Last week, I wrote an article on how to organise a news story and make its structure work well for both the reporter and the reader. A story that is constructed properly under the journalistic norms of storytelling will not only pass the editor’s litmus test, but enables a more pleasant experience for the end-user getting ready to buy their Saturday paper at the newsagents…or browsing the news site for their daily digest of current affairs.
This week, we delve deeper into the art of writing an arresting intro. The word ‘intro‘ in newswriting jargon is a shortened form of the noun ‘introduction’. This is a term commonly used among British journalists. American newshounds and journalism professors prefer the term ‘lede‘ or its alternative spelling ‘lead‘. What all these words mean is the foundation from which you build out a news story, and as you will find out, is actually the most important element of a news story structurally speaking. This article aims to give tips on how to make your intro work for you.
An example of a brief and inviting intro from a London news site.
Your intro is not just a means of getting an angle on a story. It should also grab the reader’s attention. An average newspaper or magazine will have dozens of articles all vying for the attention of a reader’s eyes. On top of that, these articles will have to compete with pictures, advertisements and other functional devices concealed between the pages, such as TV guides, weather updates and the like. Your average newspaper, magazine or website is a very busy place.
Your intention as a journalist is to make the reader spot your headline, become intrigued and begin reading your article. This is more important nowadays as readers can have busy lives, therefore limited time to spend consuming news. For example, I travel to and from work every working day on public transport (bus and train). My total journey takes about an hour, of which 45 minutes are spent commuting on the Underground here in London. I always pick up a free newspaper before boarding the train. On average it takes me about half an hour to read that paper from front page to back. As a reader, I have a finite amount of time to digest everything, and so I skim the pages seeking out articles that attract my attention. If I read everything but the advert for the kitchen sink from B&Q, I would never finish that paper in time. So I cherrypick. I scan the headlines and if a story picks up on my interest radar, I jump in. If the intro keeps me interested, then it is more likely I will spend the next two minutes reading the story. As a journalist you want to get everyone hooked on your story.
The best way to bring in your reader is to place the most important information of your story at the very start. Before you begin writing, ask yourself “So, what is the story?” and then simply get down and write that story.
The main point or crux of the story should inevitably come first. This can be the most interesting, most important or most unusual point of your story. This will be the bait that hooks and reels in the reader.
Moving on from the intro but still relative to it, you want to first start off with what is new to the reader. You cannot spell ‘news’ without ‘new’. Save the history or background for later in the story. If you first start with the background, you risk making the reader think that it is probably a historical article from an encyclopaedia and might cause them to turn the page for their next news hit. Remember, time is everything.
Almost certainly, your intro needs to answer a few key questions. Feature the WHO and WHAT. It is usually rarer that WHEN, WHY, HOW and WHERE form the main questions in an intro. WHEN ? might be good for breaking news, although as readers have come to expect news to always be instant and breaking, it has lost its lustre. Do not forget the HOW MANY and HOW MUCH. Even if you cannot fully answer these sacred questions all in the intro, you can use the next paragraph or two to fill the reader in on those answers.
Helpful guidelines for the effective intro:
1. Aim to keep your intro to twenty words or fewer. Above twenty words, intros become a bit complicated which may put off or put too much effort on the shoulders of the casual reader who is just flipping through. More difficult intros may well explain the story better but may result in fewer pairs of eyes on your article. The easier your intro is to understand, the more people will read it and progress to the rest of your story.
2. Make your intro ACTIVE, not PASSIVE. This gives the intro more ‘here and now’ and makes it more exciting to read. So for example, say “Alan beats the student” not “The student was beaten by Alan” (lecturer’s disclaimer:….beaten at chess of course).
3. Try to write in the present tense, as your story is now and new = news. For stories concerns events happening in the near future, it is of course perfectly fine to use future tense instead. The past tense should ideally be avoided this early in the story. You can use the present perfect to help orient events that happened in the recent past. So you can say “Arsenal has won a reprieve from UEFA” (present tense) as it sounds more inviting (and less formal) than saying “Arsenal was reprieved by UEFA” (past tense).
4. Generally, you should avoid ‘subordinate clauses’ such as “considering” and “despite” in the entire body of the story, but especially in the intro.
5. Do not start a news story with a question. Although in some rare cases, asking a question might add to the readability of a story, under normal circumstances, it is you, the journalist, who is supplying the factual information of course, so making the reader have to do guesswork may just switch them off entirely. You have only a few seconds to catch a reader’s attention, so expecting their brain to have to leap a hurdle with your story as the prize will mean them possibly giving up and turning down the prize. Ultimately, your role is to inform, not ask questions.
6. Avoid negatives. You do not need to tell readers what is not happening. Use words like “refuse”, “deny” and “turn down” rather than “no” or “not”.
7. If your news story involves a professional organisation, governmental department or any sort of official body, do not mention the body’s full title in your intro. So for example, if your story is about the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, do not mention the institute’s name in the intro. You can call them ‘accountants’ in the intro and introduce the full organisation name later on. Including official titles not only stretches your intro’s word count to difficult lengths, but makes it sound dull and bureaucratic as well, which is especially devastating for tabloid stories.
