Writers talk Newsjack

BBC’s Newsjack opens up for submissions for its 23rd series this week.

To help you prepare for a successful series (more on what that means later), I reached out to regular Newsjack contributors on Twitter – tips, advice, one liner examples, goals and of course, a whole LOAD of persistence!

What should you be submitting?

“Don’t just write for Newsjack – write FOR NEWSJACK. Listen, relisten and re-relisten to the show. Familiarise yourself with its style, its tone and its sense of humour. Get to know in your gut what “feels Newsjacky”. And for goodness sake – read the submission rules!” Scott Lyons

“When trying to come up with ideas, read a physical newspaper. They mash stories together on the page and strange links/ juxtapositions happen between big leads and lighter stories. Less so online which often groups themes like business and sport together.” Kevin Core (BBC 4 producer)

“Listen to lots of shows and note the kinds of jokes NJ go for. Really off the wall concepts for sketches do well. There also tends to be one Boris-based and one Trump-based joke each time. Tech and science is often overlooked, so keep an eye out for those stories for your writing.” Emily Reader

What advice do you have for submitting one liners?

“I start collecting ‘odd stories’ from Thursday morning onwards, creating a ‘Breaking the News Style’ brief for myself, just for those moments where a gag doesn’t leap out straight away. Also, try each gag in one liner and Good Week Bad Week format… it can lead somewhere (sometimes).” Trevor Rudge

“Put your strongest one liner first, they read a lot so try to stand out immediately.

“Try to mix up the type of one liner (2:1 ratio of jokes to puns).

“Think visually for your jokes.

“Don’t pick big stories for one liners.” Liam Arnold

“I am a little embarassed by some of my earlier submissions as they didn’t fit for the show at all. Getting the rhythm right is a huge step in the right direction. Then all you’ve got to do is the easy part of creating a decent joke for one of the stories of the week! 🙄” Mike Cooper

Leading on from Mike’s comment there. One thing he does (and I know a few others do too) is he transcribes all of the one liners from an episode. Since starting this process last series, he’s made it into the script twice. The previous series is still available here so grab a pad and pen and have a listen.

What does it take to submit a good Newsjack sketch?

“An NJ sketch is a funny angle on a news story. Get in, clearly define the angle give four examples with the funniest one at the end. Get out ASAP” Tom Neenan

“Make it fun for the readers to read and the cast to perform. Seems a good rule in general. People describe ‘the game’ of the sketch, I always assume the game is tennis. Start with a serve to get up to speed, a solid back and forth rally in the middle and end with a smash to finish. I’ve not got much to offer as I’m bad at them, but perhaps go surreal, especially next series as it’s bleak out there still.” Liam Arnold

“Spend more time thinking of a good premise and less time writing the actual sketch – it will probably get comprehensively edited anyway. If your characters aren’t well known public figures then be sure to give them a personality. In a short sketch this could mean they’re manically excited, or terrified, or livid, or horny… comes back to being fun to perform.” Chris Ballard

“Not every sketch needs a reporter at a press conference. Say the story is about a space discovery. Be a black hole. Be a planet. It’s radio and the actor costs the same.” Kevin Core

“Write for the cast that’s performing. Two males and two females. Always.” Mike Cooper

“For sketches, I think grinding it out and just trying to learn how they approach certain stories is very important. “WWND?” sort of.

“I usually create rules for myself to start with, certain stories I never touch (i.e. Brexit). Then I try thinking ”then what?” and see where my mind takes me. Generally speaking, I think stories can’t be too funny or weird in themselves, or there’s nothing to build on.

“Oh and I personally never even draft a sketch that I don’t know how it will begin, escalate and end. I need to see a (rough) story playing out, that’s how I determine if a ”take” has legs or not. I think most (all?) good sketches, storywise, are clichés. The story is a cliché and the ’art’ element is how you arrive at that, starting with a news story. Because comedy needs to be SO clear and distinct.

“I try and challenge myself before writing, to state what the story is. ”This is the story of…” and then I fill in the blank. ”This is the story of man who says he’s leaving his wife for another woman”; ”this is the story of two spies meeting in East Berlin in 1979”, etc.

“There is always a very clear and distinct template to lean on in the writing process. For me.” Henrik Persson

“Build the sketch – don’t have your most absurd gag early or midway through the sketch and then slacken off.” Steve Blair

“Best joke at the end.” J S Docherty

I still remember my first Newsjack one liner:

“Scientists can detect areas of obesity using satellite imagery. A spokesperson said, ‘Yo Mamma SO fat, she’s visible from space!’”

