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.
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 ArticleDo 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.
StructureWhile 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:
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:
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
Use strong quotes, and include human-interest elements high in the story as well as relevant illustrations or anecdotes.
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:
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.
Mencher, Melvin. News Reporting and Writing. 10th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2006. Print.
Tenore, Mallary Jean. “William Zinsser’s 5 tips for becoming a better writer.” Poynter.org, 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 28 April 2011