University of Minnesota
interdisciplinary studies of writing
center for writing

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Publications abstract: Writing Style Differences in Newspaper, Radio, and Television News

Irving Fang, Journalism and Mass Communication

Students who begin the study of broadcast news have complained of the difficulty of writing in an unaccustomed style, a difficulty compounded when the student is concurrently taking a broadcast news course and a news editorial skills course. The confusion which results from writing in a separate style for each course in order to produce news copy presents the novice journalist with the type of trouble found in learning a new language dialect. Many students leave with an imperfect understanding of any news writing style.

No magical way exists to learn a foreign language without practice, and none exists for developing facility in more than one writing style without experience. Nevertheless, it may be possible to ease the burden of writing in more than one style by systematically examining the styles to determine what sets them apart. That different news writing styles have evolved in newspapers, radio, and television is due to the unique nature of each medium and to the manner in which each medium is consumed by its audience.

This study set out to consider the reasons for these differences and to examine in a systematic manner what the differences actually are. As many textbooks as could be found that dealt with newspaper, radio, and television news writing were examined to glean writing style recommendations. Additionally, the author called on his own years of experience in writing for newspapers and television newscast. Finally, seven working journalists in the three media under consideration were interviewed at length about various points of current practice, and a draft of the study's conclusions was shown to them for their comments. Where replies to questions seemed significant, these were noted in the written report.

The elements of style examined were leads, story structure, sentence structure, word choice, and the conventions of naming, quotation, and attribution. In the final report, shared approaches to each element are identified first, followed by instances where some differences exist among the three media, with examples of those differences. Where possible, explanations are offered for why approaches were shared or different. The report is also innovative in that it presents side-by-side comparisons across the three media.

The final report has already been distributed to one group of broadcast journalism students as a guide to their own development of writing style, accompanied by the admonition that merely reading about writing serves no purpose except perhaps to provide students with the awareness that radio news and television news writing styles have logical foundation and are, to say the least, as difficult to learn and as worthy of learning as standard American newspaper style.