WRITING FOR DIFFERENT MEDIA

By Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee
(mrinaliimc@yahoo.in)

-- The author, a journalist turned media academician, heads the Eastern India campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) located at Dhenkanal, Odisha. This article appeared in the April 2012 issue of the Journalism Online newsletter. --

Today’s communicators are called on to write for an increasing number of media including print and broadcast media, web sites, social networks, and also for mobile platform. So how do you –- as a communicator –- effectively write for different media utilising the strength of each medium?

Here are some conceptual tips:

Possess clarity of thought -– If, as a writer, you are not clear on what you want to communicate, then chances are your writing will not be clear, concise or compelling.

Know your audience -– This will enable you to tailor your style, message and story to the audience and its needs.

Craft a compelling story -– Effective storytelling arouses the emotions of the listener/reader. It draws readers into the drama and has the power to shift perceptions. Some guidelines to follow when crafting a story:
* Don’t tell. Show
* Make it interesting
* Use analogies
* Provide the point

Be consistent -- Communicators have increasing opportunities to share information and engage with others. However, it is important not to stray from the core facts. Make sure you are consistent across all forms of communication. The kernel of a story must be the same across media.

Keep communication concise -– Consider the attention span of your audience. Researchers in Britain carried out a study and found an average person’s attention span today is just five minutes and seven seconds compared to 12 minutes ten years ago. As communicators we get limited opportunities to grab our readers’ attention. Headlines matter. Make sure each word counts.

Understand the medium –- What works for one media may not work in the other. Try to understand the requirements and demands of individual media and write accordingly. Do your research; investigate successes and flops with the specific medium.

Here are some medium-specific tips:

Newspapers
* Generally more in–depth than broadcast pieces.
* All questions (what, when, who, why, where and how -- 5 W and 1 H) should be answered
* Generally write news in inverted–pyramid style (most important information comes first). However, in case of features and columns one has opportunity to play with words and structure.
* Often stories need visuals (photos, graphics and or tables)

Radio
* Write for the listener's ear, rather than the reader's eye. Use words carefully. Avoid using words which are difficult to pronounce and understand.
* Sentences should be crisp and short. As there is hardly any opportunity to go back to the sentence immediately, the emphasis should be on comprehensibility.
* News stories can generally last from 15 to 90 seconds
* Do not try to cram in smallest details in the script. Information overload makes radio programme boring.
* Record natural wild sound (running buses, planes taking off, conference chatter)
* Interviews should be conducted in relatively quiet areas because loud background noise can make your edited piece sound choppy

Television
* Try to coordinate the words with the pictures (don't force it!). Remember, visuals are more important in this medium. Let the visuals speak.
* Like radio, sentences should be crisp and short. Long sentences are difficult to remember. Do not use tongue twisters. Try to use simple words. One practical way to write for television and radio is to read aloud while writing. If you find any word difficult or ill fitting, change it.
* News stories generally run from 30 seconds to three minutes
* Factor 1 or 2 seconds of silence between each shot so the viewer can absorb the images on the screen

On–line journals/websites
*The major difference between traditional media and web media is that people don't read web pages; they see the pages. Not that people don't read web pages, per se, but they tend to scan them, only paying full attention at interesting parts. Innumerable studies have been done on the subject. One of the most prominent of these reports, performed by John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen, found that 79 per cent of test users always scan an entire page, searching for things that might pique their interest. Only 16 per cent of all test subjects read them word per word (http://www.articlesbase.com/writing-articles/how-web-writing-differs-from-traditional-media-1569825.html#ixzz147wXMviq). This fact highlights several things that are a must for web writing:

* easy-to-scan format (short paragraphs, bulleted items, headings and sub-headings highlights on important items)
* Use relevant keywords for easy search.
* Generally should be up to 250-300 words per page
* Keep in mind that you can link to other sites, sidebars
* Stories do not have to be as linear as in other media.
* The ideal structure is ‘tad-pole’. Long tailing is the operating idea.

Journalism Online