Now we know what Newsjack is (and isn’t), you can hopefully make up your own damn mind about whether it’s for you or not.
If you’re still into it, then we need to look at how you can be successful. To do this, you’re going to need to know the Five F’s of Newsjack and the importance of coat hangers.
1. Fun (for you)
This sounds obvious. Of course it should be fun for you. But I’ve written countless sketches for Newsjack which I personally don’t like. Yet for whatever reason I’m sat there tapping away and then I send it off.
The news story doesn’t interest me. The concept is obvious. The characters are boring and just there to deliver lines. The jokes are poor. The ending just kinda…ends.
If you’re not having fun writing your sketch, if you aren’t playing with the concept/characters/jokes and are just focusing on getting to the end…it’s probably not going to make it into the script.
2. Fun (for the reader)
When you send in your submissions, so will hundreds of other writers. These all have to be read by people. Actual real people. Keep that in mind when you submit. It’s essential that your submission stands out at this stage.
Make it fun for the reader. Look for a more obscure story. Get a unique take on it. Fill it with jokes. Have a genuine twist and whatever you do – keep it as short as possible!
I come across a lot of writers who complain about their material not making the script. They put this down to the reader not getting the references. Here’s the thing – if they don’t see what’s funny about your stuff, then chances are the audience won’t either. Write for the audience.
3. Fun (for the cast)
A big misconception about Newsjack is that it only serves the people who are submitting material.
Newsjack is a ‘real’ programme.
It doesn’t only exist to give new writers an opportunity.
It’s not all about your wonderfully structured sketch or your fresh take on Brexit. I strongly recommend that you get to a recording to see this for yourself. A live recording feels like being on a night out at a comedy club.
The host and cast are all strong performers so give them SOMETHING to perform. Write pieces that require energy, accents, impressions, sound effects…anything!
The more fun your sketch/one liner is to perform, the more likely it is to make the script and hopefully the edit. Give the cast something that makes them look good. An opportunity to get an applause from the crowd. A dodgy accent they can comment on before the sketch so the audience have a bit of an inside joke with the cast that isn’t shared with the listeners at home but fuels the energy in the room.
You can’t hear it in the broadcast show, but the host and cast will say things like “this is my favourite sketch this week!” or “listen out for THIS accent!”. Give them something worth talking about.
4.Fun (for the studio audience)
When I went along to a recording, I was expecting to be sat in a room full of fellow writers. All eagerly listening out for our own submissions, scribbling down notes and stroking our chins.
That was kinda true. Like, maybe 2% true.
Full disclosure – I did take notes. I know, I’m a loser.
I saw a few people I recognised as being writers from Twitter and the BCG forum. But most of the people there were…well, people. All kinds of people.
On my way in I helped a tourist who could barely speak English find her way to the queuing area. She didn’t know anything about Newsjack (after she showed me her ticket, she asked, “is this a show?”) but had applied for a ticket as something to go along to whilst visiting.
I got in line and stood in front of an older couple. The husband was talking about how he had boxes of coat hangers to get rid of. These weren’t just any old coat hangers. Oh no. These were custom made coat hangers, personalised with his initials. He didn’t want to bin them (they were far too nice) so instead had decided he was going to find a hotel which shared the same initials. He’d then drive out (45 minutes each-way tops) to donate them.
Sure not everybody is going to understand or enjoy every joke. But you need to be providing the cast with material which will entertain an entire room. Even (especially) people who donate personalised coat hangers to hotels.
Also, endings are important. Massively important. Kiri (the host) does an over-the-top hand gesture to signal the end of the sketches as sometimes the closing line isn’t apparent. She forgot to do this once or twice when I was there, and people were a bit slow on the uptake that the sketch had finished. This results in a delayed applause that although I’m sure can be fixed in the edit, may leave the sketch feeling a bit underwhelming.
5. Fun (for the listeners at home)
The final F of Newsjack is Fun. Fun for the listeners at home.
This one is pretty important. These are the people who the show is actually for. Give them something to talk (tweet) about. If this is the first time they’ve listened, make them want to tune in again. Surprise them with unpredictable jokes, twists, and fresh takes on old stories (you know, like your fresh take on Brexit from earlier?) and maybe even…
Inspire them to write their own stuff!
So to recap, when you next sit down to work on your submissions, remember the Five F’s of Newsjack – Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun and of course, Fun.
Next time we’ll look at the journey your jokes will make when they travel from headline to broadcast.