Teaching Audio, part 5 -- Anchor Leads, News Judgment, News Writing and News Features
Now we are going to get into more of the nitty gritty of writing and reporting for audio stories. Basically, an anchor lead is what comes before a radio feature, an introduction read by a host before a reporter's story starts rolling. It's usually two to three sentences, teases, introduces the topic, sets the table for what's coming up, and also delineates most of the news which will be contained in the piece. Here's a great tip sheet on how to write good anchor leads for broadcast. Here's an interesting twist on how additional audio from the story can also be used as part of the anchor lead. The anchor lead, even if it's read by the anchor/host, is usually written by the reporter, and sometimes rewritten by the host/anchor to suit their own reading preferences. Sometimes before you have done your reporting or right after, it's good practice to come up with the anchor lead in your head and be able to summarize the gist of the story you will tell based on your reporting in just a few words.
READING THE CLASSICS, IMPROVING YOUR WRITING
It's good to read classics like the one above if you really want to improve your news writing style for broadcast. It's also good to record newscasts and transcribe them to really see how "the sausage is made" or at least written. Here's a great BBC tutorial on putting all the basic radio skills together for writing and reporting.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR NEWS JUDGMENT?
News judgment is very important, obviously, but hard to really pinpoint. Here are some articles which can help: http://schoolvideonews.com/Broadcast-Journalism/News-Judgement-and-Reporting, http://www.newscript.com/judgment.html, https://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/does-news-judgment-still-have-value-as-journalism-changes/.
Here are some of my buzzwords to help with news judgment. If you're on to one of these, you might have a good news story to work on ... and don't just follow everyone else ... need to know, self-interest, community, controversy, inspires intense curiosity, pertinent time frame, inspirational, raises flags, helps curb abuses, calls out abusers of the system and public trust, adds depth, characters, background, new examples to ongoing conversation ...
WHAT IS A NEWS FEATURE?
A News Feature typically is newsy .... and relates to a specific happening, event, trend, social conversation .... while the reporter also gives it some color, depth and background ....You want to encourage dialogue, thought, conversation ... Why do you care? Why should the listener care?... If the story is complex, make sure to have a strong character .... Always be a good reporter who is curious, SKEPTICAL, looks and listens for truth, listens well, absorbs info quickly, uses audio medium effectively, and does everything to avoid mistakes.
HOW CAN I MAKE MY BROADCAST STORIES BETTER?
Much like how the key to good audio editing is having good sound to work with, the key to good news writing is having good information and strong characters. Here I'll repeat some of the lessons from my Writing for the Ear tutorial, with a few extra tidbits.
You want your characters to evoke emotions and express feelings and controversy. You want to remember to use active verbs, not passive ones. You can do a so-called barf draft, where you voice your story before you write it into your recorder. You want to avoid parenthetical clauses. Use the present tense when possible. You want to be conversational. You need to show not tell. You want to use descriptive, evocative language. You want to give your listeners a sense for the passage of time. You want to use your own voice in your writing. You want to have just one simple idea per sentence. You want to eliminate all unnecessary information.
TRIM THE FAT
Time is short, and you don't want to sidetrack your listener. You need to always cut out information and just keep the essence of what makes your story powerful. You always want to put the attribution at the beginning of sentences. You don't want to overwhelm or bore the listener with too many facts and numbers, jargon and cliches. Round off numbers. You want to keep your sentences energetic and simple. You want to be clear with your story structure, with a beginning, a middle and an end, a cause-and-effect relationship, graceful pacing. Effective pacing, strong storytelling and variety of sounds are key. Remember you are striving for theater of the mind. You are telling a story, not just regurgitating facts. Finally, you never want to leave any unanswered questions hanging, leaving the listener puzzled, and you always want to be fair and ethical in what you are putting out on the airwaves.
KEEP THE FOCUS ... WHAT IS THE POINT OF MY STORY?
Here are some questions to always ask yourself and to be able to answer clearly and quickly .... What is the news? What is the point? What is my story about? Are there storytelling aspects? Who cares? What is the one thing the listener really needs to know about this? Was there a surprise? What is the one thing we need to know more about? What can I leave out? Are there any unanswered questions I need to answer, or leave out if they are besides the main point? Is there any deviation or clutter I should take out? What is my one sentence which basically tells it all (this will guide you for your anchor lead)? Would I listen to this myself? If not, should I make it shorter? more dramatic? better written? revoiced? reedited? add some sounds? make it faster?
FINDING GOOD STORIES TO TELL
OK enough questions. But I can't stop myself ... final tips on how to produce a good news feature? Coming up with a good, relevant, interesting story idea and following through getting good, to the point quotes, strong nats, delivering strong writing, and an overall audio rich story. All elements should be driving the story and the storytelling. At the end of the process don't forget .... CORRECTION, CORRECTION, CORRECTION and POLISHING of script, solid voicing, neat editing, and delivery within deadline ...
Finding story ideas can also be difficult for beginners. Here's a good tip sheet for freelance journalists. What can you cover as a student journalist? Find events listed in local newspapers, student newspapers, community calendars often available on news sites in your area, bulletin boards at gyms, supermarkets, community centers, flyers at universities, colleges, rec centers .... Here are two more links with very helpful tips on how to find a story to pursue .... http://www.investigative-journalism-africa.info/?page_id=182 and https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/blog/00-14009-seven-tips-science-journalism-finding-good-story-ideas.
Here's a really nice BBC video tutorial on the whole process of coming up with an idea, reporting, writing the story and doing the editing: http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/skills/editing/article/art20130702112133362.
If you found this tutorial useful, check out other installments. Here's the full list of chapters from my audio tutorials:
Teaching Audio -- Instilling Passion
Teaching Audio part 1 -- Recording Audio
Teaching Audio part 2 -- Writing for the Ear
Teaching Audio part 3 -- Audio Editing
Teaching Audio part 4 -- Sound Effects, Using Music and Audio Libraries
Teaching Audio part 5 -- Anchor Leads, News Writing, Judgment and Features
Teaching Audio part 6 -- Voicing
Teaching Audio part 7 -- On the Scene Reporting
Teaching Audio part 8 -- Interviews
Teaching Audio part 9 -- Newscasts and Stacking the News
Teaching Audio part 10 -- Commercials
Teaching Audio part 11 -- Raising Your Game
Teaching Audio part 12 -- Podcasting Intro
Teaching Audio part 13 -- Window Dressing
Teaching Audio part 14 -- Podcast Lists
Teaching Audio part 15 -- Big Podcasts, Little City
Teaching Audio part 16 -- Listening to Podcasts and Publishing your Own
Teaching Audio, part 17 -- Joining Podcast Communities
Teaching Audio, part 18 -- Podcasting for PR
Teaching Audio, part 19 -- Promoting Your Podcast
Teaching Audio, part 20 -- Making Money in Podcasting
Teaching Audio, part 21 -- Building a Career in Audio