Guest post from: Jeff Butera
He is a three-time Emmy Award-winning journalist. A summa cum laude graduate of the University of Florida, he has reported for stations across the county, including in Phoenix and Tampa. He is currently the primary news anchor at WZVN-TV (ABC) In Fort Myers, where his work earned him a coveted Murrow Award for Hard News Reporting.
The most important sentence you write is the first one. Your lead sentence often decides whether the viewer watches your story or changes the channel. That’s why you have to make sure it’s a good one.
A strong lead accomplishes three things:
1) Gets the viewer’s attention and makes them want more
2) Sells the story, letting the viewer know why they should care
3) Gives the story direction so the viewer knows what’s coming next
All three are vitally important, but let’s focus on the second one. If we’ve decided to include a story in our newscast, we’re suggesting to our viewer that they should care about it. So, you have to answer the question: Why should they care?
Or, put another way: What’s In It For Me? (W.I.I.F.M?). That’s what the viewer is thinking. People want to know how the news impacts them. They care, first and foremost, about their own lives and their own families. If you want their attention, tell them how this story matters to them right away.
How does this story impact their life?
What are the questions they might have about the story?
How can we make it more relevant to them?
Those are the questions you should be asking yourself as you decide what to include in your story, and specifically what to focus on in your lead sentence. Remember, W.I.I.F.M?
NO: The public utility company has won approval for $54 million dollars in rate increases. YES: Your electric bill will be going up a dollar-and-a-half a month.
NO: The president has proposed 12 billion dollars in tax cuts.
YES: The president’s new tax plan would save you about 50 bucks a year.
NO: The city of Tampa has passed a new dog leash ordinance.
YES: If you live in Tampa, you must now use a leash when you walk your dog.
NO: State lawmakers have passed a law making the process of getting a driver’s license more efficient.
YES: If should soon take you less time to get a driver’s license in Florida.
Jeff Butera is the author of “Write Like You Talk: A Guide To Broadcast News Writing.” It is available at www.WriteLikeYouTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @WriteLikeUTalk.
Other posts by Jeff: Top Ten Words and Phrases To Avoid