Why is writing for radio and television different from writing for a newspaper or magazine?
Different set of rules apply to the art of writing depending on the medium of publication/broadcast. Even within a particular medium, writing can be divided into creative writing and reportage/opinion, with the latter usually based on facts. Various genres exist within conventional creative writing – prominent among them are novels, short stories, poetry and plays. Hence, both the medium and the genre combine to lay a set of guidelines for the writer. The rest of the essay will outline those guidelines and also provide examples.
With the advent of long distance telecommunication technology during the early twentieth century, radio took off as the most sought after public broadcast medium. Writing for radio then became a specialized field for there are unique qualities associated with a purely aural mode of communication. This posed challenges as well as opportunities to writers and broadcasters. Those pioneers who conquered this new horizon in writing established a genre that was both refreshing and demanding. For example, listening to a play in the radio is quite different to watching it onstage. The playwright will have to supplement through audio the events on stage that are not accounted in words.
Coming to creative writing for television, the rules are not as rigorous as that applicable to radio writing, for the genre draws many of its rules from motion pictures. This is especially true with respect to soap operas, sitcoms and other televised entertainment. The British Broadcasting Corporation, which has mastered both radio and TV drama over the years, has the following to say about good TV drama writing:
“TV is easy to turn off or turn over, so open your story as dynamically as you can. Try to hook the interest of the audience as soon as possible so that they will want to stay tuned and, if there are more episodes to come, will want to keep tuning in. Ask yourself if there’s a strong enough sense of character, drama, and story to sustain an audience’s engagement.” (www.bbc.co.uk, 2012)
But, when it comes to news coverage in television, the main focus tends to be the headlines, with sound bites and video footage complementing the scrolling text. Television talk shows, on the other hand, have now become a time-tested concept that can succeed with even basic recording technology.
We’ll now see how writing for radio and television is different to writing for newspaper and magazines. The printed word has always proven to be more powerful in expressing complex thought or argument. Hence, the media of magazines and newspapers are more apt for carrying out in-depth analysis of public issues. Writing for the print media also requires a greater command over vocabulary, grammar and usage. Hence, writing for publications is far more challenging and exacting than writing for television or radio. It is only those intellectuals who can perform incisive analyses that make it to editorial pages of major newspapers. Reporting for print media, on the other hand, is usually about following a set format or template, which doesn’t require high analytic skills. The following tips will come handy to the news or opinion writer:
“The opening line of the article must grab the reader’s attention straight away. This is no different to any other form of writing: a story must hook the reader in a very short space of time…this hook must be the first sentence, not the second or the third…Another crucial point here is the length of the opening sentence. The word count needs to be no more than twenty-two words for your grab line. This in itself is a challenge.” (Shaw, 2007)
Moreover, writers should keep in mind that congested printing styles, where the paragraphs are large and run on with long sentences, tends to put off the reader. Hence, maximizing ‘white space’ within the article will make it more appealing to read.
In conclusion, writing for any medium of communication brings with it a unique set of challenges and requirements. But by mastering these requisites the writer can produce a work of high quality. A brief look at the history of twentieth century writing reveals how many outstanding pieces of articles, plays and TV shows have been produced. These masterpieces have excelled in the art and craft of writing.
Writing TV Drama: Scripwriting Tips, It is important to know your market, retrieved from
Janet Shaw, June 12, 2007, Writing Articles for Newspapers and Magazines – Tips and Tricks, retrieved from < http://janetshaw.com/blog/writing-articles-for-newspapers-and-magazines-tips-and-tricks/> on 18th July, 2012.
Harvard College Writing Program, Harvard Writing Project, retrieved from