Writing in Stereo

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WiS — Lesson Four — Newspaper Rewrite

August 27th, 2010

Every day radio news reporters scan their morning newspapers and rewrite print news to radio broadcast style.  In fact, rewriting the newspaper to broadcast may be one of the oldest broadcast news skills.  During the early days of radio broadcasting, "radio news" was nothing more than reading the newspaper to the listening audience.  It didn't take long to discover that understanding the news by listening was more difficult than understanding by reading.  And so a new broadcast news writing style was created to solve the problem.workbook.gif

In her book, The Powerful Radio Workbook, Valerie Geller cites sources who say we should be able to read the news story and reduce the information to one active voice sentence.  After we do that, writing the whole story in just five broadcast style sentences should not be difficult. 

Here's how we quickly get what we need from a newspaper story (or Internet news item).  Read through the story quickly.  If you're pressed for time (and we always are), try this.  Read the lede-we spell lead this way to differentiate it from the metal used to make type-to get the latest or the crux of the story.  Then skim the topic sentences of the paragraphs of the rest of the story.  Just quickly read the beginning of every paragraph.  Newspaper reporters are very good about beginning each ‘graph with a well-composed topic sentence.  You can take advantage of this to find the details you need for your rewrite.

You'll find these news stories follow a pattern.  They give you the latest development in the first couple of paragraphs.  Then they write several background paragraphs.  But there's always something in the latter part of the story that tells you why this is happening or gets down to specifics.

If you skim to the end, you'll discover the reporter is referring to a source by his or her last name only.  You need to know who this source is and what job title he or she holds.  To find that out you'll have to skim back through the middle of the story to find the reporter's first reference to that source.  You're looking for the answers to the same questions every time:

Open by saying, "The (publication name) is reporting ...," to give credit.

Who is doing what?  (That's your soft lede.)

The job-titled first-name last-name source says something else about it.

 (If there's an actuality from this source, it goes here.)

This person interviewed will be a school source on a school angle story.  For an off-campus actuality, it will be a credible source outside your school, perhaps the newspaper's original source.  (One of our students once got a call back from an original source on the east coast of the U.S.  Our reporter e-mailed the source and told him when the student would be in class to receive a call.)

The other details fall in place in chronological or order of importance.

What happens next completes the piece.