By Jon Quick
Jon Q Consulting
For fun, let’s take a trip to the archives and hear some vintage news from circa 1950. You’ll hear a local newscast from Billings, Montana, national broadcasts from CBS, the Mutual Broadcasting System, and others.
There certainly was a mix of real news and opinion in some of these excerpts. Listen here.
Today the question arises, what is a newscast? And what is commentary? The answers are conceptually simple, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. Paul Harvey was both news and commentary. The same can be argued about Bill O’Reilly’s current radio broadcasts.
For the news purist, a radio newscast is void of any commentary, especially political. Today’s article is not meant, however, to be another debate about “what is news?”
Instead, let me offer some actionable tips on today’s style of news writing and presentation for those interested in doing real news.
These are my suggestions for “Effective Ways to Improve Your Radio News Writing and Presentation in Today’s World.” Initially, I co-authored these with Chris Berry, today the executive vice president, news talk and sports for iHeartMedia and the 24/7 News Network.
I have shared these many times with clients over the years and have often revised them as times have changed. I hope you find them helpful as you further build and enrich your news product. Of course, depending on your own format and style, these would not necessarily apply to all. But these may be a good starting point, or a refresher course.
Fact is: Newscasts today tend to be shorter and more direct. They are written more concisely and in a more conversational style. There is more sound, and sometimes even music is used. For better or for worse, people don’t have as much time as we exist in a faster moving world with many more options for getting our information
Start Strong / News First. Be creative. The lead is the most important part of the story. It’s what catches the ear of the listener. Use sound right at the top. Sometimes you can even use music. Or start live with the actuality, or a newsmaker on the phone.
After the lead, I recommend to always do a weather brief and current temperature, then plug “complete weather follows news in (insert number) minutes.” People always want weather. You hardly ever be criticized for doing it too much. Many times weather is the top story out there. Still, there are stations who will make listeners wait until the next scheduled weathercast.
Local radio is still the best source for “instant news” on air and online.
“News first” should be a priority for all news and talk stations on radio and online – those who do legitimate news, that is.
Promote this in your news sign-off after every newscast. An example:
“This is (name) …… on (your brand) and 24/7 (or “anytime”) on (your brand).com
Ideally add: “Next news at (insert time) …breaking news right away.”
Create a Theatre of the Mind. Combine sound with words to tell a story in a creative way. Make sure the listener can picture what you describe. Play to the ear. Combined on-air with photos online.
Use Natural Ambient Sound. Take a few more minutes to add sound to the story. Imagine television without pictures. Radio is the same way without sound. Be creative in gathering nat(ural) sound. One of best examples I have heard: A radio news reporter once strapped a mic to his ankle to create walking noise as he was describing the trail of an escaped prisoner. Remember, also to make good use of silence, pauses, timing.
Be Conversational and Concise. Write the way you talk. Be concise. Short words. Short simple sentences. Limit yourself to one thought per sentence. Write as though you are telling a friend something you just heard.
But Don’t Be Too Concise. Remember, “Who, What, When and Where.”
Look for the “You” Angle. Talk one-on-one to the listener. Use the word “YOU.”
Be personal. Relate. Never say things like “People can expect … .” Simply say, “YOU can expect.” Don’t say, “Students in schools this year can expect …. .” Instead, “A change at school this fall for your kids.”
Never Start with Numbers. In a story, use them sparingly. The listener can’t remember them, and too many numbers make a story hard to follow. Never start with a number.
Weather, Sports and Traffic is Also News. Don’t be afraid to lead with the weather, the sports, or the traffic. If it’s the biggest story, don’t feel you have to wait for the time it normally airs. Do it right now! LIVE!
Get the Story First. But Get it Right. And Rewrite. Strive to be the news leader by being first with the story, but not until you are sure of the facts. Check your sources. Check them twice.
Always rewrite and update with the latest facts. Never use the same story the same way.
Place Titles in Front of Names. Try to reduce a title of a spokesman or source to three words or less. Or use no title at all. Sometimes it not needed to put the newsmakers comments in perspective. Don’t over-attribute. Sometimes no attribution is needed. Commonly used phrases like “authorities say” is a waste.
Avoid The Use of “Bureaucrat-ese.” Watch the use of jargon or technical terms, without a purpose. Don’t use a $10 word, when a 50-center will do.
Use News to Tease and Increase Time Spent Listening. Never say, “More news after this.” Instead, use the break to promote what’s coming up. A good model example is:
“(your brand) time is 7:03. It’s 16 degrees in (cities).
Your taxes are going up again. More on that next.”
Or, if the weather is coming up next, never say, “Weather coming up next.” Instead:
“(Your brand) time is 7:05. 72 degrees in (your city). The sun will shine on the (name event) this Saturday. All the weather next.”
Notice the addition of not only a time check to breaks, but also the temperature, and also the location of the temperature. You cannot give time and temp enough. Ever. Plus, the addition of the tease.
You might have more suggestions of your own. I’d love to hear about them. Shoot me an email or call anytime. And stay tuned.
Jon Quick has worked with many great radio brands in his career, including WCCO, WIBC, WDAY, KFGO, KTAR, KLBJ, KFTK, and Corus Radio, Canada. Today he specializes in consulting and talent coaching for brands nationwide. He can be reached at 317-432-0309, or Jon@QPRmarketing.com.