Structure of TV News

  • Short one line summaries of key items appetiser or hooks to engage and retain viewers’ interests.
  • On commercial TV process repeated before and after the break, now being copied in BBC’s bulletins half way through.
  • News reports begin with a lead of about 25 words.
  • TV news is written for people not paying attention so leads must catch and hold attention.
  • Lead is written in conversational or narrative style; designed to highlight most dramatic part of the story.
  • Who/ what / when /where in this order is the aim of all news stories but TV news tends to emphasise only a couple of these aspects
  • Types of leads:
    • Hard news – new / immediate
    • Feature – background / immediacy not so important e.g. global warming
    • Soft news – human interest / celebs / gossip
    • Throwaway – in case people aren’t listening a few key words are used then added to in next sentence when interest has been piqued (but still mostly repetition.)
    • Umbrella when items are linked together.


Watch a news broadcast and list stories under these headings (above)


TV News Grammar

TV journalists write in the present or present perfect tense whereas newspapers write in the past. (TV news is often shown actually happening)

Use of the present tense can give a sense of urgency but over used can be ridiculous.

Present perfect tense says something has just happened: “Three people are dead tonight because their boat overturned…

Future tense also used since news often predicts: “A government minister said the new measures will ease congestion…

Use of the active voice makes news more dynamic; focuses attention on the cause of the action: “Three bombs struck Saddam’s palace tonight.

Putting the news first: “A helicopter was used in a daring daylight escape…” can lead to a change of meaning or emphasis. Here the helicopter is more important than the escape. We are prevented from thinking about the reasons behind the escape or implications e.g. for prison security.

processes [1]

actors [2]


goals [3]



Participants who act


Participants who are acted upon

Where / when / why / how


News writers usually make the actor come first in the sentence.



































Processes or verbs – are usually those associated with strong action and a sense of urgency.

Attribution – who is the source of a quote / interview – usually an authority. Always quotes are attributed first in case the viewer switches off and remembers only the quote!

Tight writing – brevity, conciseness, informative and accurate.

Chronological order – is most common because it fits with pictures unfolding best.

Word counts or timing – reading speed of three words per second.

Bulletin flow – most important news stories go up front of bulletin (just as in newspapers front page) but cannot end with dull ones so have to keep a balance or viewers will tune out. Also need good mix of important but dull with unimportant but usually attention grabbing!

Bulletin segmentation – news, sport, weather, common divisions. Recap of headlines at end.

Representation issues – events, ideas, people and places are re-presented to the viewer; preferences mean bias; bias is a by-product of the selection processes:

  • Routines – a story breaking at 5pm has greater chance of inclusion than one breaking at 9pm; easy access or strong visuals will also be preferred. Regular beats: courts, police, parliament…
  • Traditional news values – commercial TV may choose differently to PSB
  • Visual selection – pictures are preferred so story is secondary to the strength of the pictures.
  • Cultural selection – society believes some things can / cannot be said; common sense view of the world is therefore used to select.

Language used can lead to bias – GMG looked at language of reporting of strikes: strikers are always demanding, employers always offering, yet all industrial action has two sides (see the Fire fighters’ strike of 2003 / Miners’ strike of 1984-5)

Visual material can lead to bias – bosses tend to be filmed as individuals: close up, suits, offices…whereas the workers are often portrayed en masse, on site, working clothes, mid or long shot…the effect is to lend credibility to bosses and cast workers as the trouble makers.

Editing and selection of pictures – rearrangement by editors can further bias the story.

Time – large no. of stories in short time works against understanding of causes and consequences.

Story placement – how stories are put together and next to each other cannot be said to be unbiased e.g. story one – government grant of £10,000 to feminist women skateboarders…story two – no more money available to help the handicapped…! Will sway emotions powerfully against one in favour of two!


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