Avoiding The Rewrite Blues

Posted February 12, 2019 by Bill Wheelhouse

We can all work to improve our news writing. As our friend Ken Keller noted several years ago, we can also work on our rewriting.   The suggestions below are excerpted from a column Ken used to write in INBA Tune IN.  Thanks Ken!

We do a lot of quick writing in this deadline crunch business of broadcast news, and we do a lot of rewriting.  Rewrites can be a hassle. But they are necessary and desirable because they freshen a newscast by adding new information or, in some cases, by telling the story better than the original way it was written.

Writers can easily, and without intention, distort or change a story’s meaning or accuracy as new and different versions get produced down the line.    A writer will rewrite another writer’s story not understanding the nuances of the original.  Assumptions and inferences are often made that put a new spin on the story, change its meaning and perhaps even give inappropriate weight to facts that might not have even been in the original story.

Good rewriting takes skill and a desire to do the job correctly.  Here are some items to think about as you face the task of rewriting copy — especially if you did not write the original story:

  • Know and understand the story. This may mean you have to background yourself beyond what is on the script from which you are rewriting.  Assuming, guessing or inferring is where you run into trouble.
  • Determine the “peg” or focus of the original writer’s story. In what way did he or she approach telling the story?  Do you get a feel for where it is going with a logical beginning, middle and end approach?  Don’t just begin rewriting the story from top to bottom without reading and understanding it first.
  • Look for ways you can tell the story better by using simpler words and phrases and by cleaning up passive voice and dependent clauses.
  • Freshen the story whenever possible. Run the beat, make phone calls, check the wires.  Nothing sounds worse than a story in a morning cast that begins with a “yesterday” lead.
  • Make sure the pictures still fit (in the case of television). Editing pictures is as much of the writing (and rewriting) process in television as the written word.  Confusion results when words and pictures don’t relate.  Pictures that don’t complement words can cause the viewer to either not understand the story or misinterpret it.  Rewriting without concern for the pictures compounds these problems.  (What am I seeing? And why am I seeing it?)