The International Journalists’ Network (IJNet)’s Arabic division has launched a new service from its mentoring centre designed to help journalists in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region set up or further develop their media startups, the International Center for Journalists has reported.
The year-long programme, aimed at entrepreneurs developing the next generation of technologically-rich Arabic media, aims to help develop new startups in the regional news economy by providing face-to-face and virtual training which culminates in a conference and media ‘boot camp’ hosted in Jordan. IJNet Arabic is also offering a lump sum seed fund of USD 4,000 (GBP 3,002) to startups with the most promising projects to jumpstart.
IJNet’s Mentoring Centre has run for several years, boosting the presence of independent media and entrepreneurship in a part of the world where most major media outlets are tightly controlled government mouthpieces and freedom of speech is often a luxury. In previous years, the Centre has helped support the development of a digital museum for women in Egypt, an independent Iraqi news agency site and a Moroccan podcast service.
The media startup mentoring service is accepting applications from journalists from or located in the MENA region up until the end of this month, with the first round of project selections scheduled for June, followed in November by the ARIJ conference and boot camp in Amman in Jordan. The seed funding will be awarded at the end of the programme in March 2019.
In a sign of the decline of print journalism in the face of the digital age, the Associated Press (AP) news agency reports that three senior executives of an American paper, the Denver Post, have left their positions in protest at recent cuts in staff and finances at the struggling local outlet. One is reported to have been a former owner of the newspaper, AP reports.
The trimming of operational costs, along with the controversial reduction in staff numbers, was ordered by the Post’s New York-based owners, a hedge fund named Alden Global Capital. As part of the cost-cutting measures, thirty members of staff were let go, substantially reducing the newspaper’s workforce and causing tension among the remaining employees.
Reporters still working at the paper tweeted this past Friday that chairman and member of the editorial board, Dean Singleton, had renounced both positions that day. Singleton owned the Denver Post, which has been publishing since 1892 and has a weekly circulation of more than 134,000, from 1987 to 2013, helping steer the paper through difficult economic periods and an intense rivalry with another local news outlet. The Post is run by a media company named Digital First Media, of which the hedge fund has a controlling stake.
Singleton was joined in resigning by the Post’s senior editors, named by AP as Dana Coffield and Larry Ryckman.
“I’m sad to leave, but it was time to go. I will be rooting for those still fighting the good fight,” Ryckman tweeted.
The advent of digital news and the internet has seen advertising and revenue figures for print newspapers in a steady decline, forcing many papers, whether local, regional or national to shed staff and departments, merge with other titles, or in some cases, go online only and cease distributing their printed versions, as British newspaper The Independent did in 2016.
The diversity policies of UK public broadcaster the BBC have come under scrutiny after a presenter for its Radio 4 service made a controversial claim he was dropped from his role to make more room for women and ethnic minority candidates, the Press Gazette reports.
Radio host Jon Holmes, a journalist who has also written travel pieces for the Sunday Times paper, tweeted this week “Sad to announce I’ve been axed from @BBCNowShow as ‘we want to recast with more women and diversity’ Tsk. And I didn’t even punch a producer”. He made reference to an infamous incident where another former BBC employee, Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson was sacked after assaulting the show’s producer after not receiving a steak dinner at a hotel whilst filming.
The BBC Now Show is a programme consisting of comedy sketches and satire. After his dismissal and tweet, Holmes vented his frustration further in an opinion article written for the Mail on Sunday and alleged he was the victim of reverse discrimination, racism and sexism. He wrote “Should I, as a white man (through no fault of my own), be fired from my job because I am a white man? Arguably, yes. You may well think I’m crap on The Now Show, and that’s fine, but to be told it’s because I’m the wrong sex and colour? I’m just not sure that’s helpful to anyone’s cause.”
Holmes added he “understands and agrees with all things BAME [Black Asian and minority ethnic]” and said speaking out about losing his job was not “sour grapes”.
He also claimed that after his dismissal he spoke to several presenters, actors and others involved in the broadcasting industry, who also claimed they were turned down for auditions and jobs because the hirers were looking to give the role to an ‘Asian person’.
