To improve your news writing it always helps to study people you aspire to be like.
One of my favourite writers is Mark Riley – a seasoned political reporter for Seven news. Even when Mark and I worked on rival networks, I would study and learn from his writing style.
Here’s what I like about his writing style – and his techniques you can learn from too.
In my professional opinion, these days so many reporters’ reports look and sound very similar. Mark’s reports often show his trademark writing flair – or as I jokingly call it ‘broadcast bling’.
Now, the most important thing in writing news is getting the story and writing it in a concise and straight-forward way. Still, Mark will often (but not in every story) judiciously use the following techniques to make his stories stand out.
- clever wordplay. Mark seems to delight in throwing in the occasional line of clever writing. Too much cleverness can get in the way of telling the story – and telling the story in an easy-to-understand style is the main job of a TV news story.
One memorable example that caught my ear (and I’m paraphrasing):
But many on welfare are not faring too well.
Technically, this device is called chiasmus – where you cross and reverse words or words within words.
wel fare – fare too well
Another example of chiasmus using these words would be:
farewell to welfare
Journalists often love to have the opportunity to write lines like these. Less experienced writers often over-do it. So I encourage you to add flair – but not too much. It only takes one line like this to make a story stand out.
Wordplay techniques such as chiasmus are also often used in advertising and business and political speeches to help make messages memorable.
JFK and his speechwriter Ted Sorensen would often use chiasmus with memorable lines such as:
“Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”
and of course…
Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what YOU can do for your country.
2. Close the Circle. The ‘close the circle’ device is where you end the story by coming back to where and how you started it. It’s more common in longer TV reports rather than short news reports – however Mark will often use this device.
For example, I recall in the same story he used the chiasmus device in – he also ‘closed the circle’ – he started with a single mum and a quick quote/grab from her – moved on to quotes from politicians and all the bulk of the story – then came back to the single mum and finished with a quick quote from her.
Closing the circle can give the viewer a sense of satisfaction and completeness that the story has been ‘wrapped up’.
In longer-form TV stories (e.g. in magazine style shows) you can often signal that you are closing the circle by coming back to similar setting/shots you started the story with and sometimes the same music you use to start the story.
As I mentioned, you don’t want to be so focussed on adding flair that you neglect the main purpose of your story – to inform.
However, as Mark Riley shows time and time again – it IS possible to add ‘appropriate flair’ – even to short news stories.
So, in closing the circle…I encourage you to take the time to study the work of reporter/writers you admire and respect.
Hi, if you are interesting in writing – you’ll probably enjoy this blog. I’m a self-confessed and proud word nerd and big fan of Shakespeare – and other writers such as Hemingway.
I share my media experience (as a reporter/producer/ Deputy News Director/sub etc.) as a writing coach and trainer to news organisations and in helping craft political and business speeches.
One of the most satisfying parts of my recent job as a Deputy News Director at a major commercial TV network in Australia was helping younger writers.
I understand that the name Bard of Breaking News can seem outrageously arrogant – yet I strategically use it for ‘memorable branding’ and for the comic effect of the outrageous link and contrast between the lasting and deep grandeur or Shakespeare’s writing and the disposable speed of modern breaking news.
I do firmly believe that we can all learn from Shakespeare’s techniques to improve our writing – whether it’s for business or political speeches or even writing breaking news.