Better News writing – let go of OF!

Have you noticed that the pace OF news is speeding up?  It’s the job OF subs to trim copy OF excess words.

Intros are shorter. Packages are shorter. Live crosses are shorter.

Every second and syllable matters- so I encourage you to let go  of OF


An easy technique is to focus on the words around the word OF.

Here are two quick and simple examples from subbing a commercial TV news bulletin.

A jury is in the process OF considering….


the jury asked a number OF questions…

When I see OF, I think:  what’s a simpler, more economical way OF ‘saying’ this?

A jury is in the process OF considering….


A jury is considering….


the jury asked a number OF questions…


the jury asked several questions…


the pace OF news is speeding up  can become the news pace is speeding up or you can just write news is speeding up 

a more economical way OF saying this

can become

a more economical way to say this


to say this more economically


It’s the job OF subs to trim copy OF excess words.

can become

It’s the sub’s job to trim excess words.




Here’s a link to a related post about ‘releasing the verb’ for more active news writing;


An easy way to improve your news writing


Hi, if you are interested 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.


One of the most satisfying parts of my job as a former Deputy News Director at a major commercial TV network in Australia and now as a University Broadcast Journalism tutor and guest lecturer is 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.


An easy way to improve your news writing

This tip will help you:

  1. ‘shave seconds’ when you need to fit your news into brief updates or news promos (radio and tv)
  2. start with the most exciting words when your audience ‘reads’ your words


It’s an ‘old’ trick I was taught as a young reporter and one I pass on when I teach better news writing at university journalism schools or in newsrooms.

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News is often written very quickly and you don’t have a lot of time to craft your writing.

That’s why this easy trick is so helpful – especially when you are ‘subbing’ copy.

It all hinges around the word OF – as the image shows.

When you find the word OF – look at the words around it. In this case:

The discovery OF a human jaw bone in Teneriffe.

In my professional opinion, you could easily improve this writing by changing it to:

Human jaw bone discovered in Teneriffe

In broadcast writing, every syllable is time  (syllables add up to seconds) and this simple change reduces the syllable count from 15 to 11 – shaving off 4.   TV News is often promoted in radio ads or TV updates and you’d often have to fit 4 or 5 ‘headlines’ into 15 seconds. That’s why every syllable counts. When you are subbing updates you often have to shave off seconds.

An even stronger reason for the change is to start your ‘sentence’ with the most exciting words (In writing news you often write  broadcast-style ‘bursts’ of words or fast fragments rather than fully formed sentences)

Starting the  ‘burst’ with the dramatic ‘human jaw bone’ is more exciting than ‘the discovery of’.

In general, verbs are more action-packed and shorter than nouns:

By turning the noun discovery to the verb discovered – you add action and save a syllable.

Now, I know when pumping out news you don’t have time to count syllables.

That’s why quick little tricks and writing reflexes (tweaking the words around OF and ‘releasing the verb’ work so well.




I was lucky to learn news writing when my bosses and more senior and more experienced colleagues took the time to teach you little tricks. Modern newsrooms with fewer staff and more news to pump out don’t seem to have the time to pass on these tricks that will lead to better bulletins and better news promos and updates and better ratings.






Breaking the ‘Breaking News’ habit part 2 of 2 – what IS breaking news?

What is Breaking News to you? Some news event that is currently happening?

Some event that happened just recently – in the last 30 minutes? The last 60 minutes?  What is ‘recently’?




These days, news bulletins seem to use the Breaking News description very freely.

Now sometimes news really IS breaking – and the coverage is exciting. Other times the ‘news event’ has already happened hours ago – and yet many TV news bulletins seem to want to create a ‘dramatic urgency ‘ with a live cross to a reporter in some location with a dramatic ‘whooosh’ and a Breaking News banner or graphic.


BBN DSM breaking-news-2

The news is not fake – but it is NOT Breaking News.

The feedback I get from many news consumers is that they are turned off by ‘fake breaking news’ – where it’s obvious certain news is not breaking.


I’ll give an example – not naming the news network. I knew the news item touted as ‘…in breaking news’ had already happened and was NOT breaking because I’d already seen this news via social media and heard about it in a radio bulletin.

