This training module was written for journalism students in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. They were studying broadcast journalism, and in particular creating radio news programmes. Many of those attending the course had previously had no journalism experience or training.
Writing a script for a radio news package
Radio journalists need to be able to pick the best, most newsworthy audio clips, and write clear and informative scripts that introduce the material they have collected.
The script is what makes sense of the sounds. It is the framework for your story. It brings together the most important elements, and helps your audience understand the significance of the points made by the people you have interviewed.
It’s not just about sounds; it’s about words, too. The script should be written in simple, short sentences. Try to use everyday language and terms your audience will understand. It should not contain any complicated concepts that could confuse and distract.
Use the script to introduce the audio
The script should offer the audience introductions to the audio you are including. It should tell the listener what’s coming up without repeating the words they are about to hear. Don’t summarise too much; you should not take away from the power of the clips in your piece.
Grab the attention of the audience
You are crafting a tease to material that is designed to make people stop and listen. The language should be in the active tense. The most important information must feature in the first few sentences. However, the quality should be consistent throughout, and the script must not tail off at the end.
Your opinions don’t matter
Your script should be factual, without comment or descriptive words. Don’t try to attract listeners by including your own emotions. That’s not your job. Those who listen to your radio package will make their own decisions about the power of the information you are broadcasting.
Deliver a complete and fair report
Your script should weave together all the elements you have gathered for your story without suggesting that any one is more important than the other; that’s for the audience to decide, not you. You have a responsibility to set out the information in a way that doesn’t lead or mislead.
Scripting before interviewing
Some journalists choose to draft a script before they have conducted the interview. That’s fine as long as the journalist retains an open mind and does not orchestrate or stage-manage the interviews to fit into the structure they have planned.
Scripting after interviewing
Some journalists prefer to listen to the material before they write their script. This approach can lead to a fresher sounding piece. However, it can also lead to confusion if you have too much material and no idea how it is going to be edited and put together.
Check every fact that you are including in your script. Also check what has been said by those you have interviewed. Just because somebody seems to know what they are talking about doesn’t mean that they are telling you the truth. Decide whether your fact-checking has raised any issues that need to be covered in the script.
Check your script against the editorial ethics of objectivity, impartiality and fairness. Do not give undue weight to one point of view. Most of the people you interview will have strong points of view – you wouldn’t be interviewing them if that were not the case. However, your script needs to be fair to all.
Start the script by addressing the main point made in your introduction. Later in the script you can add context and analysis to try to help the audience understand the issues raised by those you are interviewing. But start with a crisp and sharp introduction that highlights the main points.
Always end your script with a fact and not a vague line such as “we will have to wait to see”. Your audience wants information, not clichés. Consider asking your interviewees what’s likely to happen next and summarise their expectations in your last paragraph.
Does it make sense?
Read the script back to yourself. Have you left any gaps? Do you need to do any further research? Check it with a colleague. A second pair of eyes works for radio scripts as well as print – of course, a second pair of ears helps, too, so check your choice of audio as well – you might have missed a more important clip.
Radio script writing question
Which of these statements is true:
a) radio is all about sounds. Make sure you have the best clips and sound effects and don’t worry too much about the words. People don’t read your material they listen to it. The words are not that important. Of course they have to be accurate, but they are only there to support the audio
b) words are essential for a good radio piece. Work hard on ensuring that your script is tightly written and in a language that people understand. No matter how good the audio clips are, your radio piece will fail to inform if the script is poor.