From Broadcast to the Web: Writing Tips from the Digital Editors

Write on.

We’re fortunate to have Melissa Goh, one of NPR.org’s homepage editors, do a little training for us later this morning on turning your broadcast copy into web scripts. Here are some general tips for you to consider, whether you’re primary broadcast, digital, or something in between:

1. Think Before You Start

  • At the inception of the story idea, ask yourself: What’s the smartest way to tell this story on the Web? Story text? Q-and-A? Reporter’s notebook? Photos? Photo gallery? Audio slideshow? Video? Blog item? Social media?
  • Talk it over with your assignment editor, photo editor and Web producer — before you start reporting.

2. Report For The Web While You’re Reporting for Broadcast

  • Some storytelling elements that can’t fit into a broadcast piece might be great to include in the Web story instead.
  • Conversely, some elements may be better suited for broadcast or otherwise unnecessary to the Web version.
  • As you report, ask questions and gather detail for the Web version – descriptions of scene/setting, details of characters (age, occupation, background), a map, documents, links, pdfs or photos.

3. When Writing, Keep It Interesting And Make It Work

  • Decide now: Will this piece work on the Web as a long-form narrative? Is it best as a short and sharp piece? Also consider alternative storytelling forms like multimedia or blog items.
  • Make your story as worthy on the Web as it was for broadcast. Just because it’s text doesn’t mean you have to adopt a dry and formal style. The conversational tone set by radio/TV in most cases works well on the Web.
  • The narrative form and structure of many broadcast scripts often translates into Web text easily without too much rewriting. This is not always the case, however, so remember that the Web and broadcast versions of your story need not be exactly the same – just as long as both are accurate.
  • Make the lede clear and compelling – keep readers hooked from the start.
  • Keep Web text compact. Sometimes this means short. Sometimes this means well-organized. Sometimes this means brief paragraphs and clearly expressed ideas.
  • Avoid clichés.
  • Where appropriate, include statistics – population, poll numbers, a bit of history.
  • Beware extra material. Before you start adding quotes, ask yourself: Does this make the story better?
  • Beware expert material. Just because you know it doesn’t mean a reader wants or needs to.

4. Think Visually

  • Compelling photos make people click.
  • Consider what visual elements will deliver information faster – like charts and maps instead of a number-heavy paragraph.
  • Use subheaders, summary boxes, etc. within the story to lead the user through the text.

 

5. Remember The Nut Graf? Use It!

  • The “nut graf” or “nutshell paragraph” is the paragraph of your story that tells the reader what the story is about and why they should keep reading. It sets up the value of the rest of the story and hooks the reader into continuing. It’s short, around 2-3 sentences.
  • It should appear at the beginning of your story, either as the lede or 3-6 grafs in (in broadcast scripts and feature writing, this usually occurs much deeper in the story).
  • From lede to nut graf to end, seek a thread that will help guide the reader through the story.
  • Done right, your nut graf can also serve as the “intro,” “teaser” or “blurb” that fronts your story on other pages. It also serves the same purpose when introducing multimedia stories on their own pages.
  • A nut graf is also a good writing exercise to help you focus on why this story should be interesting to your readers. Try writing one for your story before writing your Web text.

 

6. Manage Your Quotes And Transitions

  • Sometimes what sounds good on air looks out of place on a Web page.
  • Avoid run-on quotes.
  • Paraphrase a subject’s quotes if they don’t quite read well in text or those ideas could be more concisely conveyed.
  • Direct quotes must be word-for-word. NEVER paraphrase what a subject has said and put quotation marks around it.
  • Smooth out abrupt transitions by foreshadowing a quote or idea with a sentence or clause. However: Avoid quotes that repeat information already stated elsewhere in the story.
  • Be clear about who is talking.

7. Always Attribute

  • Cite the sources of statistics.
  • Attribute quotes and make sure to confirm the titles or role of subject you’re quoting.
  • Note that in Web text, you will use attribution far more than in broadcast stories.

 

8. Watch Your Spelling, Style And Grammar

  • They matter to readers and reflect on the accuracy and credibility of your story.
  • Do not depend on editors, producers or copy editors to rescue your style.
  • Get the spelling of names and subjects’ titles right.
  • Be careful about contractions, they can be a distraction.
  • Invest in an AP stylebook and a Webster’s dictionary – and use them!

9. Consider How You’ll Get The Reader To Your Story

  • Be mindful of how people use the Web and the path they may take to get to your story. Will they click on it from your home page or their mobile device? Will they get to it from a breaking news alert, or Twitter?
  • Sharp, compelling headlines and teasers are vital; they bait the hook for a user’s attention. If the reader doesn’t click, none of the rest of this tip sheet matters.

 

10. After Your Story Posts, Promote It

  • Promote your story through Facebook, Twitter or other social media tools.
  • Send people to your site with a call-out during broadcast.
  • Once again: Sharp, compelling headlines and teasers are vital. Don’t leave them as an afterthought — take time to craft them.

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