8. Another no-no is beginning your intro with a quote. Quotes work best when we know who is talking and in what context they have said this quote in. Starting with a quote will just confuse the reader and they will have no idea what is going on.
9. As a journalist, you will be aware that your article will be read by many people of many backgrounds, with or without expert knowledge on the subject of the story you are typing up. Unless you are writing for a specialist publication, do not assume that the readers will know what you are talking about. Avoid the overuse of initials and jargon. If you need to use a technical term or unusual acronym then follow it with a one-sentence explanation or spell out the acronym.
10. Take time to read your intro out loud and take the ‘So What?’ test. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and ask yourself “Do I want to read this article?….”Does it pass?”….Is it good?”.
11. Do not insert your opinions, no matter how strongly you feel about the news subject. Keep things impartial and objective. Keep an eye on your spelling and grammar. Be friends with your spellchecker and dictionary and use them often when drafting stories. As your intro has a word count, steer clear of unnecessary words and sentences. Read the intro at least two or three times and prune back any unneeded wording. Lastly avoid using the first person. Save that for your future autobiography on your exceptional career in journalism.
Next weekend, we take a look at house style – a means by which news organisations standardise spelling, grammatical and linguistic output of their journalist’s copy.
“NEWS INTROS” - Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster – class handout/information sheet.
“ ”News of the World”: a prototype app for the HP TouchPad” – premasagar, Flickr (12 July 2011) LINK
“File:Newspaper vendor.jpg” – KL, Wikimedia Commons (4 May 2005) LINK
This article was written by Chris Linn, digital marketing manager with Minicabster, who recently brought you the London Cab Infographic.
Chris Linn from Minicabster considers the importance of location for a start-up business.
The Telegraph’s Christopher Middleton recently considered the benefits of rural start up locations for budding entrepreneurs and used the particular example of alpaca farming in the West Country. For my part, while I’m not explicitly advocating such a rural location – or, indeed, such a ‘hands-on’ vocation – the idea of moving out of Central London is certainly a pervasive one. Typical business opinion may dictate that a company can never be too central; yet it’s certainly questionable whether such a location is the absolute best choice for a birth of a start-up. Does Central London really offer the business the best chance of surviving its incubation period? Are city-based businesses really more convenient for their customers?
Well, perhaps – but it ultimately depends on your business. While some may need to be based centrally, for most companies it’s no longer the case. For an essential visit, Central London is reachable for a day trip from even the most remote locations. The case for building a start-up outside the city centre is further strengthened by the looming implementation of HS2. And, with access to the internet and a phone number (this, too, can be internet-based, which will remove area codes), most start-ups could feasibly be run from away from city offices. Who would know?
The Minicabster office moved from Central London to North Harrow last year. While not strictly ‘rural’ – being situated on the most Western strand of the Metropolitan line – it’s certainly far-removed from the chaos of Baker Street and Embankment. By occupying office space in a cheaper location – an Microsoft report from last year indicated that Central London is the most expensive place in the world in which to rent office space due to a shortage of new space – MDs might choose to give greater remuneration to their workforces. This can only help to increase motivation, morale and will make it easier to retain valuable individuals in a time when job hopping appears to be at an all time high.
That’s not to say it’s recommended for start-ups to go too rural, though; last year’s study by the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) observed that 60% of rural businesses are hindered in some capacity by their broadband speed.
Is it risky to start up outside of Central London? Sure. But, then again, it’s risky to start up anywhere. Wherever you choose to set up shop, careful research is absolutely crucial. If nothing else, in a rural location you’ll probably be able to park your car with greater ease. If not, you can always book a minicab!
“London” – @Doug88888, Flickr (15 May 2010) LINK
“File:Westhall – geograph.org.uk – 364673.jpg” – Stanley Howe, geograph.org.uk/Wikimedia Commons (13 March 2007) LINK
We are only into our first few days of March and spring has sprung, but the awards avalanche will not let longer days and brighter sunshine cut short its rampage through the chewed synapses of the Half-Eaten Mind. Yours truly has just received a full blast of accolade-ey goodness from Irene A Waters of the blog Reflections and Nightmares.
It is not the first time HEM has been nominated by Irene. In mid-February, she sent us the Field of Flowers Award, one of the more pretty and colourful awards we have pinned to our puffed-out and proud chests. This is one is exceptional however, because it is seven awards in one.
On the 2nd of March, 2014, Irene was herself nominated for the 7-in-1 bumper pack by another blogger, known as Sherri. The awards pack consists of the following…
1. Reader Appreciation Award
2. Cracking Chrispymouse Bloggywog Award
3. Shine On Award
4. Versatile Blogger Award
5. Dragon’s Loyalty Award
6. Most Influential Blogger Award
7. Most Creative Blogger Award
Here are these awards in pictorial format:
Many of these awards have been awarded to the Half-Eaten Mind for the first time and will be featured on our Awards Page. Irene has kindly created a special all-in-one badge which names all the awards. You could say this is the wrapping that goes around our Mad March Awards Hamper . Though she admits she is not the most creative at badge design, she has done a very good job here as far as I am concerned. Pretty good for a first try.