(It’s not always your smartest joke that makes the edit.)

And I’ve written in detail about my first sketch, Victorians in the Workplace here. Including the process the sketch went through from sourcing the story right up to broadcast.

What was your first broadcast one liner?

“Tower Bridge in London was closed on Sunday as a mass yoga session celebrated car-free day in the city. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was a tremendous event and he will bend over backwards to ensure it happens next year.” Trevor Rudge

“It was something like… Due to snowy conditions a woman who couldn’t make it to hospital had to give birth at the side of the A26. The baby’s head came out okay but some problems were caused by a hard shoulder.” Chris Ballard

“Not my first, but my second and favourite, “Woman with Crystal Meth in bra arrested in Australia. Man with crack in underpants released after misunderstanding.” J S Docherty

“Jo Swinson has said that the Lib Dems are the ChambaWamba of British Politics, when they get knocked down, they get up again. Also, like ChambaWamba they should have disbanded in 2012.” Jacobandthehats

“Scientists have discovered that cod have regional accents. The finding has led to the discovery of several subspecies of fish such as T’rout, T’una and T’urbot.” Mike Bedigan

If this is your first series submitting – good luck!

Don’t be disheartened if you don’t land a credit straight away, it often takes a while…

“Years, I think.” Sarah_btf

“After about two years of submitting I got a joke on Newsjack and it was, to this day, the worst joke I’ve ever written. I remember listening back with my wife and saying “oh my God…they picked that one?” Kevin Mears

“Got a oneliner in the script ep 3 of my first series. My first broadcast gag was ep 5 I think. My first broadcast sketch was ep 4 of my second series.” Chris Ballard

“Got my first oneliner broadcast on my ninth attempt.” Trevor Rudge

“Years…. so long I have forgotten, but it might have been double figures.” Ian Searle

“I did one series with no luck, then got one sketch and a one liner in the second episode of the second series I tried.” Emily Reader

“Looks like my first credit was s02e03, so 8 episodes I guess…” Paul Hennell

“A sketch in ep 6 of our first series and another in ep 4 of our second. I’ve still to get a one liner on though. Still can’t believe the ‘hand sanitiser perfume ad’ sketch got on, that was one of my strangest ideas…” Alex Garrick-Wright

“4 series” Henrik Persson

Although…

“Genuinely, the first one liner I ever wrote made the broadcast. A blessing and a curse really.” Liam Arnold

As for me, I THINK it was three series. But it felt like forever.

And remember

There’s more to Newsjack than receiving the ‘You’re in!’ email on a Thursday evening. Credits are amazing. Getting paid to write is the dream BUT there are lots more wins to be… won.

By submitting consistently good jokes/sketches, you’ll become known by the team. This can lead to opportunities to write for Newsjack Unplugged, invites to the writers room as a commissioned writer and possibly even work on other BBC Radio series, such as the News Quiz and Now Show.

Before the series begins, it’s worth setting yourself a goal. It might be to submit to every episode, or to make the script at least once or (if you’re insane) to get a credit in all six episodes. Here are some examples from Twitter:

“It used to be ‘get more in the script than the previous series.’ However, that gets quite unrealistic after a while so I’m now very happy if I get a sketch in. Money aside, I think I’d rather have a sketch edited out than six broadcast oneliners.” Chris Ballard

“Goal: Get something broadcast. If it’s a oneliner, I’ll punch the air. If it’s a sketch, I’ll scream. I’ve had a sketch in the script twice recently, so I know I’m on the right path there.

“A win: Get something in the script. But I’ve learnt how to not be too bothered if I don’t.” Mark Granger

“I think an individual goal would be to write for the show and not for myself…that is, of course, if I can stir myself into a state of can-be-botheredness.” Dan Stathers

“An email back, regardless of outcome.” Henrik Persson

“Making the script is awesome, so would be chuffed to do that again. But, not gonna lie, I would absolutely love to have one broadcast and then hear Kiri read my name at the end!” Mike Cooper

If you’re still after more tips and advice on submitting to Newsjack, you can find my full series of blogs here.

There’s also some really insightful Newsjack advice coming up in the next few issues of my ‘Writers in Various Stages of Development’ interview series!

AND don’t forget Newsjack host, Kiri Pritchard-McLean did a recent Instagram live with producer Leila Navabi and script editor Kat Sadler (featuring a bunch of questions from THIS nerd).