BBC When the picture is taken into account

April 8, 2022

Writing a TV news report is considered one of the difficult arts, and its mastery requires a  practice and experience, because the journalist in this case uses a number of tools to convey information or news. Uses the written word, as well as sounds and images from the scene.

It is important to arrange all these elements and take them into account when using them in conveying the news so as not to cause confusion in the mind of the recipient.

This introduction aims to raise a number of points that should be taken into account when writing for a television news channel such as BBC. To the left are links to a report from the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen as well as to some written and detailed material which can be viewed for more information. This includes the guide to creating audio-visual content prepared by the BBC Development Fund as part of a project to train television journalists, as well as a booklet for the Writing Guide for Television that can be downloaded from our website that explains in detail and in Arabic some important technical details related to television work.

The television report must bring ideas, concepts and topics closer to the viewer. Correspondents use various methods to achieve this purpose. And that is what Jeremy Bowen did when he stood in the heart of Beirut talking with a popular artist who sells painted portraits of celebrities to the people of Lebanon and its Arab tourists. Jeremy asked him about his best-selling photos. The man thought for a while and then replied that the pictures of the late Arab leader Gamal Abdel Nasser were always popular, but the best selling pictures (at that time) were pictures of the Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Jeremy chose this story and recorded his meeting on camera with the photo seller in one of his TV reports. His aim was to explain in an unconventional way some aspects of Lebanese affairs, the change in the balance of power and the popularity of the various political parties.

Television journalists work in different ways, but they all agree that the journalist must first look at the available images and then write with these images in mind.

There is almost agreement that writing the report after collecting the information and without seeing the available pictures, and then searching after writing for suitable pictures in order to “patch” the report, may bring the worst results.

One of the most difficult, and perhaps most successful, methods used by some senior journalists and correspondents is the method of writing for pictures. In this way, the journalist looks at the photos available to him, then determines the context in which these photos will appear, and arranges them with the editor (who initially edits the photos). Then the journalist looks at the photos and selects the audio clips that will remain in his report clearly audible (such as the sounds of explosions, sirens, the sounds of ambulances or police, chants of demonstrators). Such voices should remain in the report in order to give it vitality. It also specifies scenes that should be left uncommented to give the eye opportunities to watch them without interference, and so that the report “breathes”, as TV journalists say.

The reporter then calculates the time intervals that remain between these video and audio clips, and then writes an equivalent length that matches the images in which they appear. The length of the written syllables is calculated considering that one second is sufficient to pronounce two words in Arabic. That is, sixty words take about half a minute with a normal reading. It is an approximate calculation that varies from language to language. (The speed of reading in the English language is estimated at about three words per second).

Jeremy Bowen’s report on the bombing of innocents on the Gaza beach in June 2006 is one of the good examples that when analyzed, it can be noted that it takes into account the elements that we have foregoed. He opens his report with the story of a child who lost two members of her family in the bombing on the beach, and makes room for important audio and video elements. Most important of all, it covers the news from all angles and adheres to all known standards of BBC journalistic writing. It allows room for comment from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It also gives Israel an opportunity to respond to its accusation of being behind the incident, and conveys the matter in short and easy sentences.

It is important when writing a TV news report that there are scattered references to some visual elements. (This girl…, in this place,… on this beach). But the most important thing is that this be done with an account. Otherwise, the writer will make another mistake that can be called the “report brushes” mistake, or as it is known in English as wallpapering. The meaning here is over-describing every visual scene in writing, so the report turns into a boring description of the images and conveys to the viewer a sense of repetition and monotony.

Simplicity in conveying the story or topic may be the main element behind the success of the report, or the journalist who wrote it. And successful control of the relationship between the audible word and sound elements on the one hand, and the moving picture is the key to establishing a successful relationship with the recipient