The news touted as ‘breaking news’ was about a person being charged for dangerous driving. The TV ‘breaking’ news went to air about 2 hours after the QPS (Queensland Police Service) Media update that informed that the man was charged…in the morning!

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My advice to television newsrooms is to ‘pull back’ on calling items BREAKING NEWS – if they are NOT – especially when there’s a chance the audience may have already learned of the news on social media or radio.

It’s so easy to describe the news more accurately :

  • just omit the “Breaking News” words from the intro
  • OR write with a ‘future focus’ – what WILL happen – A 22-year-old man will face court charged with 120 driving offences.

In my professional opinion, Breaking News that is fake can damage the credibility of a news organisation. Just because your competitors do it too is hardly an excuse. Most people are only watching one bulletin at a time and they will only see YOUR fake Breaking News.


Here’s a link to Part 1

Breaking the ‘Breaking News” habit part 1 of 2





Why media should learn the difference between stealing and robbery

I keep hearing and seeing this mistake again and again in the news – the misuse of the word ‘robbery’.

Bard of Breaking News (Breaking Bard)

This post was inspired by reading this news report this morning – and it shows the need for journalists to understand the difference between robbery and stealing. They are not the same thing.

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The actual story got it right – the headline was wrong. This was a case of stealing not robbery.

Robbery is far more ‘severe’ with a more severe penalty and involves violence or the threat of violence​ when taking something. The crime has a heavier penalty because the victim suffers not just the loss but also the distress of the threat.

When the police issue media releases or make statements they get the terminology right.

Usually, more experienced police reporters know the difference between robbery and theft and get it right.

My argument is: reporters ‘filling in’ on police rounds or writing the headlines should be trained to get rob/steal right too.

In this case, it’s alleged…

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Breaking the ‘Breaking News” habit part 1 of 2

Not all news is ‘breaking news’ and many TV news services annoy viewers and lose viewers by claiming that news stories are breaking when they clearly are not.

TV news viewers often complain that some stories are clearly not breaking and should not have the ‘false urgency’ of the dramatic ‘swoosh’ sound effect and breaking news banner and dramatic wording “In breaking news…”

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The most obvious ‘false urgency’ or ‘fake breaking news’ stories involve court stories in an evening TV news bulletin where a reporter stands in front of a court sign and reports on events that happened earlier that day before the courts shut for the day.

Now there are exceptions – like when a jury comes back with a decision in the evening during or just before a news bulletin OR in a court decision that happens during a morning or afternoon bulletin.

One of my Broadcast News writing ‘heroes’ – the great Mervin Block from the US – has long been a critic of False Urgency of Fake Breaking News.

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I understand the drama and appeal of ‘well executed’ breaking news – when news really IS breaking. What I think is damaging to TV news is when it’s obvious that something is not breaking.

The fix: Just don’t say it’s breaking if it’s NOT.

Be aware that the audience is NOT stupid.

Be especially cautious when it gets darker earlier and the anchor crosses to a reporter standing…alone…in the dark…in front of a court sign…with no activity of anything ‘breaking’ behind them.

My main point is: newsroom producers and writers remember your audience isn’t stupid and can get annoyed with fake drama or breaking news.

Break the breaking news habit. Save the breaking news drama for stories when an even really IS breaking.

I’ll have more in part 2 – including: What actually is Breaking News?

TV #writing tip: avoid parroting…avoid parroting

Bard of Breaking News (Breaking Bard)

Avoid parroting​!

This post was inspired by seeing a bad example of ‘parroting​’ in a major Australian commercial TV news last night. It was in one of the major first break stories too. Maybe the story/package came in late from interstate – but in my opinion, the parroting​ should have and could have been avoided.


Basically, ‘parroting’ is bad repetition and it can happen in the intro/package transition and in the grab set-up/grab transition. The media industry term is called ‘parroting’ as a derogatory term for the way parrots repeat what people say – word for word.
It applies to radio reports too.

