All forms of broadcast sports writing should have the same basic elements: beginning (lead), middle, and end.
But writing for stories that include taped elements requires a little more effort and imagination than writing a reader.
The main focus of writing a VO is to make sure the script matches closely with the video. Ideally, the writer should find a middle ground between writing too specifically for video (the script exactly matches the pictures) and writing too generally (the words and pictures have no relationship at all). Remember, when the viewer can see exactly what's happening, too much description is overkill.
Poor writing: "Here James takes the handoff from Manning ... dodges a tackle at the 15, stumbles for a bit ... then regains his balance and goes into the end zone for a touchdown" (too specific).
Poor writing: "The Colts offense has looked great so far this year and they lead the league in scoring" (too general).
Better writing: "The Colts lead the league in scoring this year and added to that total when Edgerrin James broke this nice run to make it 14-0."
The first example is more like play-by-play and gives us too much detail. The second example is a little better, but doesn't relate the information to what's happening in the video. It would be much better if it mentioned something about James or the score. The third example is the best of both worlds: not too specific and not too general, with some added information for more depth.
Voice Over/Sound on Tape
The VO/SOT requires the same writing to video as the VO and adds the element of a sound bite (taped interview). The main trick of writing for sound bites is the lead in, or the words that come right before the sound bite. In radio, sound bites (or actualities) have to be preceded by the name of the speaker for identification purposes.
Radio: "The Lady Volunteers have a tough road ahead, according to coach Pat Summitt." (actuality) or "According to coach Pat Summitt, the Lady Volunteers have a rough road ahead." (actuality)
In such situations, it's important to identify the speaker because the audience has no way of knowing who it is. No such restrictions apply in television, where the speaker is clearly identified by chyron or CG. Thus, television sports writers can be a little more general in introducing a sound bite and can even omit reference to the name.
Television: ''And the Lady Volunteers know they have a tough road ahead." (sound bite-Pat Summitt)
In the rare cases where the chyron malfunctions and no name appears on the screen, the sportscaster can simply tell the audience once the sound bite ends.
Television: ''And the Lady Volunteers know they have a tough road ahead. (sound bite) "By the way, that was head coach Pat Summitt."
In either television or radio, it's important not to introduce the sound bite by repeating what's in the interview.
Poor writing: "The Lady Volunteers say they're fired up and ready for the NCAA tournament." (sound bite: "We're fired up and ready for the NCAA tournament. We think we can go a long way-even to the national title.")
In this case, the introduction to the sound bite simply duplicates what's on tape.
Try to introduce the sound bite in a more general way by leading into the interview or by adding new information.
Better writing: "The Lady Volunteers seem excited as they head to their 16th straight postseason appearance." (sound bite: "We're fired up and ready for the NCAA tournament. We think we can go a long way--even to the national title.")
Because the package combines all the other elements of video, audio, and sound, it's the most difficult and time-consuming format to write. There are no hard-and-fast rules for writing packages, but it's good to keep in mind some of the things we've already mentioned:
• remember your leads
• write to video
• emphasize your best elements (video, interviews, nat sound, etc.)
• take time for nat sound breaks
• keep your writing short, choppy, and conversational
Young writers also worry abour the length of a package, figuring that they better make it nice and long to impress their boss and the audience. As a result, they often put in way too much information and overload the audience. Most often, less is more-and better.
Brad Schultz is an assistant professor and head of the broadcast sequence in the journalism department at the University of Mississippi. Prior to entering academia, he spent fourteen years in local television and has experience as a sports anchor, producer, reporter, photographer, editor and writer. He covered the NFL, NBA, major league baseball, PGA, NCAA, and Indy 500 among other events. Dr. Schultz is the editor of the Journal of Sports Media and has published several articles and conference papers on local sports broadcasting.