According to Irene, the seven-in-one award may be influenced by the significance of the number seven in films like ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and the awards these films collect when they storm the box office. Additionally I should mention that in Western cultures, seven is often associated with good luck i.e. ‘lucky number seven’ and is a favourite number of career gamblers, at least according to popular perception.
The significance of receiving this award is that it recognises the influence a blogger has on their readers either by engineering an emotional response in their blogposts or by getting your readers to think, according to Irene. You can be seen to be shining a light on your readers’ worlds and it is also a reward for being steadfastly loyal to your blogging friends by regularly visiting their blogs, commenting, putting up likes and these sort of activities, all of which sustain and strengthen the bonds formed between bloggers.
Here are the rules for the Seven Awards:
1. Display the logo on your sidebar
2. Link back to the person who nominated you
3. State 7 things about yourself
4. Nominate 15 (or so) bloggers for this award
5. Notify the nominees of their nominations
You can see Irene’s original article here at - http://irenewaters19.com/2014/03/02/seven-awards-in-one/
Seven Things About Myself:
1. I am definitely most not a morning person. I find my mind works fastest and my most profound ideas come about in the lat e evening and at night.
2. I really want to get into photography again, more deeply. As summer is on its way, hopefully I will be going out more and getting some ‘great shots’.
3. My star sign is Libra. Librans are famed for being good negotiators. I always like to help people sort out their problems and try to resolve arguments. I often give advice to people, usually only if they ask for it first. I cannot stand arguments or fights, especially with people close to me. But at the same time if a fight/argument/dispute breaks out in a public place, I’m down watching that s*** like it is a WWE wrestling match.
4. My housemate Donald makes the most awesome Bangalorean fish and chicken curries, which I am an avowed fan of. It’s all in the way he blends the spices, my friends.
5. In an effort to lose weight, I have taken to running up and down the stairs at work, plus eating healthy lunches three days out of five. It is a small step but a helpful one as I have already shed a few of the spare pounds. I am hoping to be a slim as an urban fox by the end of this year.
6. I have hazel eyes. Usually an rare thing among people of south Asian heritage. But you would not notice them due to the thick-lensed specs I have to wear owing to my extreme-shortsightedness.
7. I have recently developed an attraction towards cute ladies who are wearing raincoats. I always think they look smart and sophisticated yet so lovable and cute. Being a single guy is tough la!
SOURCES & IMAGE CREDITS:
“Seven Awards in One” – Irene A. Waters, Reflections and Nightmares (2 March 2014) LINK
“Awards Part Three: The Shauny Award for Blogging Excellence and Seven Awards in One!” – Sherri Matthews, A View From My Summerhouse (19 February 2014) LINK
In this next article in the Half-Eaten Mind practical journalism series, we move on from how to interview to what happens when you return to base to begin writing your story or feature. Like any sort of story, a news story needs to have a structure. You must have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Traditionally in journalism, students were taught that news stories followed a structure best summed up as an inverted (upside-down) pyramid. All of the most important facts and parts, such as the ‘who?’, ‘where?’ ‘when?‘, ‘how?’ and sometimes ‘why?’ which lend the most weight to the story would appear first with background information and other hierarchically lesser items appearing further down. This is not always set in stone, especially for feature writers, but in ‘hard news‘ and human interest stories, it is inexcusable.
Today’s article will focus on how to organise your story. It is based on lecture notes received by myself at my old university during a course module on newswriting and reporting skills.
1. Every news story needs a good intro, or beginning. Aim to write a concise,engaging intro that gives the major news points of your story. In other words, the most significant facts and hook of the story need to appear here.
2. Following on from the intro, write a second paragraph providing the other major points that cannot be fitted into the intro.
3. Use the third, or perhaps another paragraph early in the story, to give background and explanations for your readers to understand.
4. The order of news elements in the article should be presented in descending importance. It does not have to be in chronological order.
5. Use quotes early on but also drop them in throughout the story. It is better to sprinkle your direct quotes throughout the copy rather than stringing them together or bunching them up in one paragraph. Quotes are useful in that they let news subjects speak out to the reader; communicating directly with the audience.
6. Make use of transitions during the story to ensure good reading and subject flow. Simple words like ‘but’ and ‘however’ can work well.
7. Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to editorialise. A news story should be free from any deliberate bias or opinion from the journalist writing it. As my lecturer wrote “No comment from you, please!’.
8. Ending a news story can be a bit of a brain-wracker. However, please avoid simply rounding off with ‘The End’. The final paragraph simply reports more news. In some cases, a quote can make a good ending point. Some other news stories will end with news elements revolving around the continuation of the story. For example, in a news report on the arrest of a drug dealer, the last paragraph may mention that he or she has been remanded in custody for a hearing at a given date and place. There is no room or indeed context in a news story for “they all lived happily ever after”.
“HOW TO ORGANIZE A NEWS STORY” - Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster – class handout/information sheet.
“File:Chumby in hand.jpg” - Edward Yanquen, Wikimedia Commons (30 November 2007) LINK
On the 22nd of February 2014, the Half-Eaten Mind collected another award (the Liebster Award) from one of the newest members of our tribe, Diana. She skilfully runs the ‘Part Time Monster’ blog, whose current header you can see below. It is probably the third or fourth version of the Liebster Award we have now polished and readied-up for the HEM awards cabinet.
