Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

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.


11 Responses

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  1. Chris Doidge said, on January 17, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    3. Ban bad words.

    Hmm… I’ll give you the rest, but I’d quibble ‘councillors’ and ‘council’.

    Top line, no.

    But lower down, don’t they need to be in the copy for the audience to be fully informed about who’s making decisions that affect them? By leaving those words out, aren’t you exacerbating political apathy?

  2. adamwestbrook said, on January 17, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I agree with you on that point. And sometimes it’s impossible to keep council out of the top line as well!

  3. GCJ said, on January 20, 2009 at 11:52 pm


    Anyone who uses it in news copy should sod off out of news and into public sector PR.

    Opening with ‘Police are/say/will/in’: Why am I not being told what the story means to me first?

  4. BJ said, on January 21, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Oi! I write the GNS summary often. It’s the same as Radio 2’s. I try never to make it bland, or unimaginative. IRN, on the other hand, is a load of shite.

  5. adamwestbrook said, on January 21, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Glad to hear it BJ, Radio 2’s news is good I think.

    GCJ: totally agree on point 1 and 2…crackdown is the worst word EVER!

    Keep commenting guys!

  6. RL said, on January 24, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Oi! I also (used to) write the GNS summary; the guys there pride themselves on clear, crisp and concise writng. They’re not ‘churnalists’. The most depressing thind is when you see your copy subbed by a local hack and it becomes stylistically worse — or God forbid — factually wrong.

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  11. Matt said, on February 19, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Hmmm, I’m not so sure how much I rate the GNS service.

    It throws up oddities such as a top story of two sentences with no clip, leaving newsrooms around the country scouring the news channel or 5Live to clip some audio.

    The top lines aren’t always so crisp. Often they’ll be clause-tastic, and it’ll almost always be in the past tense. And you’ll get voice pieces and cues that total 55 seconds – which, when you’re putting together a 3 minute round-up of news, sport and weather, is more than a third of your available news time. Clips usually need shortening too – and sometimes you’ll get the same one, two hours in a row.

    Couldn’t manage without it – but it’s not a rip and read service.

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