HOW TO PRODUCE A TV NEWS REPORT
So, where to start…
Firstly, let me explain the elements that come together to make up a TV news report. They are the following:
Piece to camera by reporter
Voiceover by reporter, with a script written to pictures
Interviews (2 or more)
B-roll footage to illustrate the interview
You’ve all seen TV news reports on a regular basis, so I’m sure this will make absolute sense to you. A reporter drives the narrative of the news story with a voiceover script and carefully selected soundbites from two or more interviews he/she has filmed. The reporter then uses an in-vision Piece to Camera (PTC) to make a key point about the story.
The best TV news stories combine sequences of powerful images with a voiceover script that complements what is being seen on screen. The core news values that drive all journalism are still at the centre of all you do in broadcast journalism. The news angle is the first thing you have to think about. What’s the story and why is it important to your audience? And that means answering the ‘five Ws’, of course. What happened, when and where it happened, who it happened to and why? Perhaps throw in a ‘how’ there too.
But then how you tell your story takes a different path to a print journalist…
TV NEWS WRITING
When writing TV news, you have to remember the different demands of television. Your audience has just one chance to hear what you have to say. They can’t go back and read it again if they didn’t quite understand it the first time. And I’m sure we’ve all watched the 10 O’clock News in a busy front room at home, with noisy family members around us. Yet, we’ve still understood the main points of the news report, and that’s because the TV reporter has written the voiceover script in a clear, concise way.
TEN TIPS FOR TV NEWS WRITING
1) The script should complement the pictures, don’t repeat what you see in vision
2) It should be clear and uncomplicated
3) One thought per sentence
4) You should be conversational and colloquial in tone
5) Write it as you say it
6) Use contractions (isn’t, hasn’t, can’t)
7) Use connectives (and, so, because)
8) Use the active voice, not the passive
9) Direct sentences: Subject-Verb-Object
10) Don’t write to impress, write to be understood
The final point in this list of 10 tips is the golden rule. TV news writing isn’t about wonderful, creative prose. It’s about finding the right word or the perfect phrase to capture an important moment in your story, and to convey it accurately to your audience. Probably the best way to understand this is to watch and hear the best broadcast journalists.
Allan Little is a BBC Special Correspondent. Last year (2012), he received the coveted British Journalism Review Charles Wheeler Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcast Journalism (yes I know, hardly a snappy, succinct title), and Allan writes brilliant TV scripts. Clear, direct, conversational and engaging. He complements pictures beautifully, and here are two examples of his work.
(on the second item, his reflective story is in the second half of the clip)
Two final points to remember before you start writing TV news yourself:
1) As a general rule, we talk at 3 words per second, so that’s what to aim for when writing scripts. A 20-second TV news script will be about 60 words.
2) Try to use words of one syllable. Short words in short sentences are easier to instantly understand on television and just as powerful.
But don’t only take my word for it…
Short words are best and old words when short are the best of all
Never use a long word where a short word will do