Part Time Monster is a multi-contributor blog whose army of contributors, called Monsters, write on all things nerdy. There are quite a few people making the Monster magnificent while Diana (the Chief Monster, you could say) also runs the blog as a personal writing space. Part Time Monster has an emphasis on female-centric articles, serving a small but nevertheless significant addition to the formidable library of the world’s female literary talent. Many of the contributors are Diana’s friends and work colleagues.
Here is how Diana describes her multi-faceted approach to living life:
I am a PhD student, mother of a four year old son (the Little Jedi), partner of an independent filmmaker (who you can find at Universal Half Truths), college English instructor, writing tutor, and guardian of a rescue pup (Tank). I wear many hats. I’m also a tremendous nerd. I am a sufferer of panic disorder, a curator of the weird, a lover of the beautiful, and a pop culture aficionado. Writing here will thus feature an array of content; I am sometimes a monster.
Like the Half-Eaten Mind, Diana and her Monsters write on a variety of subjects. Recent articles include a commentary on teaching children on racial relations and combating ageism and an article on the “brief history of the Rings of Power”. In many ways, Diane is a mirror soul to myself and I have a profound respect for her and what she has achieved.
The Liebster Award is partly named for the German word ‘liebe’, meaning love. It symbolises love and affection in the blogging community and is dedicated to those who have helped spread that love. Traditionally it was given to bloggers with less than 200 followers but the rules have been bent and made a bit flexible nowadays.
- You must link back to the person who nominated you.
- Answer 11 questions from the person who nominated you.
- Nominate 11 new bloggers and ask them 11 questions.
- You cannot nominate the person who nominated you.
- You must let the people you nominate know they have been nominated.
And now, the questions from PTM
1. What is one thing that others have on their bucket list that you never want to do?
To be honest, I have never seen or asked to see other people’s bucket lists. Also bucket lists are not a commonpplace thing where I come from, so it would be hard to answer this question. Anything involving things that I am afraid of, or things that go against my morality, beliefs or abilities is definitely off the menu. So taking part in a cockroach-eating contest, bungee-diving or anything like that is a big no-no.
2. If you could only watch one TV show for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
I would honestly go mad if I had to watch one television show for the rest of my days, but under duress from balaclava-shod squirrels with AK47s I would say it would probably be The Simpsons. Those yellow folks and their high jinks always put a smile on my face and they never get old (literally).
3. What historical event that you’ve lived through made the most impact on you?
Probably the Tube and bus bombings of July 2005 in my home city of London. At that time I was a university student and regularly used the Tube on weekends. I was on summer break so was not using the trains to a significant degree and the first I heard of it was when my mother rushed upstairs to my bedroom to tell me. It was a shocking and horrible event, that brought the reality of terrorism very close to home. While the repercussions and memories of 7/7 still live to this day, one thing this incident has shown me is that us Londoners are a resilient lot and we came away stronger and more defiant because of it.
4. When you were a child, what did you think you would grow up to be?
I remember when I was in secondary school, I was telling my classmates that I wanted to be a veterinarian or a naturalist. I kept this desire in my heart until about fifteen years of age, but upon realising the amount of years of study I would have to put in (which my family could have never afforded,and may have even been the wrong choice for me), I dropped this dream and went for something I had proven talent in: journalism.
5. What book or books do you re-read most often? If there isn’t one, what film or music do you return to often?
I normally love reading books, but due to various other commitments, I do not really find the time to get lost in a good tome these days. There is one book that I own that I am really keen to re-read and that is “Brick Lane” by Monica Ali. It tells the story of a Bangladeshi woman who emigrates to Eighties Tower Hamlets and her struggle to live her life and take care of a family in very trying circumstances. A bit controversial in places but worth a read.
6. If you could choose 5 historical figures to have dinner with, who would they be, and where would the 6 of you have dinner?
My five chosen historical diners would be 1) Swami Vivekanand 2) Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam 3) Martin Luther King 4) Alexander (the Great) of Macedon and 5) Florence Nightingale. I would probably chose a English country house with a member of my family being the chef au excellence!….mince curry and naan bread do great conversational starters make.
7. What is your favorite piece of art?
Anything surrealist, particularly Salvador Dali, also traditional Indian art, such as Rajasthani miniatures and devotional paintings.
8. What’s your favorite season, and why?
My favourite season would have to be spring. We’ve just made it out of the harshness of winter, people’s gardens are exploding in a cacophony of colours and smells and it is not yet too hot and humid as a London summer will always be. It is a time to look forward to longer days and nicer weather (as far as the British meteorological preponderance for washout rain will allow) and everyone seems to perk up a bit more, even when in the temple of dour faces and missing conversations that is the Underground train network.
9. Why did you start your blog, and why do you continue to blog?
I began my blog to help develop and nourish my newswriting skills and my writing in general. I have considered starting up a blog at least since 2007, and a friend of mine who attended university with me suggested I start one with WordPress. But as luck would have it, I never got round to it until about five years later, when my ex-girlfriend suggested the idea and even influenced the name behind it. My very first article was on the Shard tower, which was under construction at the time, and since then I have never looked back. As for my continuing blogging, I find it an enjoyable activity. I have a lot of freedom to write about what what I want and being my own editor. I find blogging therapeutic and it helps me fill the spare time. I also enjoy the sense of community and support I receive from other bloggers. Plus when I ever go for an interview for a journalism-related vacancy, the Half-Eaten Mind will make a good talking point and might even win me brownie points with the manager.
