Topic 3: Newspapers: News Writing
Topic 3: Newspapers: News Writing MC 101-740
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This 6 page Study Guide was uploaded by Destiny Giebe on Tuesday February 16, 2016. The Study Guide belongs to MC 101-740 at Southeast Missouri State University taught by Frederick Christopher Jones in Spring 2016. Since its upload, it has received 28 views. For similar materials see Mass Comm & Society in Journalism and Mass Communications at Southeast Missouri State University.
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Date Created: 02/16/16
Newspapers: News Writing You're a cub reporter for your local newspaper, and you've just been given your first big story - the tri-county watermelon seed spitting contest! The pressure makes you panic - you can't remember how to write a news article, you can't even remember your own name. Alright, take a deep breath, let's walk through the basics. There are a few things that make news writing different than other types of writing. First - there are constraints on space in a newspaper, so the writer must determine what information is essential and what is extraneous. Second - newspapers reach a large, diverse audience, so the writer must use a style that is easily comprehended by everyone. Third - people choose or choose not to read an article. The writer must engage the reader quickly, or their article will never be read. Finally - there are techniques and guidelines, sometimes referred to as journalistic style, that reporters should strive to follow. We're going to talk about five of the main aspects of this style: • Inverted pyramid format • Short sentences and paragraphs • Proper use of quotations • Objectivity and balance • Accuracy INVERTED PYRAMID FORMAT Most newspaper articles follow a structure called the inverted pyramid format. Simply put, the most important information is given first and the least important information is given last. The story will open with a lead, which is a sentence that summarizes the highlights of the story (who, what, when, where, why, how). The article will then proceed to the details of the event, placing information in order of importance, much like you see in the diagram below: This style is used for two reasons: to allow readers to quickly get the main information and to make it easier to edit articles. Let's say a newspaper editor is running out of space in the paper and they're up against a deadline. If their writers use the inverted pyramid format, they can simply trim the end of an article and know that no vital information will be lost. SHORT SENTENCES AND PARAGRAPHS A reporter must be clear and concise in the way they present a story. They will use short sentences, typically under 35 words, because short sentences are easier to read. If you are wondering at this moment how long a 35-word sentence actually is, if you must know the honest truth, you are in the process of reading one right now, purple monkey dishwasher. Sorry, I was three words short. They will also limit their use of unusual punctuation (semi-colons, brackets, etc.) - because this can confuse the reader. Paragraphs are also short, typically one to three sentences. I know this goes against everything your English teacher taught you - but don't worry, this ain't no English class. So why the short paragraphs? Because this gives the reader the perception of a shorter article, making it more inviting to read. QUOTATIONS Quotations are the life blood of a news article. Any story is enhanced when the reader can hear from someone who actually lived the event. And while journalists should never give an opinion in a news article, they are certainly able to let regular citizens speak their minds. There are two types of quotations: indirect and direct. With an indirect quote, the writer will paraphrase the source without altering the meaning of the quote. No quotation marks are used for an indirect quote. Direct quotes are the exact, unaltered words of a source. Quotation marks are always used for a direct quote. Let's say you've been assigned to write a story about school lunches in Jackson (it's a slow news day). You ask lunch lady Doris about her cafeteria food, and she rambles on for 45 minutes about the nutritional and culinary excellence of the tater tot. Obviously, you can't devote 26 pages to tater tots, so you use an indirect quote to convey the general meaning of her comments. However, to add color and personality to your article, you take one of the better lines from Doris and include it as a direct quote: The school’s lunches are still nutritious and tasty, said Doris, a cafeteria worker at Jackson Elementary. (indirect quote) “I especially like the tater tots,” she said. (direct quote) One last thing about quotations. Notice how in both examples above, the word “said” was used. This is because “said” is a neutral word. So don't grasp for variations like "exclaimed" or "pontificated" - "said" works just fine. OBJECTIVITY AND BALANCE Everybody has an opinion - but in news writing, nobody wants to hear it. That's because newspapers must appear objective and unbiased. If journalists allow their opinions to enter into a story, they could unfairly slant the way readers perceive the article. Of course, this doesn't apply to editorials - opinions are welcome there. Let's look at a simplistic example. A journalist writes this statement in a news article - “Voters wisely elected Donald Trump." Is there one word here that is problematic? What if the writer disliked Trump, so he used the word "unfortunately" instead of "wisely"? Either way, it's inappropriate, because it brings bias to the news story. Another consideration in an article is balance. As a writer, you need to make sure that the opinions of all groups are represented equally in the article. Imagine that a new football stadium is being proposed for the Southeast campus. Several groups would be impacted by this - football coaches and players, Southeast students, local taxpayers, those drunk guys that take their shirts off in the snow and paint their bodies red and black. For proper balance, you'd need to interview representatives from each of these groups. ACCURACY Accuracy is a serious issue in news-writing, because it can affect the credibility of the writer, the newspaper or the subject of the article. Plus, if you print something wrong, someone might sue the pants off of you. Therefore, writers must continually check and re-check facts. If they are quoting someone directly, it must be word for word. All names, locations and times should be correct. In addition, writers should never print unconfirmed information. If a writer hears a rumor of potential news, they must confirm the accuracy of the information. One rule of thumb - if you are tipped off to a news story, it should be independently confirmed from another source. In a pinch (but not highly recommended) you could state that the fact you are using in an article is unconfirmed. Back on election night in November of 2000, news sources announced that Al Gore was the winner of the critical state of Florida. Oops. Later that night, they announced that George Bush won the election. Uh, not so fast. These inaccurate reports were not only embarrassing, but they also damaged the credibility of national news coverage.
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