Podcast: Concise Writing Less is Best


Welcome, and thank you for listening to The Writer’s Resource Podcast.

I’m Bridget A. Foster.

And this is a podcast dedicated to making you the best broadcast television news writer you can be.

Today, I want to talk to you about concise writing.

This is the companion piece to my article on my website:  BridgetAFoster.com.  Just click on “The Coach’s Corner” tab and scroll down.

I would like to discuss a couple of things that are not in that article.

It is just easier to talk to you about them — in a venue like this.

But before I do that —a quick review.

So what is concise writing, and why do we do it?

Concise writing is conveying your message without extraneous words.

Concise copy keeps the viewer or listener engaged–

It keeps the anchor energized–

And it improves the pacing of the newscast.

So when I teach this writing session to a live audience, I talk about a few additional items that get a bit cumbersome to include in an article, but we can discuss them here, and it will have the same effect as a live course.

And the topics are:

What does concise writing look like?

How much history do you need to go into with a story that is a follow-up?

What facts do you include if you have a ton of information—how do you sift through it all?  Those are questions I get quite often.

And finally, I want to touch a little bit on how TV audiences watch news.

First thing’s first____ what does concise writing look like?  People like metrics, and I get that.  But I didn’t include that in the article because that’s really something you will have to discuss with your news leadership.  

It will differ at every station.  One station where I gave a seminar on this topic only wanted 3-5 lines max for a vo.  But your station may have a different philosophy.  

So how about the history of a story or deciphering what facts are pertinent and which ones aren’t?  It’s true, if a story is older and you are writing a follow up, you may need to include some of the backstory to ensure the viewer or listener remembers what you’re talking about.  That’s fine.  But you do not need to take the audience through every nuance of what lead up to today’s update.  I’ve had scripts submitted to me that told the whole back-story, and those scripts ended up being vo’s that were more than a minute long.  That’s way too much.  

As for deciding which facts should go into a story if you have a ton of information from the source copy–that can be tough.  But each vo should focus on a single issue.  Figure out what that is.  If the source copy goes off on a tangent and gives you a host of facts, you don’t need to include them all.  Only choose the ones vital to the issue you are focussing on in the story.  The other ones, at that point, are irrelevant.  If someone wants to read more, driving them to your website is a solid strategy.

Now, here’s something I thought you would find interesting.  I often tell people to “be the viewer”.  But it’s hard for us because we’re in news.  So odds are you crave it.  You want to read more, watch more, hear more.  I think oftentimes we make coverage and writing decisions based on that.  But the average viewer does not think that way.  I had the opportunity to watch a focus group.  My boss chose a newscast that he thought we had knocked out of the ballpark with team coverage of this issue that would affect most of the viewing area.  But when we watched people watch us, we were shocked.  They were so done with the story by the time the second reporter popped up on the screen.  They zoned out and took their audience measurement controllers and rated us much lower.  We watched as our favorability numbers tumbled.  We had made the mistake of thinking more was more, when clearly less was best.  We needed to be concise.  Tell them what the issue was, how it would affect them, and what’s next — and then move on.   

Something to keep in mind when you sit down to craft your next story.

For the full article, don’t forget, you can go to BridgetAFoster.com and click on “The Coach’s Corner.”  And if you would like to sign up to receive my writing or leadership articles straight to your e-mail inbox, you can do that as well on my website, right on the home page.

For the Writer’s Resource Podcast, I’m Bridget Foster … and remember, great writing takes practice.

Write now and write often.

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