10. If you could be anywhere with anyone right now, where would you be and who would you be with?
I would be in Barcelona with my brother Suraj and sister Anjali, enjoying the beaches and visiting the city’s beautiful building and posing for hordes of silly photos. The reason I say this is because they have just come back yesterday from a five-day school trip to the Catalan capital. Actually it would really be nice for us to have a family holiday there.
11. What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
I am not really a spontaneous person, unless you count emergencies and that sort of thing. I always like to think things through before I do them or commit to anything.
My own Liebster ten:
1. What inspired you or motivated you to begin blogging?
2. Who has been the most influential person in your life?
3. If you were to open up your own restaurant, what kind of cuisine/s would you have and what features would it have i.e. bar, jacuzzi?
4. Where did you last go for holiday (vacation) and what activities did you do over there?
5. If you are working, what do you most like and hate about your job? – for those who are unemployed, retired or otherwise not currently in the ‘employment market’, what do you like/hate about not working?
6. If you were a cartoon character, which one would you be?
7. If I was to visit your city/town/village/hamlet, where would you show me as a tourist attraction and why?
8. What is your most treasured personal possession?
9. Name one really eventful thing that happened in your blogging career?
10. What is your favourite song of the moment?
11. What is your favourite aspect of the Half-Eaten Mind. It can be anything, general or specific, content-wise or design-wise.
And the nominees are:
You should receive a pingback once this article has been published. First of all, congratulations on being nominated as a recipient of the Liebster Award. It is entirely your decision if you wish to accept, and if you choose not to, no hard feelings :).
I would like to once again thank Diana for nominating me and wish her a wonderfully bright weekend.
SOURCES & IMAGE CREDITS:
“A NEW LIEBSTER” – Diana Gordon, Part Time Monster (22 February 2014) LINK
“MEET THE MONSTER” - Diana Gordon, Part Time Monster LINK
“THANK YOU ANIMATED GIF” – Giphy.com LINK
Today we bring you the second part of the first article on journalism advice for the fledging reporter. Last Sunday we covered the dos and don’ts of preparing for and carrying out an interview, including the all-important requirements to behave professionally and support the journalistic ethics of impartiality and accuracy.
These articles are based largely on notes distributed by a lecturer during newswriting and reporting seminars I attended over ten years ago on my journey into this exciting, fulfilling and noble career path. One of the most enduring memories I have of this lecturer, Mr. Geere, was on one occasion when he told us about having a ‘nose for news’. He admitted to us that every morning while commuting to work, he would strike up a conversation with a complete stranger/fellow traveller. Although some of us students started giving each other worried and perplexed looks upon hearing our lecturer’s little confession, it did sort of make sense to me. As a journalist, you will often speak to many kinds of people, from many backgrounds. Each with their own story or perspective to narrate. It certainly must have made his journeys a tad more interesting than just sitting there staring at tube adverts for car insurance.
Mr. Geere taught us for one semester and module. Eventually he left the University of Westminster to pursue a job as an editor working for a newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago.
* When noting down direct quotes from your interviewee, distinguish them visually from the rest of your jottings. You can do that by using circles around the sentence, quotation marks, stars or underlining. Taking down notes on one side of the paper sheet or pad can actually help you rearrange the material in fitting into a viable story structure.
* Pay attention and listen carefully. Do not waste time noting down unimportant or irrelevant details. You may be able to use them to add background or flavour to the story but do not forget that you may have a word count to worry about.
* As mentioned in Part One, be careful with the spellings of names and titles. It would be a headache to have to call back to just re-confirm a spelling or job function, or even worse, end up getting it wrong when your article goes out in public.
* Get direct quotes, especially on the major points of the interview/agenda.
* Do not spend all of your precious time just looking at the source and your notepad. Have a look around, and take in your surroundings. Especially when writing features, the surroundings can add context and atmosphere to the story. This also applies to the physical appearance of the source themselves. Do you notice any particular garments or jewellery they are wearing? Any interesting features or objects in the interview location?. If you find something noteworthy, then scribble down your impressions.
Concentrate on what you are seeing and hearing
Once the interview is concluded and you and your source have parted ways, take a look at your notes. Review them and supplement them with any additional information you may have not noted down before, as well as any thoughts or ideas that come to your head as you review. The best time to do this is as soon as possible after the interview in your car, hotel room or wherever. The interview will still be fresh in your mind and that is the best time to recollect everything. Then arrange your notes in order of importance.
It is unnecessary to write in complete sentences unless you are preserving a direct quote. It is far better to write your notes in bullet points or maybe diagrams if you find that helps you.
Write down all specific information that you cannot trust to retain in memory. These include objective details like ages, names, addresses. statistics and sums of money. Try to get biographical information where needed and search the net or a clippings library for newspaper clips and other previously published articles which can offer further information on a person’s or organisation’s background.
