• Radio Report | Writing for Audio | The News Story

    How to Write News Stories

    Dramatic unity

    The major structure of writing that we will learn for audio and video journalism is called dramatic unity. That is a structure that allows us to tell a story quickly and without a lot of detail. The dramatic unity structure has three parts: climax, cause and effect. The structure is usually represented by a circle, symbolizing the fact that all of these parts are necessary for a good story. (Remember when we talked about the inverted pyramid structure? We said that some of the least important information might be eliminated. That’s not the case with dramatic unity. You don’t eliminate any part of it.)
    • Climax – the end of the story; the most important thing that happened; the most dramatic thing that happened. That comes first.
    • Cause – why did it happen? what are the circumstances under which it occurred? what are the facts that can illuminate the climax and help the reader understand what happened and why?
    • Effect – explain the outcome, the effect or the future of the event; try to bring this story to a satisfying conclusion.

    Writing the audio news story

    Climax — what is most important or dramatic part of the story? Some things that should almost always be in a lead paragraph or near the top of a story: people killed or injured, property damage, large numbers of people affected by an event, etc. The same thing — and many of the same rules — apply to broadcast writing.

    The city has delayed a seven hundred thousand dollar drainage project in the Coventry and Lakeshore Drive areas. City officials say they need approval for the project from the Army Corps of Engineers.

    Cause — what are the facts that will expand or develop the climax of the story? In this sense, “cause” doesn’t necessarily what caused the event. Rather, it means what can you say that will help the listener to understand the event better. For instance, in the example below — the next part of the story begun above — what is said is not the “cause,” but it does help the listener to understand this story better.

    The city has planned this project for months without knowing it needed Corps approval. But today the city engineer announced that federal regulations require plans be submitted to the Corps.

    Effect — what information can bring this story to a conclusion? Again, we are not necessarily talking about an “effect” in the sense of cause-and-effect. We are simply looking for a way to bring the story to a conclusion.

    That action could delay the project for six months. Residents say they are surprised and disappointed that the work won’t begin soon.

    This was a difficult story to write. It was a story that had a lot of complexity and detail that could not be included. For instance, the residents had been waiting for several years to have this work down. While that was implied in the story, it could not be explicitly stated. Another thing that the story leaves out is why the city is suddenly finding out that the Corps of Engineers has to approve a project. This story could be improved in several ways. Look at the last sentence. It contains five (count ‘em, five) sibilants — residents, say, surprised, disappointed, soon. Some of these words may be necessary, or they may not have good substitutes. Still, this story could use some judicious editing and even rewriting. Here are some more examples, see if they are any better:
    Climax Chicago police are looking into the death early Tuesday morning of 72-year-old Mary Ryan at the California Gardens Nursing Center in Little Village. Cause Ryan reportedly received a morphine injection from her 38-year-old daughter just hours before her death. Ryan was suffering from numerous terminal illnesses. Effect The case is just a death investigation at this time.
    Climax An Illinois state trooper was killed in a fiery car crash in Downers Grove overnight. Cause The trooper was 29-year-old Chung Lin. The driver of the pickup truck that rear-ended the trooper, Azaria (a-ZAR-ee-A) Maja (Ma-JA), has been charged with reckless driving. Effect He is in the hospital in fair condition with lacerations to his face. Three other people suffered minor injuries.

    Using the present context

    The present tense is a good way to introduce a sense of immediacy into your copy. Even though you are writing about things that have already happened, expressing them in the present tense rather than the past tense helps the writer lay stress on the most immediate information. Here are a few guidelines about using the present tense in broadcast copy:

    * when the action is continuing

    Hurricane Sally is battering the New England coast today.

    The governor plans a special session of the legislature next month

    * when the action is in the immediate past and has some continuing effect

    The president says he will veto the budget bill.

    * when referring to something in the future

    The Kroger company has announced that it is closing its stores in the city.

    * but not when it is clearly inappropriate.

    Two people are killed in a three-car accident last night on I-59.

    How to Write News Stories

    Radio Report | Writing for Audio | The News Story