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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Producers

Details of the words

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Many of my journalism professors have told me that one must be a good writer to excel in the field of television news. Despite the fancy visual elements, words are still the core of journalism. As a result, writing and copy editing become the top priorities for producers.

As the video teammate this week, I had to make sure all scripts were written to match the broadcast standard. Here is a guide I follow to polish the scripts:

1.     Stay conversational

Unlike newspaper readers, our audiences rely on hearing to take in information. Once a story airs, audiences cannot go back to review what has been covered.  Newscasters only have one shot to make sure all the important information is effectively delivered. For this reason, the writing in television news has to be clear and concise. The scripts have to be written in a conversational way. We want to avoid passive voice, long sentences, and jargon.

2.     Write to the video

Words and visuals must work together in television news. They complement each other and a contradiction of the two will confuse audiences. For instance, if the video is showing President Obama, the writer should tweak the script in a way that centers on the president. Otherwise the mismatch of what is being showed and talked about will confuse the audience.

Often times the voice over or a copy story is followed by a sound bite. The script that goes before a sound bite will serve as a transition and introduces the person who is about to speak. This portion of the script prepares the audience for what is coming up and enhances the flow of the show.

3.     Factual

Another thing to look out for when copy editing is to make sure the language is not misleading. Every word choice must be factual and accurate. For instance, the writer cannot convict Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympian accused of shooting his girlfriend, in the script before the court has made any formal charges. We can call him “alleged murderer” but never “murderer”.

In addition to the basics, producers also have to tackle many more editorial issues in copyediting. Are the sentences too long or difficult to pronounce for the anchors? Is the lead clear and does it have the most important information? Are there too many numbers making it too confusing?

Writing and copyediting have been the most challenging part for me at ATVN. Although I cannot write perfectly, I can help copy editing by making sure the logic of the scripts flows well and the information is factual. If I, a non-English speaker, feel light-headed after reading the script, the writing is probably not clear or concise enough. The writer could work more to break down the story and present it in a clearer manner for the television viewers.

 

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