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!


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Radio gaga

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on January 7, 2009

A great find from James Cridland here:

A TV news report about how commercial radio is struggling under recession. One station has gone out of business, two companies have merged, and critics are blaming over regulation.

There’s only 1 thing: this report was broadcast in 1984….

Some things to look out for in the first 3 minutes:

  1. A very young looking Nicholas Owen
  2. Peter Sissons unable to read an autocue, even 25 years ago
  3. Timmy Mallett acting like a complete twat

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7,747

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on November 22, 2008

It’s difficult in journalism sometimes to get across the scale of something, which is inevitably huge, but also so slow moving it’s barely noticable.  Reporting climate change is the obvious one which springs to mind.

But the current recession/economic downturn/credit crunch is another difficult one.

My patch is bearing the brunt of job losses, but how do you convey the scale of it all, especially at a national level?

Well I’ve just spotted this at the bottom of a Guardian article online, the simplicity of which can leave you with no doubt. Sometimes maybe, you just let the figures speak for themselves:

Guardian Unlimited

Guardian Unlimited

Can local radio succeed online?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 13, 2008

Well, ask Andrew Harrison at the Radio Centre in this week’s Radio Magazine, not really.

He claims commercial radio is another victim of the BBC’s local TV plans, along with the online aspirations of local newspapers.

Well certainly in the 100m online contest, local commercial radio is at the back of the pack. Many sites have old clunky websites which haven’t embraced web 2.0.  Content is rarely updated, I’ve often found the code is full of holes. Most of all, they don’t give their listeners a reason to go there.

Compare that to their BBC radio rivals, and now their newspaper cohorts and it’s a tadge shameful.

But maybe that doesn’t have to be the way.

Over at Viking FM this week, we trialled the station’s first live webcast. We arranged for a local financial expert to come into the station and answer questions from listeners about the credit crunch and what it means for them.

You can see the results by clicking here.

It was a lot more popular than we’d imagined, thanks chiefly to heavy plugging over the airwaves. But it shows, I think, people do have an appetite for this sort of content.

There just needs to be more dedication to doing it.

Money, money, money

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on October 15, 2008

I spent a large proportion of today standing in the cold outside a fish packaging factory in Grimsby.

Yes, it’s only the highlife journalism for me! Why? Well because 500 people could be made redundant there – after the company’s Icelandic owner struggles with the credit crunch. It could be a massive blow to the region’s economy, and people.

Oh there it goes again.

The. Credit. Crunch.

If you’ve read this week’s Weekly Radio magazine, my former tutor at City University’s Broadcast Journalism course in London, Jan Whyatt has made some interesting points about coverage of the financial crisis so far.

“In my experience, a lot of journalists are not all that numerate. They don’t really feel feel comfortable with financial news. The people that recognise and accredit journalism training should strongly consider making it an absolute requirement to pass an exam demonstrating numeracy.”

I totally agree. I think the media has largely failed to analyse the crisis, other than with graphics of downward graphs and (the BBC’s favourite) a statistic slowly getting larger in the centre of the screen. Peston’s always good quality of course, but unfortunately he’s not available for every market. Radio meanwhile has struggled with its brevity.

I don’t just think our journalists should be armed with better knowledge; I wrote ages ago I think we ALL should!

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Apocalypse soon

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on October 14, 2008

I wrote a while back about whether the UK media industry would weather the [insert “economic storm” metaphor here].

I reckoned it would be changed significantly at least.

But according to Charlie Beckett writing about a Polis speech by the Guardian‘s Emily Bell, that was a bit of an understatement…!

“We are on the brink of two years of carnage for Western media. In the UK five nationals could go out of business and we could be left with no UK owned broadcaster outside of the BBC. We are facing complete market failure in local papers and regional radio. This is sytematic collapse not just a cyclical downturn.”

Never get out of the boat...

Never get out of the boat...

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This is a barrel

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on October 9, 2008

Take a look at this barrel:

Imagine if you will, Mr and Mrs John D Taxpayer bent over this barrell. With their pants hoicked around their angles, getting a right old bumming from every high street bank, many local councils, and now it seems even some police forces.

In these turbulent times, the “age of Robert Peston“, what else could I be talking about, other than yours and my favourite cereal, the Credit Crunch.

Or rather, the discovery that while the times were good, and the credit was only starting to crunch (and snap and crackle and pop) banks and public bodies were willfully investing our cash in all sorts of bollocks.

Now I don’t know what it was about the Icelandic. Maybe the Chief Constable of Humberside Police really has a thing for Bjork and local councillors go crazy for Sigur Ros, but they’ve all invested a lot of cash. Our cash. And they’ve probably lost it.

This isn’t the best thing to realise the day after we all forked out £50bn for the banks.

So it’s pretty grim. But I’m not going to write about why it’s grim and all that.  Instead:covering the story today some things surprised me. First off, the lack of outrage from the public. We went out and voxed some shoppers in Grimsby today, who ranged from nonchalent to mildly peeved.

But what’s got me most cross is the behaviour of these public bodies. My job is to cover events in the Humberside area, and both North Lincolnshire Council and North East Lincolnshire Council it turned out had investments totalling £12m in Landsbanki.

North Lincolnshire offered a statement totalling a few lines, but I was told the people I needed to speak to “were in meetings all day”. Very convenient for them. North-east Lincolnshire found one spokesperson.

I caught the end of Channel 4 News today, as Jon Snow said “We’ve tried contacting every high street bank involved in the bailout, but no-one was available for interview.”

I’m sorry?!

For £50bn I expect the bosses of each high street bank to be available to skip naked through an apiary covered in maple syrup. (Ahh, the things you wish you could say to press officers).

The fact is, not only have banks been spending customers money wildly, so have the public bodies with a responsiblity to the people who pay their wages. Yet they show little or no desire to engage the people whose money they’ve spent and who are bailing them out. That’s called rude in my book.

I hope from this whole mess, at least one thing emerges: a watchdog like attitude among the general public. If we don’t watch these cretins more closely, we’ll be over that barrel again.