Asked about objectives for a media-writing course, a student said: “I want to learn to write for the media.” The student apparently assumed that “the media” function as a unit. But references to the media as a singular thing misrepresent the way audiences actually use media. Different media are used differently. Your expectations for a radio story differ from what you expect of a newspaper story. And you have differing uses for TV and magazines as well
Writers for various news media learn to consider three principal elements: audience, medium and message. Each of these affects how the news is written.
The audience should always be kept in mind when writers are collecting facts and arranging them into a story. Some important questions to ask are: What is news? For whom? And in what situations?
Audiences expect news media to fulfil six functions:
1. To provide information about the availability of products and services (advertising).
2. To entertain (special features).
3. To inform (basic news).
4. To provide a forum for ideas (editorials, interpretatives, documentaries and commentaries).
5. To educate them (in-depth pieces, self-help stories and columns and informative items presenting facts not otherwise readily available, as in science writing),
6. To serve as a watchdog of government (investigative reporting and coverage of trials and other public events).
How the news media go about fulfilling these expectations depends in part on the technical qualities of the medium.
When you listen to radio news, you probably want the immediate developments of a story. In the mornings you may turn on one of the network television shows to catch up with what happened when the other side of the world was working. You want to know what to expect during the day: a tropical storm off the coast that might bring rain or a strike that could.mean loss of bus service.
When you’re the newswriter, putting yourself in the place of each audience helps you meet its expectations. Consulting statistics on media audiences can help you as a writer get a fix on who’s using a medium and why
Research data can help you visualize and understand your audiences. Who reads the morning newspaper? The research
bureau of any newspaper prepares information for potential advertisers and can help writers understand the readership. The same is true of the research done on broadcast audiences. What age groups comprise your audiences? How much education do they have? How much money do they have and how do they spend it? Under what conditions are these audiences reading or listening? In an area where there are commuters using public transportation, they’re reading papers as they ride to work. What audiences are doing has an effect on what writers must do to get their attention and keep it to deliver a message.
Some news media conduct their own audience research for the benefit of both the editorial and marketing departments. Additionally, general audience studies are available from academic institutions and from non-profit professional organizations such as the Television Information Office, which publishes an annual survey on use of media (see 1.1). From it you learn, for example, that college-educated people watch slightly less TV than others, and that of the 4.03 hours spent with TV by :each adult, 1:25 is devoted to news, documentaries and information shows.
This doesn’t mean talking down to audiences at different levels; it only means talking differently to them. As a test, choose a prominent story in the news and compare the Wall Street Journal’s treatment of it with that of the daily newspaper in your area. Then compare these stories with the radio and TV versions. The writer’s anticipation of what the audience will bring to the story affects the presentation
Newspapers and magazines are the print media. Reading them requires conscious effort. Readers can reread anything that they don’t understand the first time, or return for reference. Thus writers can go into more detail without the risk of losing the audience. You can illustrate your point with pictures and graphics. You might even be able to use colour to give drama and contrast to the presentation. In some magazines you can use pictures that require delicate colour tones because of the quality of the paper and the printing process. But that process precludes putting out a magazine as quickly as you can a newspaper. So you sacrifice some immediacy for other qualities. Magazines have a longer life ,for example. Writers learn to exploit the different technologies of newspapers and magazines to best advantage.
Radio and television are the broadcast media. Newswriters for both media strive for a conversational style and generally write much briefer versions of stories than print writers would.
Radio news offers a quick summary of what’s happening that hour. The average newscast on commercial radio runs about five minutes, so it must be made up of short synopses of as many top stories as will fit
Complexity is also to be avoided in writing TV news copy. However, when you write TV copy you can rely on pictures to make the story more understandable or interesting. TV stories are also short compared to newspaper stories
Both radio and TV also use tapes (audio and video) in their newscasts. This introduces a form of “technical writing” into broadcast newswriting. You will see how the straight story read by the announcer becomes more difficult to write as tapes are
Cable news should also be mentioned here, although it isn’t really broadcasting, but cablecasting. More and more local communities with cable TV systems are beginning to produce some form of cable TV news, and cable newswriting is much like broadcast newswriting.
Videotex and teletext
This new form of information delivery to the home, called “electronic publishing” or an “electronic newspaper,” lets you get your news from your TV set or home computer, either from the screen 0;: from an attached printer. Videotex is defined as electronic text that comes into the home via a cable TV system or telephone line. Teletext is delivered via a portion of the regular TV signal sent. to the home