AT&D #16. Broadcast News Writing

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Broadcast writing is concise and conversational. But there is a difference between writing that is catchy and writing that is cliche. Transcribe 3-4 sentences from an actual broadcast news story (TV or radio) and then critique the writing. What works? What doesn’t? Why? 

Transcribed from ABC News:

David Muir: “Finally, all alone in the ocean, bobbing with only a lifevest, ABC’s David Rice details an incredible rescue.”

Rice: “As tropical storms now pound the Gulf of Mexico, watch this: grainy footage of a coast guard diver repelling down to 37-year old Joey Travino of San Antonio, Texas. A fisherman, he was adrift for more than 30 hours on the open water after this boat got swamped by high waves.”

Although this transcript only covers the beginning of a story that unfolds in greater detail, for the sake of this example, my critique rests on how effective the writing is with regards to hooking in viewers that may otherwise change the channel. Looking at the first sentence, we are told about an extreme situation that has been reported that ends off with a successful rescue. Despite eliminating the suspense that viewers may feel had they not been told that this story ends on a happy note, the topic that is to be delved in is interesting enough to hook viewers in.

Rice’s transcript is descriptive and is rife with adjectives that provides viewers a visual interpretation of how the scene would have looked like (coupled with the footage) if one was there witnessing it. Further information provided establishes the facts of the situation, which is what every reporter must make note of (otherwise, the story would be seen as dubious or false).

As the transcript lacks catchiness/alliteration and avoids cliched idioms/phrases, the writing provided is neutral in that is establishes a narrative that doesn’t fall flat or go over the top (generic wording and suspense respectively). As most broadcast transcripts fall in this format (at least with formal news programs), I can accept this structure as some more specific programing tend to overuse and emphasize on puns and/or stress on inconcise and unneccesary details.

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