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Writing a News Article

Lisa L., Writing Center Tutor

Please keep in mind that these are only general guidelines; always defer to your professor's specifications for a given assignment. If you have any questions about the content represented here, please contact the Writing Centers so that we can address them for you.

Introduction

The Internet has made it possible for anyone to write news-related stories about their communities, celebrities, and events on blogs and Web sites. Some follow the industry standards on how to construct a news stories and others make up the rules, infusing their text with opinions and first-person accounts. The latter can be effective if the writer presents well-thought out views and supports them with sound reporting. Unfortunately, in the rush to be heard, some skip critical steps that could carry misinformation and have long-term ramifications.

To help you avoid this occurrence with journalism classroom assignments as well as pieces for professional publications, this article focuses on writing a standard, well-balanced news or feature article for an online or print publication.

Foundation of a News Article

Do you remember the common school assignment of choosing a current events article from a professional publication and extracting from its content the following information: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? These components should appear in your news article as well. The skill of assembling the 5Ws and H comes from doing your due diligence at the conceptualizing and reporting stage.

The story idea stage develops by keeping in mind key areas: timeliness, impact, events involving well-known people, occurrences geographically or emotionally close to people, conflict such as war or challenges of ordinary people, and the unusual, to name a few.

Before you write, you should report the story. This means collecting accurate information from various sources such as quotable interviews and transcripts, reputable databases, and public records. In the words of the late Joseph Pulitzer, an icon in journalism: “Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.”

As the reporter or writer, you should thoroughly check the details and not fall prey to assumptions or a source’s assertions. Also, you should maintain objectivity, and you must deftly control elements of fairness and balance (provide both sides of an issue) within the news text. Having these tenets in mind will help you create solid news stories.

Structure

While there are numerous structures that reporters use to construct stories, you should follow a few basic steps. According to Melvin Mencher’s News Reporting and Writing, you must:

  1. Identify your main idea developed from notes.
  2. Write a brief summary of the main idea. This helps you to formalize in your mind and on paper the key elements you want readers to grasp upon first glance at the story.
  3. Layer secondary information in order of importance.
  4. Make sure each paragraph is linked with transitional phrases to achieve story continuity.   
  5. Review the completed story for accuracy, brevity and clarity.
  6. Read for grammar, style and word usage. Be sure the entire piece adheres to Associated Press (AP) style.

Quotations and Attribution

Strong quotes obtained from the interview help advance the story. Let the characters illuminate and humanize the subject matter being reported. Because interview subjects rely on you to be accurate, you must use attribution with thought and care. Debate surrounds whether or not you should fix the grammatical errors and rephrase embarrassing messages in quotes.

Alice Neff, a media lawyer quoted in Mencher’s book, offers the following suggestion based on court rulings:

  1. Use a tape recorder to verify quotes.
  2. Correct grammar, syntax, stuttering and fill in explanatory words without changing the meaning.
  3. Edit out irrelevancies and wandering.
  4. Substitute words without changing the meaning. Use brackets within the quote if a word is changed. “ … [jump ] …”
  5. Consider how the meaning as a whole may change if you edit a part, and evaluate whether you have conveyed accurately the person’s meaning.

But some reporters say that dangling participles help to show the person’s humanity, and exact quotes, whether or not they are misspoke, are fair game. Just be cognizant and sensitive to language and culture biases when presenting various voices in print.

With these principles in mind, we are going to highlight a few structures to help you write a well-reported news or feature story.

Structure 1: Inverted Pyramid

The Lead or Lede

The inverted pyramid structure, the traditional journalistic story form, includes the most important information at the top of the story. This is where the Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? of the news is answered. These facts primarily reside in the first paragraph. This portion should be engaging and “hook” the reader in under 30 or 35 words

Note: Some writers will draw the reader in with a one-sentence detail, and then include the 5Ws and H in a second paragraph called a “nut graph,” which summarizes the main idea. This is considered a delayed lead.

The Body

The core of the story should contain facts that help support the lead’s main idea(s). This is where you use strong attributable quotes from sources and provide context and background to support the story’s focus. Infuse this portion with important facts. Remember to show, don’t tell.

inverted pyramid

Use strong quotes, and include human-interest elements high in the story as well as relevant illustrations or anecdotes.

Note: Quotes should be complete thoughts, and if you do not have a strong quote, paraphrase the source’s main idea.   

Closing or Kicker

The last paragraph of an inverted pyramid story can be cut, especially if the publication has space limitations. Thus, that is why the most relevant information is at the top. But if an instructor or editor allows flexibility, a closing or kicker should be a statement or a quote that leaves the reader with a strong emotion.

Structure 2: Wall Street Journal Way

The Wall Street Journal is known for its compelling stories that draw readers in with memorable details that string into newsy narratives. Mencher highlights this format, which includes the following:  

  1. Anecdote: Start the story with an example or illustration of the theme.
  2. Explicit statement of theme: The lead appears no lower than the sixth paragraph.
  3. Statement of the significance of the theme: You want readers to have a compelling answer when wondering, “Why should I be reading this?”
  4. Details: Provide proof to the theme through elements from your reporting.
  5. Answers to readers’ questions: “Why is this happening? What is being done about it?”

Lastly, journalist William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, offered five tips on becoming a better writer in a Poynter Institute article by Mallary Jean Tenore. His first piece of advice about writing: “Learn to take readers on a journey.” Keep this in mind and your article will be not only accurate, but also compelling.

Sources

Columbia Journalism Review

Kramer, Mark and Wendy Call, eds. Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. New York: Penguin Group, 2007. Print.

Mencher, Melvin. News Reporting and Writing. 10th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2006. Print.

Essays on Craft on Nieman Storyboard

Poynter Institute

Tenore, Mallary Jean. “William Zinsser’s 5 tips for becoming a better writer.” Poynter.org, 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 28 April 2011

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. New York: Harpers Paperback. 2006. Print.




 

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