TV News Story Forms

We will get into a wide variety of story forms in the producing lecture. But first, it’s important to understand the basic ingredients of a newscast.

5 basic story forms:

  1. Readers (RDR)
  2. Voice-overs (VO)
  3. Voice-over to sound on tape (VO/SOT or VO/SOTVO)
  4. Reporter packages (PKG)
  5. Donuts

Readers

If a story involves no video or other visual over the face of the anchor, then it’s called a reader. Sometimes, the viewers can see the anchor’s face for the duration of a story and also see a graphic over the shoulder (OTS). That story would still qualify as a reader because the viewers see the anchor for the entire story. Readers are usually 15-20 seconds. Scripts should be single spaced. Each sentence should be on its own line.

reader

 VO’s

A voice-over is any story that’s read by the anchor and also incorporates video, a full-screen graphic, or some other visual. The term “voice-over” simply indicates that the anchor’s voice is heard “over” some visual. Usually 20-seconds. Scripts should be single spaced. Each sentence should be on its own line.

vo

{1-3 WORD SLUG GOES HERE}
{1SHOT}
{ANCHOR NAME}
THE LEAD LINE GOES HERE IN CAPITAL LETTERS WITH IMPACT, EMOTION, AND NEW/NOW/NEXT.
{TAKE VO}
WRITE TO YOUR VIDEO STARTING HERE.
DON’T FORGET CONTEXT.
EACH SENTENCE MUST BE ON ITS OWN LINE IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
KEEP YOUR SENTENCES SHORT AND CONCISE.
EACH SENTENCE SHOULD HAVE AN INTERESTING NUGGET OF INFO.
WRITE FOR THE EAR.
SCRIPT SHOULD BE TWENTY SECONDS LONG.

VO/SOT or VO/SOTVO

This is usually 40-45 seconds. The video is followed by sound. More commonly the SOT will be followed by continued VO. Scripts should be single spaced. Each sentence should be on its own line.

vosotvo

A VOSOT is usually written as a VOSOTVO, with continued VO after the SOT. A traditional format you are free to follow looks like this:

{1-3 WORD SLUG GOES HERE}
{1SHOT}
{ANCHOR NAME}
THE LEAD LINE GOES HERE IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
LEAD WITH IMPACT, EMOTION, AND NEW/NOW/NEXT.
{TAKE VO}
THE BODY OF YOUR SCRIPT GOES HERE, USUALLY THREE TO FIVE SENTENCES.
KEEP YOUR SENTENCES CONCISE AND WRITE FOR THE EAR.
EACH SENTENCE MUST BE ON ITS OWN LINE IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
{TAKE SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE: include the slug of the raw video file}
<time codes from raw video in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00. First and last name, title of person interviewed “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here.
{CONT VO}
{ANCHOR NAME}
WRITE YOUR ENDING HERE TO WRAP UP THE STORY AND/OR PUSH AHEAD.

PKG

This is usually 1:30. It traditionally includes several sound bites and nat pops plus a reporter track. The reporter usually also does a bridge stand-up in the middle of the pkg. Sometimes you will make a looklive PKG where the reporter looks live. That means there will be standups at the beginning and the end of the pkg. A shorter version of a PKG can be around 50-seconds. That’s called a whip. You can also air a “tracked VOSOT” which is very similar but usually much more simple and around 45-seconds.

pkg

There are many different package styles. You can choose to start your package with a SOT, a looklive stand-up, or you can track your script, but either way you should clearly write the instructions in the editor note so they know exactly what you’re trying to create. Your scripts should be single spaced. Each sentence and command should be on its own line. Here’s an example of a traditional format, you can move the SOT placements around depending on your style:

{1-3 WORD SLUG GOES HERE}
{PKG}
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE:  slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00 First and last name, title of person interviewed (unless it’s a nat pop) “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{EDITOR NOTE:  include the slug/name of the raw video file here for your VO}
WRITE THE REPORTER SCRIPT IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE:  slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00. First and last name, title of person interviewed “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{EDITOR NOTE: include the slug/name of the raw video file here for your VO}
WRITE THE REPORTER SCRIPT IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE: slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00. First and last name, title of person interviewed “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{EDITOR NOTE:  include the slug/name of the raw video file here for your VO}
WRITE THE REPORTER SCRIPT IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
{END OF PKG}

A nat PKG should be formatted this way:

{1-3 WORD SLUG GOES HERE}
{PKG}
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE:  slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00. First and last name, title of person interviewed “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE: slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00. First and last name, title of person interviewed “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE: slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00. First and last name, title of person interviewed “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE: slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00. First and last name, title of person interviewed “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{END OF PKG}

