sentence.  “They’ll meet in the library.  That’s after school.”  The separate little sentences make it easier to comprehend this very important information.  You’ll see students combine two of these facts in one sentence if there are, say, three or more to report.  That’s okay, but you can expect me to ask you to rewrite in separate sentences any sentence in which you have neatly written three or more facts about the time, place or other pertinent information about a meeting.  And notice the use of contractions in the example above.  We encourage them in broadcast style.  It’s supposed to be conversational.  In our stylebook here at Warrior Radio News, we’ve gotten in the habit of calling every meeting start time from 2:30 to 3:00 P.M. just “after school.” If the meeting doesn’t begin until 3:15, we might specify that.

Instructional suggestion

Use examples of your school's daily announcements or faculty email announcements to drill students on the reader.