When writing for a newscast, it’s important to tell it how it is. Of course this means making sure your story is factual, but it also means it’s important for your writing to sound natural when it’s being read out loud. This week on Annenberg TV News (ATVN), I wrote a story on the American tourist who was kidnapped in Uganda. My writing and copy-editing process for this story exemplifies how to find a balance between keeping your newscast informative and conversational.
Heading into the writing process, I started by collecting facts on the story. It's critical to know not only the background information, but also the most recent news. This way, I can get that "today" angle I strive for as a producer. After familiarizing myself with the facts, I looked for any footage we had to help me with an important part of my story: the voice over (VO).
A VO is essentially when the anchor reads a script over a video playing on the screen. I had three elements I wanted to use in my VO: a video of the victim (Kimberly Sue Endicott) getting out of a van moments after her release in Uganda, a photo of Endicott and her tour guide, Jean Paul Mirenge, and a video of a map pinpointing where the kidnapping took place.
Prioritizing the order of the video depended on what the newest news was. I knew I wanted to start with the most recent video of Endicott after her release. I started writing my copy to the video detailing what my audience would be seeing. Then, I had a decision to make on what footage would come next. As I continued writing the story, the flow of my writing started explaining where the kidnapping took place and then introduced Endicott's tour guide. From there, I knew what order to edit my video so it would correspond to what I was writing.
Once I finished writing my story, I took a step back to re-evaluate how this would sound live. As always, I read my script out loud to work out any awkward phrases and make it more conversational. I paid particular attention to my VO by watching the video while I read the script. This ensured the copy matched the footage viewers would see on their screen.
It’s hard to tell someone how to write conversationally, but there’s one piece of advice I always use: “How would you tell this story to your friend?” In other words, what would you say if you were giving your BFF the rundown on what’s happening in the news? Most likely, this way of writing will make your copy more conversational. When copy-editing for my team, I will ask the team member the same question and will have them explain the news to me out loud. In the end, this method of copy-editing makes the story easier for the anchors to read and for the audience to digest the news.
Producing has taught me that sometimes sitting and staring at your screen can make your writing sound robotic. To combat this, I'll take my hands off the keyboard, turn to a friend in the media center, and simply tell them the news. I can spice it up and put my own flare in my writing later, but the foundation is simple: keep it conversational.