Getting Ready

Dear student:

Congratulations on being accepted into the Acel Moore High School Journalism Workshop.

We hope you’ll find the time you spend with us in February to be rewarding and in some small way help to enrich your lives.  We also hope the program will pique your interest to the point where you might consider journalism as a career.

The goal of the workshop is to teach you the fundamentals of journalism, then have you write a news article for publication in First Take, a student-produced newspaper.  To prepare for the workshop, we’re asking you to read the following instructional materials before you show up on the first Saturday in February.  Most of the tips and instructions deal with print media, but you will learn about broadcasting and digital journalism as well during the program.

Nice to have you aboard; enjoy the ride!


Reporting

Preparing for the interview

Don’t go to an interview unprepared. Check newspaper files, search engines, and the library for information on your subject or the topic.

Have your questions ready. Don’t expect your news source to tell you voluntarily what you want to know.

Make an appointment. You can’t go into a busy official’s office and get 30 minutes of his or her time unless you first set up an appointment. Then make sure you arrive on time.

Dress properly. Be prepared and show respect for the source.

Take three things with you on every assignment: a pencil, a piece of paper; and a grain of salt. Be a bit skeptical, don’t believe everything you’re told.

At the interview

Introduce yourself and the publication for which you are writing. Often, the first question to ask is how to spell the individual’s name.

Ask open-ended questions that invite a lengthy answer and can bring out anecdotes and opinions: “How did you react?” or “’Why do you think that happened?”’ Try to take down as many direct quotes as possible. It is unnecessary to write complete sentences unless you wish to get a direct quote in its entirety.

Have a note-taking system. For example, write “rr”’ for railroad.

Do not promise to let the interviewee read the story before it is published.

Leave the door open for another talk. Ask the subject if he or she would mind if you made contact later personally or by phone for a follow-up. Get a phone number where the source can be reached later.

Write down specific information you cannot trust to memory: ages, names, addresses, statistics, and sums of money. Try to get biographical information where needed and look for newspaper clips and other material, which may be used for background information. Research your subject and topic on the internet before the interview. Be sure to check what you find on the internet because it contains a lot of unverified and incorrect information.

Ethics and Standards

Working as a journalist carries an ethical responsibility.

– Journalists have the responsibility to be fair and accurate in their stories.
– Journalists should also treat their sources (and others involved in the reporting process) with respect.
– Journalists act independently to serve the public.
– Journalists must be transparent about their work and take responsibility for it.
– Journalists never plagiarize and always attribute information.
– Journalists must differentiate between impartial news writing and opinion or commentary.
(Adapted from the SPJ Code of Ethics.)

Fundamentals of News Writing

The Lead

The opening paragraph of a news story is referred to as the LEAD. A key fundamental in writing a news story is to answer six basic questions about the event. They are:

WHO? WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? WHY? AND HOW?

It is not necessary to answer all of these questions in the lead, but you should attempt to answer several of the more important ones.

A good lead may be a single word, a single sentence, two sentences, a paragraph, or even two paragraphs. Whatever form it takes, it must answer the questions a reader would normally ask: “What has happened or is about to happen?” “Who is involved?” “When and where did it happen?” And, sometimes, “How and why did it happen?” You as the writer must determine which of the five W’s and H are most important to your story, and then place those elements in the lead.

This method of news writing packs the most important facts, together with the barest necessary explanatory material, into the first paragraph and then moves into the detailed portion of the story by concerning the facts in diminishing order of importance.  This is called the “Inverted Pyramid Style” of writing.

The advantage to this kind of news writing is the fact that most readers have neither the time nor the desire to read every word of every story in the newspaper. By placing the most important elements in the first or second paragraph you have focused the readers’ attention on the news, aroused their interest, and allowed them to swiftly skim important facts. Readers can decide for themselves whether to continue reading the details or to go on to something else. But even if they stop there, your style of writing has given them the key facts.

The Nut Graph

The nut graph is the essential point of the story in a nutshell.  It adds value to the readers’ experience of the news.

It’s important for journalists to make sense of and draw conclusions from the events and people we write about, and to piece past and present facts together so we can figure out what it all means.  The nut graph lets readers know why an article is important or significant enough that it had to be written, published and read.

The Body

The rest of a news story is called the body. In a hard news story, the body supports the lead and in the inverted pyramid style is organized so that the facts and quotes are written in declining importance.

Your story should proceed in a natural and chronological order. Sticking to a logical order will make it easier to write the story, as well as to allow you to keep track of your ideas and material. Don’t jump back and forth and keep paragraphs short and simple — one idea at a time.

Remember that readers want to know who said something that appears in quotation marks, so identify the speaker. And that means asking permission and making sure you know how to spell a source’s name correctly.

The Ending

Inverted pyramids stories don’t need a strong ending since those hard news stories simply end when there is nothing more to say. But other kinds of news stories often need a good ending. And as with any other kind of writing, the ending can be as difficult as the beginning.

One way to end is with a “kicker,” which is often a catchy quote. Another effective ending is to conclude with a quote or anecdote that relates the story back to the main theme and leaves the reader thinking about the essence of the story.

Avoid lecturing at the end of the story. If the story is told well, the quotes and facts that you choose will allow the reader to come to the same conclusion on their own.

Other Things to Remember

  1. Keep your story brief. Make a few words do the work of many.
  2. Be accurate. Editors don’t always have time to check accuracy.
  3. Be objective. You must remain detached from whatever is happening.
  4. Be fair and balanced in reporting and writing your story.
  5. Look for the unusual. In the newsroom, this is called “slant,” and simply it means making the article as interesting and appealing as possible, while following the basics of good reporting.

Editing and Story Distribution

Editing

Reporters should write their stories in drafts. The first edition you turn in will not be the final version. Reporters and editors will work carefully to refine stories until they are fit for publication. Editors will have both macro- and micro-edits. Macro edits focus on the story as a whole — the story structure, how you use sources and other information, and more. Micro edits deal more with grammar, tone and style on a line-by-line basis. The best reporters are receptive to their editors’ feedback.

Audience Engagement and Story Production

When you publish a story, the work to find readers doesn’t end. There are numerous steps that you can take before you start reporting, while writing your story, and after your story is published.

By using tools like social media, search engine optimization, and newsletters, you can grow the number of people that will find and read your work. These tools fall under the umbrella of audience development.

During the Acel Moore workshop, you’ll learn how to use platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to reach a larger audience and to find sources for your stories. You’ll also learn about the importance of newsletters and crafting your stories to show up high in search results.

In an era where more and more readers are shifting toward digital platforms, it is important to know all of the tactics you can take to reach the largest possible audience.