Ten tips for writing TV news

People who think writing TV news is easy have probably never done it well. What’s easy (unfortunately) is finding examples of BAD news writing–“simplistic, cliché and shallow,” says Jessica Grillanda, who teaches at Cambrian College in Ontario, Canada. Getting it right takes a lot of skill, she says, because you have to synchronize the elements of sound and video into a cohesive story “that appeals to both the eyes and ears.”

She’s absolutely right. I often tell print journalists that their TV counterparts are a little like Ginger Rogers to their Fred Astaire–both were amazing dancers, but she had to do everything he did backwards and in high heels.  That takes a lot of concentration, coordination and confidence.

So how do you learn to write TV news well? It wouldn’t hurt to consult Grillanda’s 10 tips. Some of them are as basic as it gets, but they’re all useful reminders:

YOU CAN ONLY TALK FOR AS LONG AS YOU HAVE IMAGES It sounds simple, but a good television piece is planned well before you hit the record button on your camera. If it’s important to explain—“David Pearson is the science director of Science North in Sudbury. He is also a leading researcher in Ontario on climate change”—you need visuals to cover your words. Plan ahead and ensure you shoot not just your interview but sequences of Pearson studying weather charts or giving a talk on the subject.

IMAGES SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS Images can be deafening. If your visuals do not support your words, your audience will remember the visuals but not the news. If you are explaining how faulty wiring led to a blaze while showing video of the charcoal remains of a house, don’t expect your audience to pay attention to your well-researched details. If you say it, show it.

DON’T SAY WHAT THE PICTURES DO, SAY WHAT THEY DON’T  Nonetheless, don’t waste your time trying to say what the pictures already do. What insight does your audience gain by showing a quiet suburban neighbourhood and then saying, “This is a quiet suburban neighbourhood”? Give your viewers the information to understand why they are looking at those photos. “This is the first murder on record in Sleepytown.”

The rest of Grillanda’s tips are online here.