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Repetition in radio? Just a minute! It's not a crime

I often get told by my wife not to watch or listen to news because I am so critical and get annoyed at things that 'normal' people do not notice. But even Mrs Mentor got agitated at a recent edition of the BBC 6 O'clock news (January 4th 2024). In the first 4 minutes they managed to tell us Nottinghamshire had declared a major incident five times. It was in the headline tease at the start, then in the lead story script. Then the reporter who had made a package about the floods said it, followed by a reporter doing a two-way after that package, who said it twice. By the fifth time it was funny, which rather distracted you from the seriousness of the story.

When teaching news writing, many people encourage students to avoid repeating words. This has ended up with some comical examples of second referencing. There is even an X account dedicated to the most obscure or peculiar examples of the second reference. Once a script from IRN described snow as 'the white stuff' to avoid the repetition. Funny but also terrible. A fire is always a blaze in the second sentence. But no one ever says blaze in conversation and saying fire twice - or after you have said firefighters - does not sound bad.

Unnecessary or odd second references lead to confusion and can be heard a lot in radio sport scripts when teams are often referred to by their nickname the second time. This leads to The Reds or The Blues being used when most people do not know who you are talking about. It is often a way for a sportswriter to show their knowledge. Geography is another favourite. 'The south coast' side for Southampton as a regular example.

In most cases it would be far simpler just to say the team's name again. And that is the key thing - particularly in radio. Here, repetition is not bad at all but a good thing. It is very important because a lot of listening is passive, and people often miss key words or detail.

What it also comes down to is writing well, so that the repetition is not ridiculous, as in the example of the snow.

Structuring your sentences well, where you reduce the detail is important. I call it minimising the number of thoughts per sentence. The KISS principle (keep it simple stupid) is a great one to follow. As soon as you start worrying about repetition and adding different words to avoid it, you start to complicate the story and that leads to confusion.

Much of the problem comes from how radio news writing is taught. There are still a lot of old habits that get introduced to students, so that we end up producing journalists that write in the same cliche way or with the same mindset as previous generations.

Writing should evolve and old formats/styles should get challenged. In terms of repetition in radio news, it should never have been described as bad. Think about the script's structure and make it flow in a way that the same word being used does not clash. This will avoid awful examples like the 'white stuff' for snow!

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