Writing & Voice

During the pandemic, cover those we’ve left out

In times of crisis, journalists have the responsibility — even more so than usual — to seek out people who are often passed over by the media, even as stay-at-home orders make it harder to reach them.

It’s not a ‘Chinese’ virus: Let’s avoid pernicious shorthands

“Chinese virus.” “Hindu mobs.” Using geography, ethnicity and religion as modifiers is questionable at best and dangerous at worst.

The haiku of radio journalism: how to write a newscast spot

A spot must tell a complete story — no matter how complex or involved — in under a minute. It’s not easy to write, but we have guidance.

despairing editorial calendar on top of a box of tree ornaments

If you do holiday service journalism, do this (not that)

It’s the time of year when few local and regional news outlets (including public radio) are spared. Here’s how to do it as best as it can be done.

Friends don’t let friends use snowclones (like this one)

You’re probably using these ubiquitous journalistic crutches without even knowing it.

Tips from the Twitterverse on surviving two-ways

Smile, remember to breathe and be prepared to improvise when you’re a reporter on a two-way.

The journey from print to radio storytelling: A guide for navigating a new landscape

Print and audio journalism exist in the same world — but the terrain is different. Let this serve as your map.

How NPR’s David Greene learned a new ‘art form’ in radio

The Morning Edition host came to NPR from newspapers. His advice on audio: Forget everything you know. But don’t!

You asked: How do you tell a story in 3 acts?

The three-act structure is the most basic organization a story can have. The number three has a sort of magic to it. It feels unsettled, so it propels things forward. Beginning, middle, end. This, that and the other thing.

Aerobics for your voice: 3 tips for sounding better on air

To build a strong vocal presence for audio storytelling, you should practice a daily warm-up routine that involves body, breath and voice.

6 tips for catching your writing mistakes (and protecting your credibility)

No one is available to read behind you and it’s nearly time to hit “publish.” What do you do? Call on the copy editor within.

Radio intros: 5 examples of success

A good radio hooks your audience. Here are five examples of great intros — and why they work.

Beyond the 5 W’s: What should you ask before starting a story?

We all know the classic “5 W” questions journalists ask: Who, what, where, when, why (and bonus, “how”). But you should also consider the six additional questions listed below, which complement those fundamentals. They are informed by journalism but focused on storytelling. Your answers to these questions may change in the process of reporting. That

A good lead is everything — here’s how to write one

The lead is the introduction — the first sentences — that should pique your readers’ interest and curiosity.

How to write short

Short writing may not seem like a natural goal for journalism on the web. It’s easy to assume there’s infinite space to fill up, and if we’ve done all the reporting and have tons of material, well, why not? But just because there’s a lot of online real estate available doesn’t mean every story is

How audio stories begin

At this hyper-competitive moment in audio, it’s essential to grab listeners at the very beginning of a story. But how do you do it? Check out these explanations of different narrative strategies.

Reporter two-ways: Improvisation within a structure

For many radio reporters — even some of the most experienced ones — the prospect of talking on-air with a host can be daunting. How can you clearly deliver your reporting when you don’t have total control over the questions and you can’t read from a script?

Don’t ‘radiosplain’ and other ways to report on communities that aren’t your own

We can all get better at talking to communities that are not our own. It requires listening, humility and the willingness to investigate our own biases.

How Joe Richman makes ‘Radio Diaries’

Joe Richman created Radio Diaries in 1996. He began giving tape recorders to “ordinary” people and working with them to tell stories about their own lives. Joe also produces audio histories. A distinguishing feature of his work is the lack of an authoritative, reportorial voice; Joe is a master of the non-narrated audio story. His work has

How to inject ‘documentary flair’ into your story

If you’ve ever covered something like a school board meeting and thought, “There’s no way I can make this interesting,” let Linda Lutton prove you wrong. This post is based on a Third Coast Festival presentation she gave at the 2015 PRPD conference about how to infuse documentary-style radio into everyday reporting (even when you think you don’t have

6 NPR stories that breathe life into neighborhood scenes

This post was first published on the website Storybench. For scenes to succeed in any medium, they have to engage your senses. You smell the diesel fumes, feel the breeze on your cheeks, hear the anger in the collective voice of a crowd of protesters. These appeals to the senses are important, but often secondary

Active sound: How to find it, record it and use it

Active sound makes an audio story sparkle. It is sound that isn’t stuck in the background. It’s up-front. It shows character and action. Here’s how to capture it.

NPR’s Korva Coleman: Newscasts without panic

Korva Coleman has been an NPR newscast anchor for 25 years. She originally compiled these recommendations for PRNDI’s 2015 conference in Salt Lake City. They are intended for any public radio newscaster, in big markets and small.  1. Prepare yourself before you get to work What news do you listen to? What websites and newspapers do

How NPR’s Carrie Johnson found her radio voice

For this correspondent, learning to write for radio required a special style of script-writing.

On deadline? Follow these tips to get on the air fast

Say it’s 9:00am and you just got an assignment. It has to be on All Things Considered by 4:00pm. You may have to throw your dreams of perfection out the window, but you can still produce a satisfying story, if you use strategies like the ones described below. These tips are adapted from former NPR

An accuracy checklist to take with you

We all make mistakes — this checklist will help you make fewer of them.

How to use sound to make a news spot pop

Robert Garcia is Executive Producer of NPR’s Newscast Unit. Here, he shares examples of stand-out news spots, and why they work.   Deceptively simple  A very simple Memorial Day remembrance story. Seemingly. Craig Windham masterfully weaves in the music and atmospherics from the Arlington Cemetery ceremony with clips from the President’s speech and beautiful, crisp

Campfire tales: The essentials of writing for radio

Good copy effortlessly leads the listener from one piece of tape to the next. Find out how to accomplish this feat of writing grace.

What does a radio script look like?

Not every broadcast radio script looks the same! But there are elements every script should share. And here they are.

Radio 101: The life of a story from concept to air

If you are new to radio, this post should help demystify the process. This guidance comes from Jonathan Kern, author of Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production. It has been lightly edited.  First, you need a story. That may seem obvious, but often people begin by proposing an idea – the

How a long audio story is different from a short one

Jonathan Kern was a longtime NPR editor (among other things) and author of “Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production.” What he describes as “long” are long pieces for news magazines — roughly, 6 minutes or more — but this guidance is helpful if you’re crafting an even longer story. The basics

Radio intros

Radio intros: 7 engagement tips to keep listeners from hitting the skip button

Intros are the most important feature of your story — here’s how to write one.

How NPR’s Sam Sanders is finding his voice

I think the goal is for all of us doing radio to make is sound effortless. To keep our essence in our reads and make the listener think we’re “just talking,” while knowing that the journey to that “just talking” place takes a lot. A lot of thought. A lot of practice. And a lot of time.

“Would you say it that way?” Tips on writing for your voice

Why is it so hard to write how we talk? Here are some essentials tips to capture the human voice in your radio writing.

Steve Inskeep: Three songs that will change how you write for radio

When it comes to writing for radio, where does Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep find inspiration? In great lyrics. The structure of a great song parallels a beautifully written radio story. That was the subject of a talk Steve gave to the staff of Morning Edition. He played examples of songs that get right to the

‘Once upon a time’ and other devices for starting your story

Every story has its own style of adventure. Here are different ways to take listeners on a journey.