Even here, accuracy should not be forgotten. If need be, conduct a follow-up call to double-check any unclear information. Do not be afraid or feel you are being a nuisance by doing so. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Exciting writing is fuelled by exciting anecdotes, so a good interviewer is always listening out for them. It is those stories and soundbites that are the spice that brings out the flavour in a solid piece of copy. A really sharp interviewer will also be an incredibly observant one, listening out for clues to experiences from the source that could lead the way to a good anecdote. He or she will pounce on those clues and direct the source to “give me an example” or “tell me about a time when that actually happened”.
An anecdote is simply a small story, told in conversations as a means of relaying experiences in a person’s life. They are often used to entertain the listeners. In a journalistic context, an anecdote is a smaller story that nests itself within the body of the main story, which is the article you are writing. Often, an anecdote will illustrate something about the interviewee, such as his or her loyalty, bravery, persistence or some other quality that can add to developing the human context and background in your article. A good anecdote can really bring a story alive for the reader and will possibly hold their interest instead of flipping the page…or clicking another link.
Watch your subject
Keep an eye out for non-verbal (unspoken) forms of communication, known in the industry as ‘non-verbals’. As humans, a lot of what we say does not come out as sounds from our lips. We often let our faces and hands do the talking. Pay attention to your source’s facial gestures, hand movements, tone of voice. Non-verbals also include things such as the clothes worn by the subject, their jewellery, their tics and seating position. Indeed, about seventy per cent of the interviewee’s total communication may well be non-verbal. So, to tell the complete story, you must give the reader the complete story. Remember, you are there in person with the source, not the reader. So you want to write the story in a way that the reader can feel that they are there in the room with you. Observation can really bring your story…and the subject of your story…to life!.
Study the environment
One of the perks of being a journalist is you are not chained to a desk or site all day. There usually is a lot of travel involved and you get to see many different environments and places. Journalism is very much about being observant and possessing a bloodhound like sense of curiosity. Indeed this is why American journalists are often nicknamed ‘newshounds’. When in surroundings unfamiliar in preparation for your interview, take a look around. Things like bulletin boards, desk items, pictures on the wall, file cabinets can all offer ideas that are gold dust for a well-told story. Even things as mundane and seemingly uneventful as how sunlight streams into the room can add that all-important contextual flavour. However keep in mind how these things relate to the interviewee or story subject. Avoid using description purely for the sake of description. Telling us that the interviewee uses a particular brand of washing-up liquid is pointless unless we can relate it to an aspect of the interviewee themselves. It is also helpful to add at this stage that while there is nothing wrong with visually observing things, it is not a good idea to rifle through your interviewee’s belongings or open up their drawers looking for story material. Keep hands to self. You can always ask the interviewee about objects in the room that will add that ‘zing’ to the story. They may even let you handle them for yourself.
Hopefully this article will help you strengthen your interviewing skills and make you into a stronger reporter. You can find Part 1 in the related articles section below this part. Next week, we will cover the nitty-gritty in organising a news story. Watch this space.
“INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do” – Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster (November 2003) class handout/information sheet.
“File:HUMINT-Interview-Set1v1.png” – ‘Hcberkowitz’, Wikimedia Commons (2 November 2007) LINK
“Karma Foley Interview” - David Tamés, Flickr (23 December 2005) LINK
A quick video of a horse rhythmically trotting to the beat of a dhol drum.
This was shared on Whatsapp by my sister Alia and is also my first post via the WordPress app on my mobile.
“Horse Dancing On Drum Beat!!” - Christine Trowbridge, YouTube GB (11 December 2013) LINK
In 1987, the TV weather forecaster Michael Fish, a normally well-regarded personality on British screens until recently, famously failed to warn viewers of a massive hurricane which caused million of pounds of damage when it did hit our shores. The poor Mr. Fish soon became the butt of many jokes and comments from bemused (and roofless) members of the public. I would not have been surprised if he actually wished he was the animal that sounds like his surname and jumped into an ocean big enough to lay low in until the furore died down.
Unlike Mikey, the man behind HEM never misses a shower. And by showers, I mean showers of awards, not that clear rainy stuff that catches you unawares, minus umbrella, leaving you a rather pitiful soaked combination of your mother’s trusty cleaning sponge and a sewer rat that had just done ten laps of the English Channel. And unlike the showers that accompanied the Great Hurricane of ’87, these are loved, adored and gratefully received.
Just like former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell and those crazy dancers in her hit single “It’s Raining Men”, the Half-Eaten Mind is in an all-singing, all-dancing, sequin-popping mood as we take receipt of our latest haul of multiple awards courtesy of the amazing Patty of the Petite Magique blog. The blog was awarded on the 17th February, 2014. So yes, it’s time to celebrate and hand out some goodies in the forms of nominations. Bust out any move you feel like…and don’t worry, you don’t need to pour yourself into a vile yellow Lycra leotard. Unless that’s your kind of thing. Besides, it’s too cold.
The latest Bouquet of Kindness from dearest Patty consists of a medley of awards. These are:
Some of these awards have been received for the very first time by the Half-Eaten Mind. I am incredibly thankful to Patty for nominating me for this spectacular show-stopping bouquet.
