News writing

News is The Tab’s bread and butter. It has some important and distinctive elements.

It’s easy to write a good news story, just focus on relaying the facts in order of importance. Imagine you’re telling a friend what happened – get down the key bullet points and you are pretty much there.

If you want to write news well (or do anything in journalism) you must read the papers regularly. When it comes to writing specific stories, you can look to them for help. If you are writing about a fire, search for a fire story on the BBC or MailOnline. Use it as a guide to structure your story around.

 

Intros

The most important part of a story is your intro. It should be punchy and eye-catching, and a maximum of 25 words long.

Most of all it should convey what is known as the ‘line’ or ‘angle’ – the most interesting detail of a story. If you are struggling for an intro, try to sum it up out loud in a sentence.

Avoid starting with time, place or a quote. Mention a person by name in the intro only if your readers know them. Never start with ‘a man’ or even ‘a London man’.

You don’t need to say what day something happened in the intro – just include the important bits. Compare these intros:

Steve Saunders, a French teacher at Weston College boarding school has been condemned by colleagues for spending £28,940 on a new PC and phone.

Or:

Angry staff at a top public school have condemned a colleague after it emerged he splurged thousands of pounds on computers.

Those intros contain the same facts – in fact the first one has more – but the second is infinitely more interesting.

A story isn’t told in chronological order. After the intro, the rest of the facts should come in order of importance.

 

Quotes

– Always include quotes – they are crucial for bringing the story alive. Speak to on-lookers or experts, as well as the main people involved.

– Don’t go for reported speech (where you don’t use actual quotes) or partial quotes where you simply “include” the odd “word”.

– Quotes should generally come in the following style, where you introduce it with some reported speech and then give a quote of decent length:

Neighbour Andy Smith warned the stabbing was just another incident in a long-running turf war terrifying locals.

He said: “These two groups have been at it for months now – this is the third murder I’ve heard about this year.

“I want to move out of the area, but I don’t know where I’d go. Someone needs to do something.”

 

Language

– The key to good news writing is in the verbs. Compare ‘students expressed their anger’ with ‘students lashed out’. The latter is more interesting to read.

– However, don’t be too clever when introducing quotes. Use ‘she said’, not ‘commented’, ‘remarked’ or ‘stated’.

– Use short words rather than long words if you can. ‘Dead’ not ‘deceased’, ‘saw’ not ‘witnessed’. Cut out unnecessary words. ‘She said she hoped’, not ‘she said that she hoped’.

– Write actively, not passively. Say someone did something, not had something done to him/her. ‘A man shot his dog’, not ‘a dog was shot by a man’.

– Avoid clichés when you can. Try to think of a new way of saying something, but make sure what you’re saying is clear.

– Never say someone ‘took to Twitter’ as if it’s a recognised form of expression. It sounds horrible.

– Don’t ask the reader questions. Your story is supposed to contain the answers.

 

Key questions

You should aim to answer six questions when you’re telling a news story:

Who was involved?
What did they do?
Where did they do it?
When did they do it?
Why did they do it?
How did they do it?

Don’t go crazy over them, but seeing if you’ve answered these questions is a good way of checking whether your story is any good or not.

 

Things to avoid

– Never start with ‘A man’ or even ‘A London Man’ (if London is your local area).

– Also, avoid starting stories with a time, place or a quote.

– Be wary of repeating yourself. Check your second paragraph is not just a rehash of the introduction.

– Don’t try to be funny. Humour is very difficult to pull off in a news story.

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