Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

5 even quicker ways to improve your newswriting

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 28, 2009

writingNot long ago I put down Three Ways to Instantly Improve your Newswriting.

It’s occured to me since, there are even more – even quicker – ways to instantly make your copy shine just that bit more.

Note: these ones are more for broadcasters, who write to be heard not read.

01. Get rid of “that”

Once you’ve written some copy, go through it and remove the word “that” and see what a difference it makes. For example:

“The International Monetary Fund has said that Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It has predicted that the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims that the British government will be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

OK, so remove the “that”s and we’re left with something which slips off the tongue far more easily:

“The International Monetary Fund has said Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It has predicted the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims the British government will be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

02. Contract words

This one is simple and should become automatic for broadcast writers. Contract everything where possible:

He is –> He’s

She will –> She’ll etc.

So our recession copy above can be improved further:

“The International Monetary Fund’s said Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It’s predicted the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims the British government’ll be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

The only possible exception is ‘will’. It’s not so easy to contract that down – although I’ve done it after “government” in the example above.

03.  Knock it all into the present tense

Especially the top line. News is about what’s happening now. If you can’t put your topline into the present tense, you need to find a new angle on the story. If you can’t do that, it’s time to can the story.

“The International Monetary Fund says Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It’s predicting the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims the British government’ll be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

04. A new top line

Let’s be honest, this copy is pretty boring. More bad news about the economy. Instantly sharpen it up by sticking in a new top line – something short pacy, which sums up the whole story.

Another headache for Gordon Brown tonight…

The International Monetary Fund says Britain will be hit hardest by the economic downturn.

It’s predicting the economy will shrink by over 2.8 percent in the next year.

Meanwhile the Institute for Fiscal Studies claims the British government’ll be saddled with debt for the next 20 years.”

05. Over is out

This is the one thing that turns me into a grammar nazi: the difference between “over” and “more than”.

When you’re talking about numbers, figures, statistics, you use more than. You can’t go over a number. You go over a hill.

So it’s “…the economy will shrink by more than 2.8 percent in the next year.”

Five quick steps and we’ve knocked that boring bit of econo-copy into shape.  On top of that, I’d get rid of the long organisation names and replace a few ‘says’/’claims’ with ‘reckons’.  But you get the point.

Any other tips you’ve picked up? Stick ‘em in the comments box!


Three ways to instantly improve your newswriting

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2009

Writing for broadcast news, writing for radio, writing to pictures: they’re all an art unto themselves, and personally for me, one of the great pleasures of my job.

But on a busy newsdesk you often come  across bland, unimaginative cues, written by the  ‘churnalists’ at IRN or Sky, or BBC’s GNS (General News Service)

You shouldn’t be in the business of putting to air/online rubbish copy, but with the top of the hour looming it’s not always that easy.  So…

LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

Image: LynGi (Creative Commons Licence)

3 ways to instantly spice up your copy

01. Put it in the now

I often end up changing copy with phrases like “Captain America saved the day today”; Problem: it’s in the past tense. News is about the now. So the topline MUST be in the present tense: “Captain America’s saving the day” or “Captain America’s been saving the day” if it’s nearing the end. A simple grammatical change makes a big difference.

02. Make it personal

Broadcast news scripts are written to be spoken – so make sure it sounds like you’d say it. And that can just involve changing some words:  “to improve the nation’s health” –> “to make us all feel better”. Adding ‘you’ or ‘us’ adds a quick personal touch.

03.  Ban bad words

The following words should be removed immediately: councillors, council, local authority, multi-agency partnership, initiative, funding, finance…the list goes on (add your own below)

There you go – if you need a tight fresh script, but are short on time, these three steps should cut out the crap.

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