My nominees are:
Don Charisma: http://doncharisma.org/about/
John W. Howell: http://johnwhowell.com/about/
Mahesh Nair: http://thewritemight.me/about/
All nominees will receive a pingback notification to inform them. I have seen this in use by another blogger and thought it would be an easier and less obtrusive method of passing on the good news.
To Patty and to everyone who has supported the Half-Eaten Mind, I have this to say….
“Sunny, with a chance of raining awards! :)” – Patty, Petite Magique (17 February 2014) LINK
“Sunny, with a chance of raining awards! :)” – Patty, Petite Magique (17 February 2014) LINK
“Thank You Multilingual Animated “Rey Ty” ” – Rey Ty, Photobucket LINK
Today I bring you the first in a series of articles on newswriting and reporting. These articles tie in with the Half-Eaten Mind’s objective to provide high-quality journalism and writing in general as well as its secondary aim as a means of education. They are based on handouts from a taught module on newswriting and reporting that I studied in late 2003 as part of my university degree in journalism and media studies. I had recently discovered the original handouts and have decided to digitally retype them for your reading pleasure, along with my own further commentary. The handouts were originally produced by lecturer Alan Geere at the University of Westminster’s School of Media, Art and Design in November 2003. All credit for the original information goes to him. The first part of the very first article is out today.
The series will be of particular use to people wishing to pursue journalism as a career, but who have no idea exactly what working as a ‘roving reporter’ entails. Also, it is hoped that the articles will also prove useful in an educational context for new journalism students at news schools or universities.
For the vast majority of journalists, the most important means of obtaining information for their news story is by conducting an interview with a source. This is a dialogue between two people involving questions from the journalist being replied with answers from the source (the interviewee). Interviews are essential for obtaining facts, figures and comments that may not be easily found from official outlets or for certain types of reporting, such as crime beats or B2B journalism. Sources, apart from imparting valuable information to flesh out a reporter’s story, also can offer informational tidbits and quotes that can help ‘spice up’ an article and give it a more human and relational angle for the news consumer. Indeed in some cases, interviews may be the only way to get a suitable angle on a flashing news story and valuable or secret sources have been the make-or-break for many an exclusive scoop.
When conducting an interview, the best thing to do is act naturally. Do not feel stressed or feel you have to behave in a restrictive and stiff manner (unless the situation demands it). An interview does not need to take place in a formal atmosphere. Many interviewees are more than happy to be spoken to at their home or in a casual setting like a park or coffee shop. It is not a test of any sort, but simply a talk with someone about a specific topic. Think of your forthcoming interview as being only slightly different to a chat with your best friend about your favourite singer, football team or any other subject you are interested in. The key difference however, is that instead of merely hearing, the reporter is both listening and writing down what the source says, or using recording equipment to make a reproduction of the source’s conversation with said reporter. The important thing to remember at this stage, is that as a reporter, you are expected to remain impartial, so keep your opinions to yourself.
Preparing for the interview
Before setting out to meet up with your source, carry out some research first, both on the source (if they are a public figure) as well as the topic/s you will be speaking to them about. You want to show the source that you are in the know or at least have been thoroughly debriefed about the news subject. Think of what questions you intend to ask. So for example, if you are about to interview a person who sells furs and is agitated by animals rights activists, it might be interesting to find out if he or she owns a dog or cat. Likewise if you are interviewing an animal rights activist to get the other side of the story, you might ask them what life experiences influenced them to join the movement.
Make doubly sure you have your questions ready, either in written form or mentally noted down. Do not expect your news source to tell you voluntarily what you want to know. The whole point of having set questions ready and running is that they give structure to the interview as well as helping you organise your thoughts. Not only that, but having a good set of questions will get you all the information and quotes you will need to build up your news story once you return to the newsdesk or classroom.
Just like a job interview, you should show up properly dressed. Remember you are representing the news organisation you are working for, and a sloppy dress sense reflects badly on you, your employer and journalists in general. Taking care in what you wear and how you wear it also shows you have respect for the source.
Conducting the interview
* Introduce yourself and the publication you work for. An official press card or identity card issued by your employer will help you negotiate security personnel or concerned relatives when visiting homes, offices or public venues.
* Look your subject in the eye. This may be hard for the more shy among us, but it shows you are interested in the source and what he or she has to say. Not maintaining eye contact can make you seem shifty and if the source is from a highly sensitive context, i.e. a crime informant or victim of a robbery, for example, it can make them uncomfortable. Do not fall into the trap of being so busy taking notes that all the source remembers from the interview are your flying fingers and the crown of your head. Some people may get nervous at the sight of seeing their every word written down. You can easily commit some things to memory, or to ensure accuracy, use a voice recorder. If you do use such a recorder, be sure to get the source’s permission first, and be prepared to press pause if the subject wants to say something ‘off the record’.
* Often, the first question you will be asking is the subject’s name and how to spell it. Even if you know the name and seen it spelled somewhere already, double-check as it could still be wrong. This is especially important for people with names from cultures other than your own. Even if it is a common name in your country, still double-check, as the person may use a spelling variation of their name, i.e. ‘Jon’ rather than ‘John’; ‘Suniel’ rather than ‘Sunil’, ‘Mhairi’ rather than ‘Mary’. Getting the spelling wrong can be the fastest way to lose credibility in the source’s eyes.
