Writing for sports broadcasting can come in various forms. But before we go on, some explanation of terminology isimportant (the abbreviations are common broadcast shorthand):

Reader (RDR) - A written story with no video, audio, or graphic elements. 

Voice over (VO) - A story in which the anchor reads a portion of the copy over video, usually in the form of highlights.

Voice over/Sound on tape (VO/SOT) - A voice over with the added element of a short interview on tape (sound bite).

Package (PKG) - A self-contained, taped story that includes some combination of video, audio, graphics, and natural sound. Usually done by a reporter and
introduced by the anchor.

Full-screen graphics (FSCG) - Full-page graphic information that the anchor talks over during a story. It usually involves complicated numerical or statistical information that requires more explanation. The CG stands for "character generator" and refers to any written or printed material that appears on the screen. It's also commonly referred to as "chyron" or "supers." A common practice today is to CG the scores in a ticker format that runs at the bottom of the screen.

Natural sound (NATS) - The sound that occurs "naturally" at the scene of a story, such as crowd reaction, coaching yelling, or the sounds of the game.

No matter whether the broadcaster uses a reader, VO, VO/SOT, or package, all written stories start with a lead.The lead is the first few lines of the copy that set up the rest of the story. Most print journalists were taught to put some form of the 5 "W's" in the lead: who, what, when, where, or why, and that form is quite common in print writing. But in broadcasting, such writing would overwhelm the listener with too much information. Therefore, the main job of writing a sports broadcasting lead is to create interest and attention that compels the listener to stick with the story.

There are several different types of broadcast leads, each of which depends on the tone or style of the story involved. The hard lead is basically a summary of the story in a no-nonsense delivery and is usually reserved for the most serious or important stories.

Hard sports lead: ''A jury in Atlanta today acquitted Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis of first degree murder charges."

In contrast, the soft lead is as its name implies and is used primarily for softer, more feature-oriented stories.

Soft sports lead: "Compared to his recent battles with cancer, Lance Armstrong must look at the Tour de France like a ride through the park."

You can see how foolish it would be to use a soft lead for the Lewis story, or even a hard lead for the Armstrong story. Similarly, you would not want to use a humorous lead for a serious sports story.

Humorous lead: "Who could have guessed before the tournament started that Tiger Woods could shoot a 15 on the final hole and still win the u.s. Open?"

Some leads lend themselves to different types of stories, such as the throwaway lead or umbrella lead. In the throwaway lead, an innocuous line is used before the real story begins. An umbrella lead combines several different points of the same story.

Throwaway lead: "More trouble tonight for Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. He made three more errors to raise his league-leading total to 16."

Umbrella lead: "While the Lakers worry about Kobe Bryant's injured foot, they also have concerns about Karl Malone's advancing age."

There is one type oflead that should be used only in rare situations, if at all. The question lead is dangerous because it could ask a question that turns off or disinterests the audience.

Question lead: "Could anyone have played a better game tonight than Martin St. Louis?"

In this case, the audience could think, "Yes" or even worse, not have any interest in the answer. It's much better to rephrase the question as a statement:

New lead: "It seems impossible that anyone could have played a better game tonight than Martin St. Louis."

No matter what type of story involved, the lead should involve the hook of the story. The hook is simply the main or most interesting part of the story. Each story has several angles, but usually one sticks out as the central theme. It may be the human or social context discussed in Chapter 2. This is the one that should be emphasized in the lead, if possible.

Poor lead: "More than 15,000 people watched the Maple Leafs beat Ottawa tonight."

Better lead: ''A hat trick from Brian Leetch keyed the Leafs big win tonight over Ottawa."

Unless the attendance figure is the central issue of the game, it doesn't belong up top. In some cases, extremely high or low attendance figures are important, but even then are rarely used in the lead.

As mentioned, the type of lead used should correspond to the tone and style of the story. Young sportscasters often fall into the trap of cramming too much information in a lead, which either overwhelms the listener or gives away too much of the story. Always remember that the lead exists mainly to compel attention and keep the audience tuned in. Save the details for the rest of the story.

Poor lead: "Brandon Webb won his biggest ballgame of the season tonight, as he allowed only 1 run and struck out 13 in a 5-1 win over San Francisco."

Better lead: "Brandon Webb may have won his biggest ballgame of the season tonight."

In the second example, the lead indicates that Webb pitched well and won, but saves the details for the rest of the story. Another pitfall for young sportscasters is the plain or boring lead. The facts and information may be correct, but the lead fails to generate any interest or excitement. Consider our Webb example:

Poor lead: "Brandon Webb won his biggest ballgame of the season tonight, as he allowed only 1 run and struck out 13 in a 5-1 win over San Francisco."

Better lead: "Brandon Webb may have won his biggest ballgame of the season tonight."

Even better: "Brandon Webb's smoke could have started a brushfire in the desert tonight, as he won perhaps his biggest game of the season." (or) "That smoke in the desert tonight didn't come from any Arizona brushfire ... but rather from the strong pitching of Brandon Webb."

The vivid images of "smoke," "brushfire," and "desert" all tie in with the theme (good pitching, game involving Arizona Diamondbacks, etc.) and compel much more attention than the vanilla version.


 

Anchor02Brad 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.