Holmes added: “I love the BBC and everyone I’ve ever met and worked with – whatever their sex, creed or colour – is doing the best they can and just trying to get on and do the right thing. But even they are all privately saying it’s all got a bit out of hand.”
However the BBC claimed Holmes was not dismissed because of his background or gender. They state that he was let go as he had been a presenter for 18 years at the broadcaster and they wanted to offer a chance for a newer comic.
A BBC spokesperson said: “While the Government’s new charter for the BBC does set us diversity targets, we always hire presenters on merit.
“We’d like to thank both Jon Holmes and Mitch Benn for their contributions, but – as we explained almost a week ago when the story first appeared in newspapers – our comedy shows are constantly evolving and it was simply time to create opportunities for new regulars when The Now Show returns this autumn.”
The BBC has been criticised in the past for not doing enough to represent non-majority voices in both its programming and its workforce, although to its credit, it runs several stations geared towards different regions, cultures and age groups.
In April 2016, the BBC launched a new diversity plan, with its aim of having “a workforce at least as diverse, if not more so, than any other in the industry” by 2020. The BBC has said it wants to make sure 15 per cent of on-screen staff are BAME, that women make up 50 per cent its workforce and that LGBT people are 8 per cent.
Free expression advocate Index on Citizenship has launched a campaign this month to free several Turkish journalists who have been detained in the wake of the failed coup against president Recep Tayyip Erdogan which took place in July with the loss of 250 lives. In the crackdown that followed, thousands of police officers, generals, military stuff and others have been fired, transferred and arrested as the Erdogan administration seeks to purge the country of coup plotters and supporters.
On the 2nd September (this past Friday), the final leg of a trial involving several news personnel took place in an unnamed location, most likely Istanbul. Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur, who were senior editors of Taraf newspaper before the coup, and two journalists Mehmet Baransu and Tuncay Opçin. They are on trial for “acquiring, destroying and divulging documents concerning the security of the state and its political interests”. Baransu and Opçin are also facing further charges of “membership and administration of a terrorist organization”, which could see them facing 75 years behind bars. The dissemination charges attract possible 50-year prison terms.
Their charges predate the 15th July military coup attempt, but Index on Citizenship claim that the trial of the newspaper staff is politically motivated and have demanded the immediate release of the five and the abolishment of all charges against them. Mehmet Baransu has been held in pre-trial detention since his arrest on 2 March 2015. Since the declaration of Turkey’s State of Emergency by the president, around a hundred journalists have been detained, Index on Citizenship claims.
The Istanbul Criminal High Court, which was overseeing the trial, had released a 276 page document of indictment detailing the charges against the five journalists. The charges of acquiring and disseminating state documents relate to an obscure military strategy called the Egemen Operation plan, which is said to have detailed the Turkish military response to an invasion by neighbour Greece. However the newspaper at the centre of the allegations, Taraf, did not publish even a single extract of the Egemen plan; a fact acknowledged by the court, and the plan officially expired in 2007, from when the Taraf journalists obtained a copy. Incidentally, the plan was put into public circulation by another unnamed court following an indictment relating to another case in 2011.
The court also claims that Baransu and Opcin are charged with membership and promotion of the Gülenist Terror Organisation (Fetullahçı Terör Örgütü, FETÖ), the group that the Turkish government accuses of being behind the failed coup in July. The Turkish government has only listed FETÖ as a ‘terrorist organisation’ since May 2016, many years after the original ‘offences’ took place.
Index on Citizenship has criticised the Taraf trial on grounds of mismanagement, document plagiarism and weak and circumstantial evidence. The IoC claims that incidents not relating to the charges were used as evidence by the prosecution. No facts were mentioned by the court in relation to the charges of aiding and abetting FETÖ, despite the seriousness of these charges under Turkish law. IoC also alleges that large parts of the Taraf indictment against the five journalists was plagiarised from an earlier indictment against two other editors, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, from the popular daily Cumhuriyet, who were jailed for five years for allegedly whistleblowing secret Turkish arms deals into Syria, said to have been handled by the Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT). The blatant plagiarism, involving both text and images lifted from the Cumhuriyet trial document reached comical levels when a photo used as part of the indictment for the court session against the Taraf staff featured the caption “The Defendant Can Dündar”
The defendants all deny the charges levelled against them and IoC have stated concerns that the trial this past Friday is aimed at stifling opposition voices within Turkey.
