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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Perfect Candidates For Broadcast News

Experienced journalists have skills for broadcast news says an expert...

With a writing background your skills can be easily transferred, according to Bridgette Langmade Polmar, a ten-year veteran who has made a career out of covering stories for top local television stations in the Washington metropolitan area.

She spoke recently at a Washington Independent Writer’s September workshop on “Writing For The Ear.” along with broadcast journalists Jennifer Davis and Jim Davis.

Polmar offered some advice about how to write a story for broadcast news.

-Write like you were having a conversation with a friend.

-Break all the rules of grammar. Use nothing but contractions, half sentences, and no pronouns.

-Refer to everyone as “folks”. Folks at the bus stop, soccer field, and at the department store. Everybody is just plain folks.

-Don’t use an ellipse instead use dashes.

-Read your story out loud. The TV newsroom is loud and raucous with everyone talking to himself or herself at the level the story will be presented on camera.

-Producing a story for broadcast journalism it is a group effort, where you are a member of a team.

-Learn to work with a video editor, a cameraman, and photographer.

-Combine sound and pictures and write around them.

-Make your words clear and razor sharp

Natural Sound

Cues for “Natural Sound” are integrated into every script. Music and graphics are added. The writer is a storyteller who uses his or her creativity to craft a story through pictures, sound and words. A horn honking, the sound of steps on a gravel driveway, laughter or birds makes up “natural sound.” The writer in broadcast journalism enters these cues into the script but relies on a team of experts to shoot the shots and integrate the sound and edit the piece. Unlike print journalists who assume a god like role by evoking emotion through writing descriptions and dialogue, a broadcast journalist has different tricks to offer by artfully using film, video, and words to trigger emotion.

“You can be brought to tears in 60 seconds through TV while it could take 15 minutes to create the same effect through a magazine article," said Polmar.

Even the way words of a story are counted is different. In TV everything is measured in seconds compared to counting words and lines in a news article.

A broadcast writer’s job is to create a “paint by numbers” document that tells where the pictures will go and gives directions to the team and creates words that will later be read by an anchor.

“Thirty percent of my job is watching tapes and writing around their contents. I work with a video editor picking out sound bites. I brainstorm with the photographer to create a compelling interesting shot to open the story with,” according to Jim Davis, a freelance broadcast journalist who works for Cox News.

Broadcast journalism has its own language. There is a kind of shorthand for such words as a vo, achor tag, anchor toss, Ap on track, double bites on vo etc. You learn this while working in media, said Jennifer Davis, a television reporter who has worked for Fox, CBS, Discovery, and National Geographic.


While salaries for anchors may be higher, writers' salaries are decreasing in broadcast journalism, according to Polmar. As a freelancer you can expect to make $50,000 a year or between $300 – 400 per day. As a freelancer, being a member of a Union ensures that you will have health benefits.

On some jobs you are expected to write something each hour if you work an eight-hour day. Writing to meet deadlines is very important.

Establishing Your Self

Breaking into broadcast journalism can be challenging. Adopting an attitude of being “Fearless and shameless” helps,” according to Polmar.

Networking is important. Don’t be afraid to call well-known people in the business asking for an informational interview in exchange for coffee. If they turn you down, keep going. Some well established people have a generous streak when it comes to beginners, she believes.

Reading books will help speed up your learning curve. Check out “Successful Television Writing,” by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin or bone up on the basics of speech writing in “Can You Say a Few Words,” by Joan Detz (St. Martin’s Press, April 2006).

“Rewriting Network News,” (1990) and “Writing Broadcast News,” (1977) by Mervin Block

A portfolio of work is required before you get into the game. Finding an internship at a news organization is the way to go according to Polmar who ignited her own career by working as an intern for CNN.

Once you’ve got samples to show of your work, it is time to get a job. Contact alumini who are in the field from college and invite them to lunch or dinner to develop contacts. Keep your campaign of cold calling active as a way of making new contacts.

Join Women in Film & Video Listseve at (subscription); Intl. Television and Video Assoc (Free on-line DC Production Guide), and (free) Into Film & TV Production Resources.

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At 5:25 PM, Blogger Brigette said...

Barbara -

Thanks for writing up the seminar! I just wanted to point out that I did not intern at CNN. In fact, I didn't intern at all. I believe that was my fellow panelist Jen Davis. Also, just to be clear, by "shameless" I meant to be bold and brave in asking for your first job in TV. If it means sending your tape, following with a phone call, interviewing, and sending several cards to follow up - do so. That's about as shameless as I would get. I wouldn't want anyone to get crazy! In addition, my writing style suits me and may not suit everyone else. If you want to borrow from my "folksy" style for feature pieces, please do. If it's not your cup of tea, go with your gut - it never lets you down. I hope you enjoyed the seminar as much as I did! Brigette Polmar


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