In the story that inspired this post – the last words of the reader intro were:

…the search for answers

the first words from the reporter package were:

The search for answers…

Even with late-breaking stories or stories ‘in late and up early’ in the bulletin, news…

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Avoid this #news #writing mistake – ask yourself ‘Who was trapped in the car?’

Bard of Breaking News (Breaking Bard)

This is a photo of a car window smashed by police – not a TV screen smashed by a viewer frustrated by bad news writing.

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Police smashed the window to rescue a young boy left in a locked car by his father.

The reason I wanted to smash my TV screen was frustration at this bad news writing on a first break story on major Australian TV news service

“Despite spending three hours in the car, police say the little boy…”

No! It was not the police who spent three hours in the car! But it sounds like it – the way the sentence is written.

I often hear arguments from busy news writers – it doesn’t matter. The viewer won’t care or won’t even notice – or the viewer will know what you meant to say.

I argue that it’s easy to avoid this problem – and busyness is…

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The problem with words like #fracas – how do you pronounce fracas?

Bard of Breaking News (Breaking Bard)

Some words look great in print stories but can cause problems in broadcast news when you have to pronounce the words.

This post was inspired by seeing this headline.

BBN IMG_9183.JPGFranchise Fracas looks good – and can sound good with the alliteration​.

However, ‘fancy’ words like fracas can cause problems if reporters or readers do not know how to pronounce them. Especially, if the reader pronounces them differently from the reporter.

Often there are generational and geographical differences in how people pronounce these ‘fancy’ words.

Often a more mature reader will pronounce the words in the correct British English way and a younger reporter will use the US English pronunciation – which is often as a word ‘looks’. In words borrowed from foreign languages, many letters are silent – like the S in fracaS.

My understanding is that the US English pronunciation is frak-as (where the S is pronounced)

The British…

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How to pronounce ‘haute couture’

There are different ways to pronounce ‘haute couture’ and I just saw a news bulletin with a story that, in my opinion, demonstrated the best practice when pronouncing foreign expressions like haute couture.

haute couture

If you search how to pronounce haute couture – you’ll find some sites suggest:
1. haute is pronounced like out
2. haute is pronounced like oat
3. it’s best to pronounce is ‘between’ out and oat, start with out and switch to oat and to say it fast

When I checked how to say the word in French – I heard haute pronounced like ORT.

So there’s OUT, OAT and ORT…and somewhere between OUT and OAT

Which one should you use?

I usually recommend using for Australian news audiences the British English pronunciation even if it is different from the foreign language the word is taken from.

The news buletin pronounced haute like OUT – but the main point is the reader and reporter pronounced it the same way.

Usually, reporter’s voice on the news package has already been recorded and it’s easier for the reader to listen to the package pronunciation and to match that pronunciation in the intro. Of course, the reader shouldn’t adopt a wrong pronunciation just for the sake of matching – but if there are various ways of pronouncing a word or expression, try to be consistent.

To be honest, general commercial news will not feature haute couture stories that often unless local designers are involved.

I have seen so many examples where the reader pronounces a foreign exzpression one way and the reporter pronounces it differently.

Often there are geographical and generation differences in pronouncing foreign words such as fracas and jaguar and Nicaragua.

When I help newsrooms I encourage staff to:
1. be aware of variations in the pronunciation of different words – especially UK and US English variations
2. generally prefer the pronunciation more mature viewers would use (British English) – because people who still get their news from TV are usually older, and
2. ensure consistency between the reader and reporter

Can you guess why this tease #writing technique works?

doubleshot media

When teasing news stories (or any content) – don’t just say ‘what happened?’ Give the reader a reason to ‘click through’ an on-line story or ‘stick through’ a new bulletin ad break to find out something extra.

This post was inspired by this story about one of Australia’s oldest video stores announcing that it is closing.


What really made me want to click through and read the story was to check if MY guess was correct in guessing what was the most popular rental.


Sure, there are more important news stories I should have been reading – but I admit this story ‘hooked’ me because it:
1. raised a question
2. made me want to find out the answer – to see if my answer was correct. It wasn’t! My guess was a popular kids movie.

Anyway, this example illustrates a powerful ‘teasing’ technique.

Now ‘teasing’ can be annoying to…

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