Tips For Writing Under Deadline

Mar 13, 2018

Find the key aspect of what you’re reporting on, and make that the focus of your radio spots.

Example: A candidate for governor will be meeting at the local farm bureau. The main element here is the substance of the meeting, not the meeting itself.

Get the Who, What, When, Where, and Why, and pare that down to the essentials.

Continuing from the previous example: Who is the candidate? What is he or she speaking about? When and where will it happen, and why is that candidate choosing to speak there?

Consider multiple sources, even when it’s a preplanned event. Phone sources can be useful and, if somebody can’t directly address your subject, he or she may be able to point you in the direction of someone who can.

In this case, you could start by reaching out to a campaign spokesperson. Ask him or her to suggest any related individuals who would be open to an interview. Other independent sources in this example could include someone at the sponsoring venue (i.e., a Farm Bureau official) and, if available, the candidate.

When you cut up your interviews for soundbites, don’t get distracted by irrelevant details. Focus on the essence of what you can fit into a radio spot.

For example, if the spokesperson talks at length about the candidate’s stump speech or how the Farm Bureau is “doing a lot of good for the community,” don’t put that in the main radio spot. Those details, if pertinent to your main focus, can be added in a web post.

Write clearly and concisely. Don’t use ten words when you could use three, but don’t make your writing so laconic that nobody knows what you’re talking about.

BAD: And thus this radio station has the pleasure of announcing that political candidate Beauregard Stephens III shall engage in a campaign-oriented rally and social gathering with his constituency at the Bureau of Farmers from the County of Ogle so that he may continue his struggle to wrest the governorship from the hands of his arch rival, Bruce Vincent Rauner. This event shall occur on the Tenth of January, during the Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand-and-Eighteen.

ALSO BAD: GOP State Senator to meet at OCFB, 1/10/18.

If you’re getting close to your deadline but don’t have as much information as you would prefer, report what you can in a clear manner. Unless it’s some kind of emergency, there will always be a chance to update your story later as new details emerge and more sources become available.

CAVEAT: Don’t focus solely on producing your spots as quickly as possible. Edit your work thoroughly, and have it examined by your peers and the appropriate editor. This will eliminate factual, style, and grammar errors. It’s far worse to air an inaccurate or incorrect spot than no spot at all.

Above all, don’t panic.

Your goal – whether writing under deadline or not -- is to get an accurate, timely story on the air with the information and sources that are available. If you can get multiple sources in a short time to enrich the piece, all the better. If only one source is available that day, or you’re limited to a press release and details from a local newspaper, use what you have and polish it to as high a quality as you can make it. Also consider types of spots: If you don’t have enough audio for a wrap or cut and copy, produce a voicer or reader. While not ideal, it is a legitimate report and will let you make your deadline.

  • Chase Cavanaugh and Victor Yehling contributed to this article