The signatories of the campaign to free Altan and his colleagues, which include several national and international free speech and journalism rights organisations, are ARTICLE 19, Index on Censorship, EFJ, Norwegian Press Association, Norwegian Journalists’ Union, PEN Germany, Danish PEN, PEN International, and Wales PEN Cymru. Representatives from all these organisations also attended the trial in person.
The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been accused by outside observers of increasingly limiting press freedom in Turkey as his rule is slowly becoming more autocratic. Journalists have accused Erdogan of orchestrating a ‘witch hunt’ against their colleagues. In March of this year, armed police raided the offices of Zaman, a newspaper critical of Erdogan, and it was subsequently closed down. Since the coup, press freedoms have nosedived, with 130 media outlets ordered to cease trading. Even Twitter was temporarily blocked as the coup took place.
If you have ever been curious of the benefits and uses of search engine optimisation (and enjoy nibbling the occasional pizza slice along the way) then a special workshop being held by journalism news site and trainer journalism.co.uk alongside lecturer Adam Tinworth may help give you a taster.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the technique of using selected keywords and tags to help make your article, website or blog more visible in search results in places like Google and Bing. While some blogging sites like WordPress provide SEO as standard, for many other providers, you are left on your own to figure out how to maximise your presence on search results and get a foot in on that coveted first page.
The vast majority of traffic to news sites and blogs still arrives via search engines, therefore maintaining good knowledge of the principles of SEO is extremely important for anyone with an online presence, whether writing news or running a business.
Google is by far the most popular vehicle for searches and has recently undergone some mammoth changes, with the Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates shifting the search landscape beyond recognition. This has meant journalists and other having to adapt and move with the shift. The SEO knowledge of years gone by is now actually harmful to websites’ position in search results as Google now places emphasis on ‘high quality’ content and fresh information rather than simply keywords, to close the door on keyword spammers and link farms. Sadly many web publishers are still stuck behind in the times, suing models from 2008 that are doing them more harm than good.
To combat this problem, journalism.co.uk have launched a intensive and informative three-hour course at their offices in Brighton, where lecturer and visiting City University Journalism department professor Adam Tinworth will explain and guide attendees through the current principles of SEO, as well as techniques on improving the SEO value of already published content and sites. Prof. Tinworth has experience in digital journalism, blogging, training and publishing strategy. He has worked as a journalist for 20 years, and now as a consultant, has worked with several big names in media, including the Financial Times and the Telegraph, as well as smaller publishers and businesses. He has also been a blogger for a decade, writing at One Man & His Blog.
The workshop is ideal for media professionals such as employed journalists, freelancers, media students and others working in PR, marketing and communications. It will be held in an informal way in a relaxed setting. You will get free complimentary pizza as well as tea and coffee to keep your mind sharp, as well as opportunities to meet fellow professionals.
What will the course cover?
How to write for search
How to write great SEO headlines (that aren’t dull)
How to identify, analyse and use keywords – without overusing them
How to help search engines understand the meaning of your page
The role of linking in good SEO
Mistakes to avoid
How to keep up with SEO changes
Tutor(s): Adam Tinworth Starts: 18:00 1 February 2016 Finishes: 21:00 1 February 2016 Location: Shaftesbury Court, 95 Ditchling Road, Brighton BN1 4ST Price: £80 (inc. VAT)
You can book a place on the journalism.co.uk Brighton SEO workshop by visiting the third article in the ‘Sources’ below and clicking the small dark pink button marked ‘Book Now’ when you reach the journalism.co.uk site.
Journalists and students looking to maximise their newsgathering potential from online sources can now get involved in a special short course on advanced online research techniques organised and promoted by U.K. journalism news and skills website journalism.co.uk, the Half-Eaten Mind exclusively reports today.
Online research is now an essential part of reporting in the technological age, whether it is to gather information on the history of a local pub, archives of older news articles or political speeches, or for factual research for a breaking news story. By widening their own knowledge on a given subject via the treasure trove that is online research, journalists can help pass on the benefits to their readers, stimulating minds, disseminating facts for public discourse and remaining true to the journalistic ethic of informing.
