The Indian television news industry, which witnessed a massive boom around 2005, is today facing a content and credibility crisis. Newspapers and magazines have held their fort and continued to provide in-depth, detailed reports that are still preferred by "serious" news buffs.
Online news portals and the social media, on the other hand, have stolen the thunder from 24X7 TV networks by providing instant news updates, pictures and videos.
As the TV news industry struggles to find a balance between speed and content, it is faced with two options. One, to become a rabble-rousing, war-mongering, screaming and shouting equivalent of Twitter trolls or to start acting in a more mature and responsible manner and carve out a niche for itself. If newsrooms choose the latter, there are a few simple steps they can take to make their bulletins more palatable.
I think step one for TV news channels should be to improve scripts. There is nothing more annoying than bad writing served under the guise of spunk and spontaneity. While it's good to use colloquial language, effort should be made to not slip into slang. Here are a few tips on how to improve your copy and put together a more coherent news bulletin.
|Newspapers and magazines are still preferred by "serious" news buffs. (Photo credit: India Today)|
1) Headlines for a bulletin need to be written in present continuous tense. The idea is to engage viewers and tell them what's making news. In a 24-hour news cycle, writing headlines in past tense is the same as serving last night's dinner for breakfast. Your news will be cold and stale and viewers will turn to a channel that's serving hot news as its happening. Content of course is important but so is the writing.
2) Headlines should be direct, crisp and sharp. Words like "however", "therefore", "whatsoever" are a big no-no for headlines. Think about it. How often do you use these words while talking to a friend? Treat your viewer like a friend who you need to engage in a story.
3) Use your headlines as a "tease" to engage/grab attention. "Tom Hanks crashes wedding photo-shoot" is so much better than "Tom Hanks makes a guest appearance at a wedding after he runs into a bride and groom shooting in Central Park". A little bit of harmless humour in entertainment and sports stories doesn't hurt. Let the viewer know you have a funny story coming up... something that will make them smile.
4) Best and latest comes first. Use your best pictures and punchiest lines first. If some important person has said something outrageous and that is a headline for you - start with the quote. "We will use nukes against India if provoked - says Pakistan's defence minister" is so much better than "A rattled Pakistan threatens India with nukes". "Shock and awe" works but don't make it your staple with every story. Use it sparingly.
1) Latest first: Your first sentence should tell the viewer why he or she is watching this report right now. The latest development needs to come right on top. The second and third sentence should be able to communicate how the story has developed over the last few hours and then comes the context.
2) Tenses: The first sentence should ideally be written in present tense and the context needs to be written in past tense. Trust me, this needs to be spelt out for a lot of writers.
3) Exclusive/special reports: If the story is an exclusive report done by your network, you need to put that out first. It doesn't just show the network in a good light, it also tells the viewer that this story is only available with you. If your reporter has got you a story that others have but has managed to get more details and more elements - call it a "special report". You need to constantly think about how to draw attention to your stories and maintain viewer interest.
4) Magic ingredient is grammar: Don't cut out articles and conjunctions in a bid to make your story shorter. There's no point in writing for an English news channel if you can't write in English. Bad sentences and incorrect grammar will make your viewers doubt your ability to even understand news.
1) You want to tease a story... tease it well or it won't be a tease. The word is self-explanatory. Keep it short and don't give away too many elements in the tease.
2) Use "Coming up next" instead of "After the break". Again you have to engage rather than break the mood you've set up with a part of your bulletin.
1) Unless there is breaking news, a bulletin should have a mix of national, international, features, sports and entertainment stories.
2) Depending on whether you want to frame your rundown as a "one-hour cycle" or "half-an-hour" cycle... you can place your stories in the rundown. In a one-hour cycle, avoid repeating the same story in the front and back half-hour.
3) Stories that are put together in a "news wrap" are usually not important enough to be given separate attention, which is why they are clubbed together. Never place a news wrap as your first, second or even third story. "
Place your "focus stories" first and then place the "wrap". A "national news wrap" should ideally come after all big national stories and the "international wrap" should be placed after separate more important international stories.
4) Try and connect stories that come one after the other in the rundown. You can connect them either thematically or based on the region they are being reported from.
Last but not the least, you should remember that TV news is suppose to cater to viewers of all age groups, from your 80-year-old grandmother to a 12-year-old child, across the country.
Remember to break down difficult content and simplify it for viewers. They're not interested in finding out how smart you are and how much you know... all they are interested in is how well you're able to communicate without being too condescending or fluffy.