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”.