Tutored by expert journalism lecturer Alex Wood and being held at the London offices ofMSN, a news and internet services giant, the special bootcamp, which runs for one day, is designed to teach students how to quickly find the information they need, as well as acquire sources online for interviews and quotes. The course will also teach the skillful navigation of social media, which while being an excellent source of breaking stories and technical knowledge, can also be a minefield in sorting the facts from the fiction, spin and lies. This course will help media people sift though the online chatter to find the informational nuggets that to craft that influential front page story.
Wood, the editor-in-chief of The Memo, a newly-launched publication on technology, finance and culture news, who is also a visiting lecturer in journalism at London’s City University, will teach attendees how to get more out of the world’s most popular search engine, Google, how to sift through social media smartly, and show how to organise a ‘toolbox’ of useful technological aids to enable media workers to become better and more effective researchers. He has several years’ experience in training and advising journalists and was previously a founding editor of Tech City News, and is a renowned go-to expert on British technology and innovation.
You will learn how to:
Use advanced operators on search engines to source information;
Turn the idea of research on its head by making the most of influencers on social;
Identify where your community is talking online;
Set up alerts to monitor your research areas;
Organise and file your search results;
Set up a toolbox with the services and platforms you need for the future;
…and more handy search tips! (via Journalism.co.uk)
The bootcamp will take place on the 2nd December 2015, beginning at 10 am and finishing at 5 pm at the MSN UK offices in Victoria, London. It is of particular interest to journalists, public relations staff, communications specialists, fact-checkers and anyone else who wants to unlock the best and most accurate researching potential that the internet has to offer. The training at the course will also focus on the tools and techniques that writers can use to meet their research goals, while emphasising practical hands-on journalism knowledge.
Course attendees will be provided with a buffet lunch and refreshments (tea and coffee). The course fee is £240 (inc. VAT). The location address is: MSN UK, 100 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5JX United Kingdom.
The colloquium is being organised in conjunction with the 12th ASEMForeign Ministers’ Meeting (ASEM FMM12), an important regional political meeting being held at the same time also in Luxembourg. A specially selected number of 25 practicing journalists from Asia and Europe to come together to discuss and learn different approaches, skills and tools used in crisis reporting from Asian and European perspectives.
From public health crises such as the E. Coli out breakout of 2011 in Germany, to environmental disasters such as the devastating 2013 cyclone Haiyan that struck the Philippines and this weekend’s earthquake in Nepal and India, the attendees will learn and build upon their understanding of the many issues these crises pose for Asian and European media. The recent terror attacks in places like France, and the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria also pose many challenges for reporters.
This colloquium will enable journalists to share their perspectives and best practices regarding international and regional challenges during crisis reporting from the different regional perspectives, as well as definitively understanding the role of the European and Asian media in reporting and witnessing such profound events. Journalists from ASEM countries (members of the Asia-Europe Meeting) can qualify to answer the call for applications. A list of participating ASEM nations can be found at http://www.aseminfoboard.org/members
Participating media professionals will see their recommendations and the event’s highlights published as the ASEF Media Handbook, which will be a ready reference for Asian and European journalists as well as for research and civil society organisations working in the field.
Founded in 1997, ASEF fosters understanding and dialogue between European and Asian countries through intellectual, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. This is with the goal to help encourage the growth of common development and stability, as well as contributing to world peace and prosperity. The Foundation particularly focusses on matters of concern such as war and famine in addition, and offers a range of collaborative events including seminars, workshops, conferences, lecture tours and exhibitions. In the past seventeen years, ASEF has seeded over 650 projects involving 17,000 direct participants over the two continents.
Interested journalists from ASEM countries can apply to take part at the colloquium. Application information can be found here: http://bit.ly/ASEFJC10
Travel (by economy class only) to and from Luxembourg and nearby hotel accommodation will be provided by the organisers for participants selected to attend this unique event. All applications should be submitted online by Tuesday, 12 May 2015, at the link above.
