Rules of Television News Script writing
1. Be Original – As a TV news writer, it is mandatory that you understand the material land information you‘re writing about before you start writing.
Look for the basic elements of journalism – the who, what, where, when, why and how. They‘ll help you organise the story.
2. Write Simple, Short, Direct, Declarative Sentences – The short sentence is the bread and-butter writing tool for broadcasting.
Long sentences with dangling phrases, clauses and attributions make the story difficult to read aloud and difficult to grasp.
3. Use the Active Voice – News writers show a preference of active voice over the passive
voice because of the conversational nature of TV news, immediacy of broadcasting and―personal‖ dimension of the delivery system.
4. Do not state the obvious – Do not repeat information in the script which is already being shown in visual footage.
5. Read It Aloud – The true test of the conversational quality of a piece of news copy comes when the text is read aloud. The proof is in the listening.
If the script sounds stiff when you read it, it will sound worse when the listener tries to understand it.
6. Write the key point of the story first – When writing a news bulletin try to put the key point of the story first, preferably in the first line.
7. Emphasize why the story is important.
8. Slow Down-– The news with tighter, better structured reporting and more demanding and reflective writing. Highlight the historical context as well as the latest angles.
9. Be Explicit – Don‘t expect the audience to understand hidden and implicit messages.
10. Separate similar stories from one another.
11. Use of Graphics – Make extensive use of graphics to handle statistics and other
12. Human Terms – Tell the story in human terms whenever possible.
13. Technical terms – Explain technical or specialized terms. Avoid jargon.
14. Avoid Abbreviations and Symbols – Abbreviations are hardly used in a broadcast news copy; symbols in place of words, almost never.
15. Avoid – Adjectives, adverbs, redundant words and subordinate clausesAvoid clichés, time specific words and past tense as much as possible
16. Be extra careful with names – The general rule for names is to notify the audience that the name is coming by putting some alerting words or sentences ahead of it.
When youuse a name for the first time in a story, use the full name; in subsequent references thelast name is enough.
17. Be wary of numbers – Numbers are especially difficult for the viewer to grasp. The general rule is to round off a number unless the exact number is significant. Some helpful rounding terms are: about, just over (or under), nearly, slightly more (or less) than. While speaking figure comes first. It is followed by the currency.
18. Use – Standard punctuation and spell correctly in the script
19. Avoid – Ambiguity and be precise
20. Specify Source – Source needs to be mentioned. Do not pass off your opinion as somebody else.
21. Direct quotes need special handling – Experts generally agree that the direct quotation should be short – a few words, a line at most – and right to the news point.
The word quote and unquote are used rarely, and then only when it is crucial for the audience tohear the exact words spoken.
In broadcast news the best direct quote is a good soundbyte.
TV News Scriptwriting – A combination of skills
Television news writing is more than words. It is a mixture of words and sounds, voices, faces, scenes, lighting, background, colour, motion, editing combining, mixing, sequencing, and producing. Writing for television news is a complex combination of jobs – gathering the facts, choosing the story focus, selecting visual material and words, and putting it all together into a package that is going into a program with other stories in a planned arrangement.
TV News Copy: The Mechanics
A page of television news script is typed in what is called the “split page” format. The two kinds of information in the script are:
(i) Audio Visual Cues on the left of the page
(ii) Words to be read aloud on the right of the page
a) TV News Copy : Adapting It to Video – The writer need to have a solid grasp of thefundamentals of TV news writing and a solid understanding of how a picture story is puttogether, the role of narration, and how the picture, word and sound portions of a story depend on each other.
b) Voice Over: For a V/O story, two sets of facts are needed
(i) Facts about the news event, the five W‘s and H of conventional on-camera news report
(ii) Facts about the edited version of the news story.
c) Story Facts: Television news writers refer to all the facts related to the news event as the dope sheet or poop sheet. The dope sheet includes information about the news story such as the reporter‘s notes from direct observation, notes on interviews with eyewitnesses or participants or others at the scene, newspaper clips, magazine articles, background research, a printed program, a PR handout, faxes, etc.
d) Word-Picture Match: A very basic need in TV news writing is to make the words and picture work together to tell a story.
(i) Writing to the picture: Writing text that is directly related to what is being looked at while the text is being listened to. It is also known as direct narrative or keying.
(ii) Writing away from the picture: is when the text covers aspects of the story that cannot be shown. It is also called indirect narrative.
(iii) Avoid visual reference: Only explain visuals when required.
e) Timing: A news bulletin is timed to the nth second. Script formulas may be used to calculate the time span of a TV news script but they have to be adjusted for a variety of individual variables (pace of the story, speed of reading of the anchor, etc)