Your verified news is a valuable commodity. Having invested considerable expertise and effort in seeking it and finding it, you don’t want to skimp on its production and presentation. News Directors assure the follow-through includes strong writing, sharp editing, clean audio production, and flawless packaging and presentation.
News Directors are also in a good position to trigger processes that increase the impact of the news: promotion, Web accompaniment and talk show tie-ins.
There are important moments in the preparation of original news stories when editors and reporters collaborate directly.
One is prior to writing the script. See How-To’s → Do a “Sound Edit”
The other is the actual edit — when the reporter presents an out-loud reading of the script complete with sound-bites.
All newsrooms should have a rock-solid “Get An Edit” policy that requires all original scripts go through that vetting process.
NPR’s Jonathan Kern writes in great detail about the choices and the processes involved in writing and editing. See Outside Help → Jonathan Kern: Story Editing
Devoted radio producers feel strongly about the “aesthetic imperatives” of the aural medium. (They take exception, for example, when they hear print-style writing and reporting on the air.) Remember that radio excels at simple, narrative story telling. See Case Studies → Nancy Updike: Writing for Radio
Writers and editors will normally abide by style guidelines. While these guidelines may be established by the News Director, often they are derived from one of the well-accepted style guides.
See Outside Help → Style Guides
Obviously breaking news situations can radically speed up the gathering and delivery procedures. Urgency may preclude script writing but it should not preclude the vetting process — if possible.
When an editor is satisfied that the script is polished, the editor gives it the green light to be produced. In some stations, the reporter handles all the production work; in other stations, technical experts help record and mix.
Reporters must be adept at radio delivery. News Directors should be able to troubleshoot delivery issues and help bring improvement.
Mixing the piece requires digital audio skills and an ear for timing, levels and the finer points of audio craft.
If you need tutorials for audio production, see Outside Help → Audio Production
The audio editing and mixing process is another area in which journalists must exercise ethical discretion. For a thoughtful discussion on the topic:
The News Director — often in league with the Program Director — considers how the news is best delivered. After all, listeners have habits and expectations. They are in the habit of getting updates at the top of the hour. They expect public radio to go beyond headline news and delve more deeply. They also want radio to be immediately on top of any large-scale disaster.
You’ve anticipated these needs early in the story planning process. Here are ways you’ve organized your news as discreet “products” for your listeners:
Spots — the short story form usually running under a minute. Produced reasonably quickly to convey essential facts but limited in context. The pre-recorded ones require anchor introductions.
Super Spots — a slightly longer story form but usually under two minutes. More easily allow multiple actualities and greater context.
Features — longer stories that commonly run 3-5 minutes. A staple of public radio because they’re ideal for contextual storytelling within the brevity of the medium.
Documentaries — lengthy, in-depth treatments of major topics. More akin to news programs than stories but their singular focus on a major news topic makes them a unit of news production. Documentaries typically stand apart from feature reports by choosing timelessness over timeliness, broad focus over narrow, and definitive framing over temporal framing. Station programmers generally prefer documentaries as one-hour programs.
Newscasts — aggregations of spot reports delivered by a presenter at set times. Used to summarize the latest news. They present spot stories in order of importance. They may vary in length and placement but are customary at the top and bottom of the hour. They should be live. Some station newscasts include feature reports.
Series — a collection of news stories linked by a common theme. They explore a large issue through individual stories. Series become occasions for extra promotion and community engagement.
Programs — a generic term (like Shows) that refers to a radio production with a name, usual start and end time, a staff and a format. The format may include opening billboard, newscasts, segments, headlines, regular guests, etc.
Specials — singular broadcast opportunities that devote significant airtime to a topic or event. A special may have format characteristics of a magazine or talk show or documentary. Could include a live remote or breaking news coverage or a studio-based event (as a political debate or town hall meeting). What makes it “special” is its unique, stand-alone nature.
Journalist Debrief — a journalist-to-journalist interview. (May also be referred to as a Two-Way or a Q-and-A — though those terms may also be applied to newsmaker interviews.) Quick way to learn what a reporter has to report. Works well in a conversational format or when speeding information to air.
News Commentary — is not news but can help illuminate the meanings and impacts of news. Commentary proceeds from verified fact and offers opinion in the public interest.
Rolling Crisis Coverage — is similar to the breaking news special except it begins with no end in sight. It is a way to “hold the airwaves” as a continuing story unfolds.
Web News — may be an on-line version of your radio news or it may include added material or entirely new content. Consider that the interactivity of the Web may drastically alter the definition of news and news stories.