HEM NEPAL EARTHQUAKE APPEAL
As many of you are well aware, Nepal was struck yesterday by the worst earthquake to be witnessed in its recent history. More than 1,200 people have lost their lives, mainly in Nepal, but also in India and Bangladesh. Much of the tourism infrastructure in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu has been obliterated, and thousands more are injured and without homes, food, and blankets for the harsh cold nights there.
The Half-Eaten Mind has joined forces with the international development charity Oxfam to support them in their Emergency Appeal. The top of the sidebar has a special link to Oxfam Great Britain’s giving page, where you can make donations securely via credit and debit card or PayPal. I am not aware if givers from outside the U.K. can donate via this link, but if you cannot, then please support any charities helping Nepal in your country.
Britain‘s National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) reports that it is currently working with journalism employers from several newspapers and TV channels to develop a programme of higher apprenticeships for journalists to acquire news-writing skills on the job. Their plans were formally announced in a news release published on the council’s website this past Thursday (23 October 2014). The NCTJ along with selected employers had recently pitched their idea of a higher apprenticeship to the British government. Ministers there have now given the new qualification system the green light of approval in their efforts to tackle rising youth unemployment in the country.
A group of journalism representatives from a variety of national and regional media organisations including Archant, the BBC; BSkyB; i; The Independent; Independent on Sunday; Johnston Press; the KM Group; London Evening Standard; the Mark Allen Group; Newsquest; MNA Media and the Telegraph Media Group, jointly submitted an application to Whitehall which has been approved as part of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition‘s ‘phase three’ trailblazer apprenticeship scheme to help unemployed and undecided youngsters obtain valuable skills that will prepare them for future careers in the media. Traditionally, British journalists were taken on as junior reporters after completing their formal education. They received on-the-job training from senior news workers and editors, but in the past fifteen years an increasing emphasis by the U.K. jobs market on university qualifications universally has seen the journalism apprenticeships of several decades ago become almost obsolete. Newer cohorts of media hopefuls tend to be university graduates who pick up training via often unpaid or expenses only work experience. Media organisations have lately been criticised for not being inclusive enough in their intake of new employees and several major news providers have reinstated internships and apprentice training courses to attract new recruits from less well-represented sections of society.
The trailblazer scheme aims to give employers more say and freedom to develop apprenticeship standards in their industry which will help deliver the practical skills needed by vocational trainees for a particular business sector.
The new journalism apprenticeship was announced the day Skills Minister Nick Boles visited the offices of international media outlet Sky, home of Sky News and Sky Television, to meet with Bella Vuillermoz, director of their training school, the Sky Academy, to discuss training opportunities for young and new journalists moving into the career away from the university pathway favoured by most recruiters in the current media environment. Boles also conversed with Nicola Hart, Sky’s head of future talent; Andy Cairns, its executive editor, and Laurie Tucker, head of training at Sky Sports News; and Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, who is co-ordinating the industry’s apprenticeship trailblazer projects.
In a discussion on the government’s trailblazer scheme and its wider changes to the national apprenticeship and employment programme, the NCTJ chief executive lauded the improvements to the initiative, saying that the old system had now been made more streamlined and simplified and that she was encouraged to see greater responsibility and autonomy allocated to employers and the NCTJ in attracting more learners to the UK media industry’s training courses. She did however criticise the ongoing reliance on jargon within the programme, which may put off potential apprentices from signing up. Meanwhile, Sky’s head of training apparently joked that at a recent meeting he had struggled with the shorthand outline for ‘synoptic assessment’. Boles also had the opportunity to meet Britain’s first journalism apprentice undergoing training thanks to the trailblazer scheme, James Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is now interning at Sky Sports News and is one of 18 apprentices on the second NCTJ apprenticeship day release course at Lambeth College in south London. James will experience all aspects of the Sky Sports News operation, starting with the digital media team, with an aim to give him and his fellow apprentices a well-rounded experience of the day-to-day life as a Sky journalist.
The higher apprenticeship by the NCTJ is following in the path of an existing standard for junior apprenticeships in journalism set up by the council in league with employers. This standard, although complete, will not come into force in England until 2015. It will be an update of the current apprenticeship qualification offered by the NCTJ to trainee reporters who wish to forego the usual graduation route. The proposed senior journalist apprenticeship will also now be written to an industry standard to be decided by the NCTJ with consultations from the media industry expected to commence in the New Year.
