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 production, and flawless packaging and presentation.
News Directors are know that the airing of a story is no longer the final act in the news process. Audiences now look for ways to respond to news coverage — through comments, call-ins or sharing via social media. See How-To’s → Increase Story Impact
Writing and Editing
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.
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:
NEWS STORY FORMS
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.
- The Reader — anchor-ready text.
- The Cut-and-Copy — anchor-ready script accompanied by an audio actuality.
- The Voicer — a recording of a reporter without actuality.
- The Wrap — a recording of a reporter with actuality.
- On-Scene report — story delivered by a reporter while at the scene of a story. (Live or pre-fed)
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.
- Hard Features are time-sensitive, event-driven or focused on serious issues.
- Soft Features are more “evergreen,” colorful, entertaining.
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.
- Headlines may serve as mini-newscasts. Highly abbreviated stories (copy only).
- Not the same as billboards or teases.
- Bulletins interrupt programs in progress for the urgent delivery of highly important information.
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.
- Horizontal Series — scheduled “across the week” — airing at the same time several days in a row.
- Vertical Series — scheduled “down the month” — airing the same day of the week several weeks in a row.
- Occasional Series — don’t follow a set pattern.
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.
- Magazines — offer a mixture of hard and soft news, interviews, opinion, arts and culture. May be daily, weekly or monthly.
- Talk/Interview/Call-in — provide interviews, analysis and discussion. Designed as a venue for opinion and listener engagement more than as a vehicle for news reporting.
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.
OTHER NEWS VEHICLES
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.
- Story ideas would normally remain proprietary information in a newsroom until they become actual stories, but when published on the web they may attract leads, sources and angles.
- Facts — as they are verified can be reported instantly and incrementally (though they should still be placed in context).
- Actualities, photos and videos have their own fact value on-line.
- Links allow users to see source materials and go deeper into the story’s background or characters.
- Blogs allow reporters to provide a personal narrative about the gathering process and include minor but interesting elements that wouldn’t make it on air.
- Slideshows and other multi-media storytelling allow a different experience than radio stories.
- Comment, argument or social networking takes the story further into the world and encourages its repetition, interpretation and follow-up.
- Questions from users and answers by journalists are now possible and consistent with your public service mission.
- User Generated Content can supplement your professional work.
- Archives should be deep and accessible to all because storage is cheap and even your news team may need to retrieve a past report.