AT&D #16. Broadcast News Writing

Broadcast writing is concise and conversational. But there is a difference between writing that is catchy and writing that is cliché. 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.”

David 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 into greater detail, for the sake of this example, my critique rests on how effective the writing is in regards to hooking viewers’ interest to the report which may prevent them from changing the channel.

Looking at the first sentence, we are told about an extreme situation that had unfolded before culminating in a successful rescue. Despite not covering more lengthy and suspenseful details that viewers may have needed to hear in an extra sentence or two before immediately being told that this story ends on a happy note, the topic that is to be delved in fully is interesting enough to hook viewers in given the type of news reported (a harrowing rescue story).

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

As the transcript lacks catchiness or alliteration and avoids cliched idioms and phrases, the writing provided is neutral in that it establishes a narrative that doesn’t fall flat or go over the top (through generic wording and evoking sensationalism 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 outlets tend to overuse and emphasize puns and / or stress superfluous details, distracting from a main story being reported on.

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