Chairman of the journalism apprenticeship group, David Rowell said: “This is an exciting new development in our apprenticeship training scheme and will provide an opportunity for school leavers to progress to more senior roles.”
Skills minister Nick Boles said: “I congratulate the journalism employers for the key role they are playing in developing new top-quality apprenticeships. Through the trailblazers initiative companies, in collaboration with their industry partners, will give people the skills they need to thrive and our businesses need to compete.”
The full guidance document for the British government’s phase three of the trailblazer scheme for apprentices can be viewed here.
Several media organisations in the United Kingdom already run their own training programmes and apprenticeships for students, including the BBC, Sky and ITV, offering training with actual journalists in fields such as broadcasting, public relations, digital/new media and radio. The BBC’s Academy of Journalism attracts thousands of applications from would-be trainees every year, with only a small number successfully securing places. The NCTJ, which is the official body for journalism training in the U.K., offers its own qualifications and accreditations which are highly respected and sought after by journalism employers. The council currently offers a Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship in Journalism enabling students to combine learning at sixth-form college or further education institutions with on-the-job training. It has been supported by media industry leaders for opening doors to a competitive industry for local young people as well as those who come from ethnic minority backgrounds.
This Sunday’s article will be the last blogpost based on the notes given to me by former university lecturer and journalist Alan Geere. As mentioned in previous articles in the series, these notes were picked up from my career as an undergraduate at the School of Media, Arts and Design in the University of Westminster‘s Harrow campus. It has been interesting to uncover these notes and expand upon them, as I have hopefully produced a helpful and accessible journalism resource for the ‘roving reporters’ of the future. It has also been a wonderful trip down memory lane. Though this is definitely the last article influenced by Prof. Geere, it may not be the last journalistic blast from the recent past. I have plans to go through the entire two binders that are packed full of notes and hopefully find something else that will fit into this series.
Today we are taking a look at what journalists and editors call ‘house style‘. The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines house style as “a set of rules concerning spellings, typography, etc, observed by editorial and printing staff in a particular publishing or printing company“. Essentially ‘house style’ is a loose term for a uniform set of regulations used by a newspaper, magazine or media group to keep the output of its journalistic staff consistent as it would otherwise be confusing for journalists and editors to operate by their own individual writing and spelling rules.
Style guides are common for both general and specialised purposes, for the general reading and writing audience, and for students and scholars of various academic disciplines, medicine, journalism, the law, government, business, and industry. However, in the vein of this article, I will be focusing on the newswriting species of these handy rulebooks.
An organisation’s house style is usually codified in a handbook, called a ‘style guide’ or ‘style manual’ which sets out in black and white the stylistic rules that the news organisation adheres to. Most major news organisations have one. In the UK, the public broadcaster BBC maintains a style guide for its news department. The BBC Style Guide, which is a staple of its inbuilt College of Journalism where many of its staffers are drawn from, was established by radio newsroom editor John Allen over a decade ago, and is available to the public online. Allen’s work helped the BBC train its reporting staff in its ideas in the defining of “the craft of writing, the flow of words, the potential ambiguity of language, and why writing for broadcast is a skill of its own“, according to the corporation’s blogger and style editor, Ian Jolly. The style guide also helped the BBC to further its long-standing aims of offering high-quality services in its role as a public service broadcaster, as listeners and viewers have long come to expect. Several of the British broadsheets also swear by the style bible, with the centre-left leaning paper The Guardian being a particularly cited example in journalism study circles. Indeed, the Guardian and its sister paper, The Observer have made their style guide completely accessible to the public by sharing new rules in grammar, language and news style on Twitter and through a website. Internally, The Guardian group emphasises the importance of using correct language among its journalists. All its editorial staff are encouraged to take an active interest in the language they write, and to read books on words to not only sharpen their professional skills, but also as educational and useful entertainment. The Guardian’s tome of reporting convention is one of the oldest in existence. The first edition was published in 1928, with frequent revisions since then.