Donut

This is the anchor lead (also called a toss) to the reporter pkg. When you see the word “donut” on CNN Newssource for example, you can expect there to be a script in for your anchor toss and tag, plus the pkg script.

enps

There are many different donut styles. But the biggest different in regards to your script formatting is that you include an anchor toss and tag. You can have an anchor toss to a live reporter (as seen in the above rundown). That reporter would toss to his/her own pkg, then the reporter would tag their own pkg live. Occasionally there’s a question and answer interaction with the anchor. But to keep it simple when you first start you can choose to have a basic anchor toss to reporter pkg, with anchor tag.Your scripts should be single spaced. Each sentence and command should be on its own line. Here’s what that would look like in a script:

{1-3 WORD SLUG GOES HERE}
{1SHOT}
{ANCHOR NAME}
WRITE THE LEAD SCRIPT HERE IN CAPITAL LETTERS. THESE ARE USUALLY 2-3 SENTENCES. THE LAST SENTENCE WOULD TOSS TO THE REPORTER WITH THE REPORTER’S NAME AND A SPECIFIC REASON TO WATCH THEIR PKG.
{PKG}
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE:  slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00 First and last name, title of person interviewed (unless it’s a nat pop) “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{EDITOR NOTE:  include the slug/name of the raw video file here for your VO}
WRITE THE REPORTER SCRIPT IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE:  slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00. First and last name, title of person interviewed “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{EDITOR NOTE: include the slug/name of the raw video file here for your VO}
WRITE THE REPORTER SCRIPT IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
{SOT}
{EDITOR NOTE: slug/name of the raw video file here}
<In and out time codes from raw unedited video clip in minutes and seconds like this: 00:00-00:00. First and last name, title of person interviewed “write word for word the sound from the interview here in lowercase letters.”>
TRT: write the SOT total run time in minutes and seconds here 00:00.
{EDITOR NOTE:  include the slug/name of the raw video file here for your VO}
WRITE THE REPORTER SCRIPT IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
{END OF PKG}
{1SHOT}
{ANCHOR NAME}
WRITE THE ANCHOR TAG IN CAPITAL LETTERS HERE.

Here’s what a donut looks like on CNN Newsource:

cnn1

cnn

Watch this A-block and try to identify which story forms are used:

Write to your video

Your goal should always be to write to your video. This ties your words together with your visuals. Your script should match the b-roll in your final product. You should write to your video in all story forms from VO’s to PKGs. For example, if you have video of a plane crashing into the ground, it catching on fire, and the pilot getting out, then write something like:
YOU CAN SEE THE MOMENTS THE PLANE CRASHED INTO THE GROUND.
FLAMES BURST INTO THE AIR.
SECONDS LATER THE PILOT CRAWLED OUT OF THE WRECKAGE.
RESCUE CREWS TELL US HE DIDN’T HAVE A SCRATCH ON HIM.

Instead of:
AN INVESTIGATION IS UNDERWAY TO FIND OUT WHAT CAUSED A PLANE’S ENGINE TO FAIL.
THE PILOT WAS THE ONLY PERSON ON BOARD.
HE WAS UNINJURED.

Weather stories are also great opportunities to write to video. If your video shows homes submerged in dirty flood waters, and TVs floating down what used to be the street, then write that. Instead of just writing that record rains caused widespread flooding.

Writing to video increases the chance that your audience pays attention.

File Video

Sometimes you don’t have new video to write to. Perhaps the video you are referencing is old. For example, if you’re writing about a war that happened several years ago, then you would use file video. You may also use file video of an athlete for example. But make sure to write in such a way that your audience doesn’t think the video is new. Do not try to mislead your viewers with file video.

Wallpaper Video

Wallpaper is generic video that should be avoided. If this becomes your last option, just don’t use it. No video, no problem. For the most part, your video should be specific to maintain journalistic integrity. Wallpaper video is usually boring for viewers, but can also get you in legal trouble. If you’re doing a story on people with problems like obesity, AIDS, heart disease, etc. you may be inclined to spray video of people walking around outside. But these “generic” people are real people who don’t necessarily appreciate you unintentionally telling everyone they have weight issues or diseases.

Quotes

We paraphrase most of the time, but sometimes quotes are better. Use quotes when:

  • Presenting excerpts from a formal statement given by someone who is either unwilling or unable to go on-camera
  • Pulling quotes from a document used in an investigative story
  • Quoting court testimony
  • Giving text support to a hard-to-understand audio track, such as a 911 tape, undercover audio introduced as evidence in court, a phone conversation, and so forth. In such instances, we would typically use quotation marks on-screen.
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