Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Writing for your station's website, or, "I didn't go to school to be a print reporter but now I have to be one."

Of all the little tricks word processors let us use, the one that has probably done the most damage to quality is the "cut and paste" feature. Gone are the days of carbon paper, wite-out, and simply starting over with a fresh sheet of paper. Story doesn't look right? Cut here, paste there. It's the rip-and-read of the digital age.

But if you're at one of those stations at which you have to post your story to the web, cut and paste just won't cut it.

The problem here is two-fold. First, you guys are overworked as it is, and doing a story for the web is probably the last thing on your priority list. Second, it's very easy to simply take your broadcast script and paste the whole thing onto the web page. Thirty seconds and you're done. What you end up with is a story that often doesn't make much sense to someone who is getting all his news from the Internet without the benefit of video.

So let's take a sample package and see how we can improve it for the web with just a little effort. In this case, our story is about a new car plant opening in town.


Nat Sound / Whistle

Voicetrack: That's the sound of new jobs in Palookaville, as the Acme auto plant started cranking out cars. The business has brought 500 new high-paying jobs to the area, and hopefully a sense of pride to a town that was down on its luck.


Sound Bite / Auto Worker: "I'd been out of work for a year, and this is going to really get me back on my feet. It's a good paying job and a great feeling to get back to work."


Nat Sound / First car rolling off assembly line to applause


Voicetrack: It's sights like this that are the realization of a dream. Palookaville city officials have been working long and hard for two years to make this happen.


Standup in restaurant: And the new car plant is already having a trickle down effect for other small businesses in town.


Nat sound / Cash register, hostess thanking customer, "Come again!"


That hasn't been heard very often at the Palookaville diner, just across the street from the new plant. Every booth was full today, as was the counter.


Sound bite / waitress: "I've made more in tips today than I did all last week."


Voicetrack: So the assembly line is rolling in Palookaville, and it looks like the economy is going to do the same thing. Joe Reporter, EyeMissedit News.




Okay, now if we just cut and paste this into the web without the director's notes, we get this:




That's the sound of new jobs in Palookaville, as the Acme auto plant started cranking out cars. The business has brought 500 new high-paying jobs to the area, and hopefully a sense of pride to a town that was down on its luck.


"I'd been out of work for a year, and this is going to really get me back on my feet. It's a good paying job and a great feeling to get back to work."


It's sights like this that are the realization of a dream. Palookaville city officials have been working long and hard for two years to make this happen.


And the new car plant is already having a trickle down effect for other small businesses in town.


That hasn't been heard very often at the Palookaville diner, just across the street from the new plant. Every booth was full today, as was the counter.

"I've made more in tips today than I did all last week."

So the assembly line is rolling in Palookaville, and it looks like the economy is going to do the same thing. Joe Reporter, EyeMissedit News.


Right off the bat, the first line doesn't make sense if you're just reading the web version. What sound are we talking about? And later on, what sight are we referring to? So let's take a few minutes to flesh out the story and fix it.


The loud whistle is the sound of new jobs in Palookaville, as the Acme auto plant has started cranking out cars. The business has brought 500 new high-paying jobs to the area, and hopefully a sense of pride to a town that was down on its luck.


Joe Autoworker was thrilled to punch the clock this morning. He said, "I'd been out of work for a year, and this is going to really get me back on my feet. It's a good paying job and a great feeling to get back to work."


The sight of the first car rolling off the assembly line was met with applause, as it was the realization of a dream. Palookaville city officials have been working long and hard for two years to make this happen.

And the new car plant is already having a trickle down effect for other small businesses in town, as the cash register and the waitresses were getting a workout at the Palookaville diner across the street from the new plant. Every booth was full today, as was the counter. Waitress Jane Hashslinger said, "I've made more in tips today than I did all last week."

So the assembly line is rolling in Palookaville, and it looks like the economy is going to do the same thing. 


Okay, this isn't going to win a Pulitzer for print writing, but with just a little effort the story now makes sense to someone who is reading it for the first time without the video.

No one expects you to be a classic print reporter, but they will expect you to deliver a story that's more than just a cut-and-paste job. A few words here, a sentence there, and you're done. Being a good web writer just adds to your marketability. It's a little thing, but versatility can be very attractive in a business that has to watch every penny.

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3 comments:

Amanda said...

Great post! I hate writing my story for the web after I spend the entire day shooting, writing, and editing. At my station, we have to do two different packages for one story (usually for the 5 & 6) so by the time I get to the web, I'm exhausted and too tired to think of ways to change up my script for the web. This post definitely helped! Thank you!

-The Grape said...

Amanda, you're very welcome and glad it helped you.

turdpolisher said...

Great post, Grape!

The more nat sound in a package, the worse it looks on the web. When I write for the web, I always have to start over completely.

I use lots of nats early on to set the pace and the tone. Can't cut and paste that. That's when I put on my creative writing hat.

The body usually gets a minor workover. I try to include a few quotes that didn't quite make it into the pkg, and any extra info that I wish I'd have time for.

In the close, I try to wrap it back to the theme I started with. And never include the anchor tag.