In the United States, the news agency Associated Press (AP) has long maintained a very influential style guide. It is well-regarded enough that it has transcended its original corporate setting and is now the go-to linguistic manual for thousands of students at America’s journalism colleges. Its hallowed pages are also regularly consulted by journalists from many other news organisations far removed from the style guide’s parent. Officially known as the “Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law“, the stylebook is a comprehensive guide to the news agency’s usage of American English. It is regularly updated by the company’s editors, usually in June every year. Its eminence and history alongside the development of US newswriting in its modern form means that it is considered as an essential guide for American newspaper journalism as a whole, although it is not compulsory to use it. The guide’s current form was crystallised by AP in 1953. The hard copy of the stylebook has sold around two million copies via bookstores and distribution since 1977. Like its British counterpart The Guardian, AP’s book has also been reconfigured for the digital age, with its own webpage and Twitter account.
So why do news organisations invest so much time in studying language and then setting the rules in stone to make a workable style guide. The following paragraphs sum up why style guides are needed:
CONSISTENCY: English is a language replete with thousands of words. The English language has always borrowed heavily from other languages as well as creating new words (neologisms), and there are several dialects used by this now international tongue, many of which are also written. Additionally, the language’s grammar is a study all of its own. Having a style guide means a news organisation can make sure that spellings, names, titles and grammatical rules remain constant across the board and provides uniformity to that company’s news output. Inconsistent writing between one reporter and the next would only lead to a confusing situation and much uncertainty in the newsroom. Journalists would be constantly badgering each other across cubicles on how this word could be spelled, or whether that other phrase sounds right. Editors would have a minefield to run through when editing and subbing their staff’s copy and it can also be infuriating for the consumers. A style guide sets the rules for everyone, a standard that not only keeps the newsroom in synchronisation, but also makes everyone’s lives easier.
PERCEIVED QUALITY: Even in this more cynical media age, where the media have often been derided as liars with hidden agendas, and quite rightly in some cases, news consumers still innately respect news organisations and the craft of journalism itself. However, like any company, news outlets need to turn a profit, and it is advertisers, subscribers, casual readers on sites and the old men who pick up the morning paper who keep a news outlet breathing and sustainable. As they are paying customers, they expect quality. Likewise, outlets such as the BBC have built solid reputations on the assumed quality of their reporting. A style guide is a yardstick for that quality. By sticking to its rules, the quality of the news articles, TV reports etc. is bolstered and maintained. Deviating from the rules set out in the style guide would probably lead to a decline in the reportage, and would ultimately a decline in sales figures or viewer ratings. In the cutthroat world of a free-market media economy, this is a fatal outcome
EASE OF READING AND UNDERSTANDING: Style guides are often based on the accepted linguistic norm, using rules that most people would consider correct. This means that if a story is written according to style standards, that makes it easier for the average person to digest, without any confusion or ambiguity. The last thing a reporter wants is for their story to be ‘lost in translation’. The style guide ensures that journalists are using clear understandable language which will not put off readers. This is is less likely to be a sticking point for pedants, langauge purists or anyone who wants to read a story with a familiar and correct-sounding style.
IDENTITY: These days, ‘branding’ is the big corporate buzzword of choice for boardroom executives. It does not matter whether you sell newspapers or fridges, having a company brand and identity is what will draw customers to you and make you distinguishable from your rivals. News media need to make money, even the BBC and other public service broadcasters, which are usually funded by licence fees, still need to justify their existence via public consumption in order to justify continuous receipt of those licensing revenues. Those news outlets that rely on paying customers and paying advertisers need to continue that custom as as well as attracting new ones. A style guide can not only act as quality control for the news product, but also can be incorporated into the media company’s identity. Many companies who trade on their reputation as solid and respected news brands have found the style guide they edit not only reinforces that perception among customers and peers, it can even take that identity to places where it might not have otherwise penetrated. Not many people outside of the American media industry are familiar with Associated Press, but their style guide, branded with AP’s logo and name has helped the agency build an enviable reputation even among staffers at rival agencies and the newspapers that rely on its newswire and imaging services. The Internet has also really helped AP, The Guardian and others build upon their media prestige. Anyone with a passing interest in grammar, news or journalism can now read their style guides from the comfort of their armchair, and free of charge as well. Making their style guides public for all the world to see rather than pinning a dog-eared copy to the editor’s noticeboard means AP and others can cement their reputations as providers of quality content – and their finances in the black. Some news outlets with formidable reputations, such as the New York Times, however keep their guides for internal use only, and trade only on their news production and advertising via more traditional tried and tested means.
