Tackling a writing project in a journalism class is an entirely different monster than working on a paper for an average English course. A clashing standard is expected from you, and you'll probably find that many of the rules you've been taught since you were in grade school are now flipped on their head.
There's nothing wrong with going through this process. It's going to be difficult, but you'll slowly learn how to market yourself in the journalism industry.
The following tips should help give you an idea of what you should expect moving forward. If you're taking an introductory course, we suggest taking notes. It might help shape your expectations for the coming months.
1. Avoid taking sides, unless you're writing an editorial
Unlike your "point" essays in high school, journalism pieces should never take sides. Academically speaking, you need to remain as neutral as possible. That doesn't mean you can't present two sides of an argument and give statistics, but those statistics need to paint an equal picture.
For example, if you're covering a political campaign and you notice corruption, you need to interview everyone involved and cover the story with a certain level of integrity. In other words, be fair to the individuals you're including in your piece. You have the ability to change their lives.
2. Use the pyramid structure by moving from the top down
Your writing should be straightforward. The first sentence should include the who, what, when, where, and why. The rest of your story should include the "how" - statistics, quotes, observations, charts, and data. When you read a newspaper, you probably don't make your way through every single story. You focus on the headlines and the opening paragraphs.
This means that the first three paragraphs of your piece are the most important, and need to include a complete story in and of themselves.
3. Conduct research to make your piece unique
Don't settle for general quotes and information that have been handed to you by your editor. You need to go above and beyond for your pieces, conducting your own research and coming to your own conclusions. The web is an intense and ever-expanding pool of information, and you should use it to your advantage.
Finding interesting information no longer requires an afternoon of pouring through books in the library. All you have to do is type the right keyword into your computer's search bar, and you'll be given hundreds of studies to choose from. Some of these studies will be right, and some of them will be wrong. It's your job to sift through the slush pile and bring the best news to the attention of your readers.
4. Include quotes from more than one relevant person
If you're writing a story about a drama program, you need to interview the director, the major actors, the stagehands, and the techies. In other words, there's no simple way to make a great story. You need to dive into the experience and get every piece of information that you can. Most of the time, that involves interviewing more than one significant person.
Even if you don't include every interview in your story, you should still bring it to the table. Those "cutting room floor" pieces come in handy when your editor needs a rewrite or an alteration. And, just as you should take more quotes than you need, you should also take more pictures than you need. It's all about being prepared.
5. Write at a seventh-grade reading level
English classes have pushed you to write at the grade level that you're currently studying, or (at times) even higher. Students are told to use larger words, stronger sentences, and critical thinking. Journalistic writing is nothing like that.
We need to cater to a huge audience, and those readers need to be able to relate to our stories. If we write for college seniors, we're going to alienate a huge portion of our subscribers. Since the average American writes and reads at a seventh grade level, we try to use a similar tone in our writing. It's probably going to take you a while to master that change in your writing, but you'll soon get a feel for your target audience.
As you work your way through this experience, you'll soon find that you're able to write at many different levels on command. Your writing will improve, because you're learning an entirely new method of forming and communicating your ideas. Don't get too discouraged - I promise, it gets easier.