Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Radio journalists: get your inlines right!

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 18, 2009
Image: Adam Westbrook

Image: Adam Westbrook

In a radio news story there are two really important lines: the “top-line” and the “in-line”.

The first one is the first line of the story and it has to get the whole story across simply, directly, accurately – and keep the audience listening at the same time. Journalists spend most of their time getting this right, which is why the “in-line” is so often overlooked.

It’s the line just before a clip of audio, and its purpose is to tell us who’s about to speak.

The oldest man in the world – and one of the last survivors of the First World War – has died at the age of 113. (Topline)

Henry Allingham passed away at his care home in Brighton yesterday.

He was one of the founding members of the RAF and took part in Ypres and the Battle of Jutland.

Dennis Goodwin, founder of the First World War Veterans’ Association, said he was a national treasure: (Inline)


My problem with most in lines is when journalists try to tell us more than who is about to speak; they try to tell us what the person is about to say as well.

But that is totally redundant if they’re going to repeat you in the audio clip.

It gets worse too. How often do you hear an in-line introducing someone you’re going to recognise?

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, insists our troops are well looked after.


Or someone you don’t need to know?

These people we spoke to in Manchester think it’s a bad idea:


Some argue the journalist has a responsibility to make sure the listener fully understands what’s happening. But I believe they are smart enough to put the pieces together – and indeed engage more when they do. You can surprise the listener more by bringing in audio without introducing it: it means they have to connect the audio to the story and engage.

You can save valuable seconds by just telling us who we’re about to hear and let them do the talking; or just let the audio speak for itself.