How to freshen up news copy when you don’t have much of an update

A morning producer emailed this article suggestion.  It is a good one, not just for AM newsies.  Night siders really struggle with this also at times.  You are told to make the stories sound new, lead with new information, and add additional facts to all of your stories.  But what if the only new element is the name of a person charged with a crime you covered for days, and the person is a nobody?  Or what if there is not much new information on much of any of the local stories you have video for?  You can’t have a newscast of only copy stories.  So what do you do?

As crazy as this may sound, the easiest way to “freshen up” copy is to write more directly to video.  Yes.  I am serious.  When you watch most newscasts, there is a video reference for maybe the first shot of video.  Then the story rambles on, and the video makes no sense with the words.  Just by changing that, the story will seem new to the viewer.  The reason:  It will make more sense and the viewer will hear elements missed before.  Most people learn visually.  To retain information, more than one of our senses must be engaged at the same time.  Most people are distracted when they watch television news.  They’re making breakfast or dinner.  They’re getting ready for work.  You know the drill.  They miss half of what is said.  So, by simply engaging the eye and ear at the same time, your copy will appear fresh. (For more on how to write to video read “Can You Picture It?”)

If the only update to a story, is the name of a person charged with a crime, the crime happened days ago, and the person is not a public figure or repeat offender, you should question if the story should even be in your newscast.  With that said, I understand that sometimes you are desperate to add a story like this simply because you have so few new stories and can’t have all copy stories in your a-block.  In this case, you may make a judgment call to add the story in.  Just keep it short, and immediately reference what made the story interesting for viewers in the first place.  Here is an example:

When the shooting at this convenience store happened, neighbors wondered if it was a person from the neighborhood.  That’s because it’s the fourth convenience store stick up, in a month.  This morning, we know (insert name here) is charged, and it turns out he /she did not live anywhere near the neighborhood.  In fact police still are not sure if this shooting is related to the other robberies.

Notice I did not lead with the name, which is the “new information.”  I had to make story relevant to the viewer in order for the name to be relevant to the viewer.  If you do that, this kind of update is legitimate.

You can also freshen up stories by simply rewriting them.  Change the wording up a bit, but do not change the context.  To put this simply, write the story how you or your anchor would explain the story instead of just duping over the copy from the newscast before and hoping no one notices.  If the story is rewritten, it will sound different to the viewer who may not catch that you just said the exact same information.  Remember, viewers do not tend to watch all the newscasts your station does each day.  That does not mean being lazy and just copy/pasting.  It does mean you can take a few stories, with little to no updates and place them into your rundown to help create pacing.  Respect the viewer enough to at least rewrite the stories in a “different voice.”

Look for ways to “flesh out” stories.  Sometimes there is technically not a lot of new information to a story, but there is extra sound that wasn’t used that is actually interesting.  You can take a vo from the night before, and make it a vo/sot. You can take a vo/sot and make it a vo.  You can add nats.  You can write a mini-anchor pkg to showcase the sound and vo differently from the newscast before.  These are all legitimate ways to freshen up stories.  Nowadays, you can look through video from your desk, even from local content sources.  Take advantage of that.  Pick a few stories per shift to do this, and try and come up with ways to “package” it differently.  See “Produce It Up” and “Step out of the box” for more ways to showcase content differently.

In summary, keep these things in mind when trying to freshen up stories with very little new information:  Reference the video, see if you can change up the elements, and focus on the element of the story that’s most relevant to the viewer, even if it isn’t necessarily new.  Also remember, the rewrite doesn’t have to be dramatic to be effective.