EASE OF PRODUCTION: Editors are busy people. They have to constantly select stories for the front page and decide in split-second timing where stories have to go. They need to check their reporter’s copy to make sure everything looks perfect and that it fits. Without the presence of a style guide to set the rules, an editor would have to proofread everything twice as much. Dealing with three journalists using six different spellings of the same word would be mentally taxing for even the strongest of editors. If every reporter on the newsdesk is following the same stylistic beat then the editor can be a good enough conductor, rather than some flustered guy in a suit exasperatedly waving his or hands around trying to figure out if Glenmorangie is a ‘whisky’ or ‘whiskey’.
Some examples of questions that can be solved with a style guide
– Government: singular or plural, capital or lower case G?
– Spelling. Judgement or judgment? Targeting or targetting? Marketer or marketeer?
– Possessives: the Williams’ house or the Williams’s house?
– Figures: ten or 10, five million, 5 million or 5m?
Who has style? – tips on setting up a style guide…and using it.
These are some tips for fledgling news organisations (or those who are rapidly expanding and are hiring new employees) on setting up a style guide and regulations and making sure its use becomes common practice in the newsroom or office.
– Set up ‘style sheets’ in the office. Have hard copy and online versions.
– Give them to all staff (including support staff/interns).
– Also make copies available to freelancers and contractors.
– Insist everyone uses them.
– Add to them as company decisions and linguistic changes are made.
– Revise them regularly. Once or twice a year is fine once the guide is fully established and entrenched.
– Include special spellings and banned words.
Style guide links.
Talking about style guides is one thing, but to really understanding the biology and usefulness of guides, it is a good idea to see some living, breathing examples for yourself. Here are a list of famous style guides and reference links to get a feel for them.
These links were curated from Google UK search and are current and correct as of March 2014.
The Half-Eaten Mind also has its own style guide. Our style guide is more concerned with editing and layout than grammar and word usage, but the unofficial policy is that this blog reports using the linguistic norms of British English, with spellings consistent with this dialect. It is not that I think the British version is better than other standards. It is simply practical for a UK-based news blog to use the accepted standard for newswriting on par with its location. This is also the dialect that I was brought up speaking and was educated in.
The HEM Style Guide was produced in its inaugural edition in December 2012. It was published in Stratford, east London – the site of our previous ‘office’-slash-rented room – and presented as a Microsoft Word document. The guide covers spelling and grammar in news articles and with direct quotes before moving onto language registers, copyright, obscene materials, stylistic procedures, blogpost layout and our likes and comments. As the Half-Eaten Mind isusually a one-man operation, our style guide does not necessarily need to be as comprehensive and even in existence as much as those of the major news providers. Nevertheless I have found it handy. A copy is available on request, although I will need to be revising the first edition in due course as the blog and its host WordPress develop.
“house style” – The Free Dictionary by Farlex, Farlex, Inc. LINK
“BBC News style guide goes public” – Ian Jolly, BBC Academy, BBC (19 June 2013) LINK
“Guardian and Observer style guide: A” – The Guardian/Guardian News and Media Limited LINK
“The Guardian style guide” – David Marsh & Nicki Marshall (editors), The Guardian/Guardian News and Media Limited (July 2004) LINK
“AP Stylebook” – Wikipedia/Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. LINK
“HOUSE STYLE” – Alan Geere, BAMS Newswriting and Reporting, University of Westminster – class handout/information sheet.
“Style guide” – The Free Dictionary by Farlex, Farlex, Inc. LINK
“STYLE GUIDE” – Vijay Shah, The Half-Eaten Mind (12 December 2012)
“The Associated Press Stylebook 2009 (Associated Press Stylebook & Briefing on Media Law) [Paperback]” – Amazon/Amazon.com, Inc. LINK
“STYLE GUIDES” – Terry Freedman, Flickr (14 August 2013) LINK
“File:Gazeta Lubuska newsroom.jpg” – Paweł Janczaruk, Wikimedia Commons (8 June 2011) LINK
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 pageto 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