Jonathon Cockburn has had no formal journalism training, but after a year working as a Programmes Assistant at Radio Forth in Edinburgh he is now a Broadcast Assistant on BBC Asian Network’s main news programme – Asian Network Reports.
He also tweets on @JayCockburn and occasionally blogs for http://curiousjoe.org.
Radio requires some different writing techniques to online and print journalism. You have a totally different toolset that with a little creativity can transport a listener to the heart of a story even if you haven’t left the newsroom.
The 3-minute bulletin is the most basic form of radio news that goes out on almost every station from your local commercial station to BBC Radio 4, so as a broadcast journalist it’s your bread and butter.
When you write your bulletin script it’s important to be clear and concise. Use simple sentences. This is not just for your audience but for yourself or your newsreader – the script has to be read out live on-air and should make perfect sense on first read so that the newsreader doesn’t stumble and your audience knows exactly what you mean.
Grammar rules can be played with if you think it will help the reader. I often start paragraphs with ‘However’ or ‘And’, even though you should never do that in a written piece. Spell any complicated words phonetically if it helps and shorten anything that can be shortened. A good example of this would be if the death toll from a flash flood were 9,987 people you could replace it with “just under ten thousand”.
Other than that, each story in the bulletin should have it’s own top line which sums up the story, similar to newspaper writing, followed by a subheading and some expanded detail and quotes.
2. Audio Clips
Clips make a bulletin interesting. You can spice up your bulletin with anything from a quote from someone involved in the story to some atmosphere recordings – for example at a protest or outdoor event. If it sounds good and is editorially justifiable then use it!
It’s also good to mix up the bulletin with someone else’s voice – did another reporter source a story? Then record them reading their own voice piece. You can introduce this with the story’s top line and then “our reporter Hannah Bewack has more…”, this allows the reporter some ownership of the story as well.
Remember that you need to read a script around the clip too. Make sure the audience knows who they’re listening to and make a note of the last words so the reader knows when to continue reading.
Reading is much easier than you think it is. It doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like or where your accent is from – you’re reading the news not advertising chocolate. Just take a deep breath and talk at a reasonable pace. It might even feel unnaturally slow but it’s better to go too slow and be understood than to go much too fast for the audience.
The best preparation you can do is to read the entire script out loud before you go on-air, that way you notice any potential slip ups or pronunciations you need to check.
I’ve put together an example bulletin using entirely fabricated news stories. It’s by no means perfect (in fact it’s pretty stupid), and this guide is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it’s a good starting point.