Write for the Format the Audience Expects

by April 24, 2019

News outlets increasingly experiment with how they convey stories and information. Make sure you remember your likely audience for whatever format you might be using to tell your story. (Photo via Pixabay user TheAngryTeddy)

Anyone can get into a rut. When you’re a working journalist, a rut can become so deep that you no longer see over the top.

In the past I’ve mentioned dealing with an article formula that can turn you into a reporting automaton. A related problem is the assumption of a given form.

News outlets increasingly experiment with how they convey stories and information. Pieces might be normal articles. Or they might be listicles, infographics, podcasts, multimedia productions, radio segment, social media post, or even a play.

While some of these are more likely than others and each is significantly different from the rest, they all share a trait. Each will require its own approach to writing. To connect with the audience, you need to find the writing style that fits.

In one case, you might have to provide condensed summations, using an almost telegraphic style of compression, like perhaps leaving out some words so the results sound like partial sentences. It’s an approach that I had to use years ago when working in the catalog business. The terseness lends itself to notations on a timeline or possibly in descriptive tags in a graphic or maybe in a slideshow.

Social media posts need a looseness and fluent use of abbreviations and style. There’s slang and shorthand you should know—if not to write the post itself, then to potentially respond to people. You may need to research which hashtags might catch more audience and also think about gracefully fitting in as many potential search terms as you can.

Podcasts or situations where you’re interviewed by someone on radio or in video are often done as improvised conversation around scripted themes. It can take practice to sound comfortable and fluent while remembering the points to get across.

Then there’s scripted verbal presentations—maybe a radio report, podcast segment, video report, or even a presentation before an audience. While written in advance, the style should sound like normal speech when delivered. Grammar might be more relaxed, with shorter words and a recognition that simpler structures may help people follow along more easily.

Keeping style in mind gets even more important when you have to do multiple takes, like a regular article, a podcast segment, and several different social media posts. You have the same basic material but will want to find a natural expression for each of the venues.

One big tip is to start looking at examples of different media that seem to work well and learn what you can from those practitioners. It’s like reading to improve your writing, only now you’ll need to do that taking the type of media into account.