* Make sure to pronounce the source’s name correctly and use their first name from time to time. It helps put them at ease, shows that you care about what they have to say, and makes for a friendlier conversation and ultimately, more material for your story.
* Not only should you double-check spellings of names, but also those of any company or town names, and any key historical dates. Do not ever be afraid to ask what you might fear is a silly question. It is better to look a bit clueless as so to speak, than get an important name, fact or date horribly wrong.
* Begin the interview with easy sociable questions to relax the interviewee. Many interviewees do not often find themselves speaking to the media as a regular course of their lives and may be somewhat at unease at what is an unfamiliar experience for them. It is your job to make them feel more comfortable. Save the tough questions for later. Steer clear of questions that appear to have predetermined or ‘closed’ answers i.e. ‘yes or no’ questions. The interviewee will not be able to express themselves fully and you risk the interview becoming a tick-box situation. You will not get any good quotes that way. Also remember to keep your questioning as impartial as possible. Do not let your opinions or biases determine the focus of your questioning.
* Ask open-ended questions that invite a lengthy answer and encourage the interviewee to speak their heart out and give healthy anecdotes and juicy quotes or opinions. For example “How did you react?” or “Why do you think that happened?“. While at the same time paying attention to what your source says, be sure to make a note of the juicier quotes and anecdotes.
* Do not ask negative questions. So avoid things like “No news, yet?“. You do not want to make it easy for the subject to just say ‘No’.
* Let the interviewee be aware that you know who they are, which is where your earlier research comes in useful. It shows you have done your homework and it saves time being wasted by the interviewee having to explain who they are, what their company does etc. This is called ‘priming’ the interviewee. So for example, it might go like this: “Mr. Jones, I understand you appeared in a movie about the takeover by people under 30. Do you believe this could actually happen?“. Other advantages of priming include helping set a context and angle for the interview, which will in turn help you select an angle for the news story. It also makes for a more fruitful and fun interviewing session.
* Accept all proffered facts and data given by the source professionally. Do not quibble, argue (even if you know the information to be inaccurate) or express shock/disappointment. Remember, your opinions on the source or who they represent are strictly private. Accept what the source tells you on the face of it.
* Do not make any promise to the source that you will promise to write or say remarks in a certain way. This will affect your journalistic impartiality. At the same time though, please respect the source’s request if they wish for certain comments to be ‘off the record’ to avoid causing offence or breaching any written/unwritten rules of confidentiality.
* Do not promise to let your source read the story before it goes live or published
* Leave the door open for another talk or follow-up interview. Many sources can have a long shelf-life in terms of newsworthiness as certain news stories are long-running and constantly evolving, such as the civil war in Syria or Anglo-Argentine tensions over the Falklands/Malvinas. Ask your contact if they would mind if you made contact later personally face-to-face or through a follow-up phone call. Obtain a phone number or Skype/IM ID for further discussions if you need to clarify any facts or gather further information.
Part Two of “INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do” will be live next weekend.
“INTERVIEWING: What to do…and what not to do” – Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster (November 2003) class handout/information sheet.
“File:Interview.jpg” - Dennis Mojado via Kkkdc, Wikimedia Commons (22 August 2006) LINK
“Journalism Notebook” - Ron Mader, Flickr (25 June 2012) LINK
The Half-Eaten Mind has been based in London all its life. The author too has been based in the Greater London area all his life. He was born in Barking, which was once part of the nearby county of Essex until the Local Government Act of 1965 changed the face of the city’s political landscape and heralded the creation of the new county of Greater London (The Royal Mail still includes my hometown in its Essex postal district). He is both a Londoner and an ‘Essexman’, having spent his formative years in east London, where he still lives and is currently working in the city centre.
As a proud Londoner, I always take an interest in the going-ons of my city, especially given that I am trained as a journalist, the newsy aspect of London life. London is home to around 8 million people and is the financial and cultural powerhouse of the United Kingdom, as well as the centre of the country’s media industry. It is fun, exciting and exhilarating. It can also be tough, hectic, and depressing. But I do love my London.
In honour of this metropolis of magnificence and madness, the Half-Eaten Mind brings you this special ‘infographic’ courtesy of The Minicabster Blog, a website bringing news on the industry behind one of London’s most memorable tourist icons, the humble taxi cab. There are estimated to be around 23,000 ‘black cabs’ (taxis) plying their trade on London’s roads, according to local paper The Evening Standard. Add to that figure the thousands of private hire vehicles that are the travelling module of choice in the suburbs and outer areas of the city. They are usually known locally as ‘minicabs’.
The interactive infographic offers a short trip through the history & developments of the London cab and aims to answer all the questions you might have ever asked about taxis, such as when the first public carriages appeared and where the industry is heading now.
You can view the infographic by clicking the image above. The graphic works best with Google Chrome, but will also work well with Mozilla Firefox. Mobile users and people viewing it with Safari browsers may experience issues using this current version (Feb. 2014)
It is incredibly easy to use. You only need to push down the right arrow key on your keyboard to move the car and begin your historical journey. With fun graphics and accessible language, it is ideal for all age groups.
To find out more about Minicabster, the company behind the London taxi infographic, please visit https://www.minicabster.co.uk