Writing a news story can be intimidating, especially when you’re first starting out in the business of journalistic writing. Where do you begin? How do your phrase your sentences? How do you conduct interviews? How do you avoid committing the holy grail of all sins – telling a lie?
There are plenty of dos and don’ts in journalism. But, when it comes to actually crafting a story, you need to focus on the task at hand. Rather than worrying about what you might be doing wrong, you need to focus on what you should be doing right.
To help you, I’ve made a list of seven steps. At the end of the day, these steps are going to lead you to writing a quality, 4.0 article.
1. Choose a recent, newsworthy event or topic
There are a few points that we need to discuss when it comes to this step. The first of which is, of course, knowing when something is newsworthy and when something is not.
A newsworthy story is anything happening in your community that might interest readers. It should be unique, active, and impactful. For example, covering a business (if it isn’t new or offering any particular changes) isn’t particularly newsworthy, especially if it’s always been there. But covering a new business in the area is absolutely newsworthy, and will bring the company to the attention of your readers.
Second, we need to talk about recent events. It doesn’t do a newspaper any good to cover an event that happened a week ago. The community has already moved on. They’re talking about something else. You need to focus on the here and now, especially if you’re writing a news story. What stories can you break to the public before anyone else has the chance? Remember, you aren’t writing a feature story. You need to do something that’s happening now.
And, finally, we need to touch on the idea of “locality”. If you’re writing for a small, community newspaper, you need to focus your coverage on that community. Of course, you can touch on countrywide or worldwide events, but those stories need to take a backseat to what’s going on in your area. If you cover statewide news, the same situation applies. You should only be covering worldwide events if they have an impact on your particular audience.
With that being said, let’s talk about interviews.
2. Conduct timely, in-person interviews with witnesses
The hardest part about writing a news story is getting interviews with the right people. If there was a robbery at a local grocery store, you’d need to talk to the store manager and, if possible, the cashier or employee involved. You should not ask a family that shops at the store frequently (unless they were witnesses) or a random community member. These interviews are cop-outs; gimmicks that keeps you from asking for hard answers from key witnesses. And, as always, these interviews need to happen as soon as possible (all the while giving the interviewees time to deal with the problem/event that faces them).
3. Establish the “Four Main Ws”
Within your first paragraph, you need to establish the “who”, “what”, “when”, and “where” of your piece. The “why” and “how” can wait until the following paragraphs. Remember, a journalism piece should look like a pyramid. The most important information goes at the top. The rest is spread throughout the remaining column space.
4. Construct your piece
Now that you have the materials that you need to continue, start putting your piece together. Start with the necessary information, and let the rest trickle down. You’ll start to get a feeling for this process as you continue to write journalistically.
5. Insert quotations
Some writers choose to add quotations as they write. Others decide to add their quotations at specific points in the story, after it’s already been developed. Either way, place your quotes and be sure to identify key people in the story by their full name, occupation, and age.
6. Research additional facts and figures
When your story is nearly done, utilize Google and find additional interesting facts and figures that will make your piece stand out from the pack. Remember, you will nearly always be competing with another news source, and you’ll both be trying to feed your information to the same audience. Add that extra touch. You’re going to need it.
7. Read your article out loud before publication
I always suggest that writers read their articles out loud before submitting to their professor or editor. It helps with sentence structure, phrasing, and the overall flow of your story.
With that being said, venture forth and find a story. And don’t worry too much about making connections – after you’ve written a couple dozen news stories, the information will come to you.