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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds Last week we explored how to select information for a news story. And this week we’re going to take this a stage further and actually look at how you write a news story. Writing your first news story can be quite daunting. You can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that you’ve got and how you would put that in order. But don’t worry. There are some basic rules that you can follow. So this week we’ll look at applying the five W’s that we discovered in Week 1. We’ll introduce you to the news story template that we call the inverted pyramid. And we’ll consider the importance of writing a concise intro. That’s the first sentence of your story.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds And then we’ll look at using quotes, what’s good and what’s bad. But firstly, let’s explore what makes a story strong.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 seconds Your story will be newsworthy if you remember people make news, so write your story about people and about their experiences, and get their names and their experiences into the story. Identify the angle of the story. Look for the main point, the most important point, the freshest piece of information, the most topical, and emphasise that in your writing. Think about who you’re writing for. Think about your audience and what they would want to read. And that’s what you have to give them. Other important points to remember are that news is factual. It’s not about speculation. And it’s not about your opinion. News stories should be simple, crisp, and direct.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds They should be dramatic in their content, but that doesn’t necessarily mean dramatic in their language. Also, the reader should be pitched straight into the action. There’s no need to set the scene.

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 seconds So let’s look at how you actually write news. News is written to a formula, and it’s similar for both print and online. There should be one idea per paragraph, particularly for online news, because big chunks of ugly text will put readers off. The story should answer key questions, those five W’s that you learned last week. So your story should be who is the story about, what is the story about, where did the event happen, when did it happen, and why did it happen? These answers should give the reader all the information that they need to understand your story. Now we can start to construct your story. And we do this using the inverted pyramid template.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds The intro is at the top of your story. And here you should include the most pertinent details. You should answer as many of the five W’s as you can without confusing the reader with too much information. Stick to one or two key points, particularly who the story is about and what has happened. As you proceed down the pyramid, you can then add further detail. You can address how the story happened, for example. You can add a quote that supports the intro. And you can specifics like names, ages, occupations. Now add more paragraphs, and think about how to amplify the detail of the story.

Skip to 3 minutes and 53 seconds Sort the information in order of importance, and provide more quotes so that you’re amplifying, you’re adding amplification to your story. In the final section, which we call the tie-up, you should include information that is of interest but is of least importance. Don’t write a conclusion. Just stop the story when you’ve written everything you need to write. You should put the least important information in the tie-up, because if the story needs to be edited, it will be cut from the bottom rather than anywhere else in the story. Your story should be able to stand alone even after this editing, so if there is important information in the tie-up, it means that that will be lost.

Skip to 4 minutes and 45 seconds Now let’s look at the intro in more detail. This is the most important part of the story structure. If you get this right, then the rest of the story should follow. It’s a general statement to hook the reader into your story, so it should grab their attention. It contains the news angle. Remember, that’s the most important point, not what happened first. And as I’ve said before, it should answer around four questions, what happened, who it happened to, where it happened, and when did it happen. Your intro should be one sentence long and that should be around 15 to 30 words.

Skip to 5 minutes and 32 seconds It’s best to start with the who or the what a story is about and try to use strong, active verbs. The golden rule is keep it short and simple. Here’s an example of an effective intro.

Skip to 5 minutes and 52 seconds But be careful. Don’t try to tell the whole story. Be selective. Tease the reader into the story. Grab their attention, but don’t sensationalise. Make sure that the angle is news, not just information. And don’t start the intro with a quote. It’s better to put the quote in the second, third, or fourth paragraphs. Also, watch out for supposition. Reporters should deal in the facts and should avoid theorising about anything that has happened.

Skip to 6 minutes and 31 seconds Bad intros can have too many ideas, or none at all. They can confuse, mislead, or bore the reader. Good intros should avoid complex jargon, abbreviation, and unnecessary punctuation. Look at these examples of bad intros. And if you find them as confusing and incomplete as I do, it’s because they fail to tell the story in a simple manner.

Skip to 7 minutes and 3 seconds A classic mistake of new reporters is to bury the intro. That means the main idea is somewhere in the story and it’s not in the intro. Ask yourself what you think is the most important, most topical, or most unusual or new point, and remember that’s the one that you use. Most likely your readers will agree with you.

Skip to 7 minutes and 31 seconds Now we’ll examine quotes and how they are used in your story. Quotes should say something that the reporter can’t say. They should express an opinion or describe a feeling or give an eyewitness account or reaction. You need to get colourful, interesting quotes from your interviewees, and you use these in your story. Don’t use something that talks about facts only. Put that in the reported speech. You should always attribute your quotes, giving the full name and title of the person you’re quoting the first time that you quote them. And the first quotes you should use should be the strongest comments from your interviewees.

Skip to 8 minutes and 21 seconds Let’s look at these examples. Which is the better quote? You can discuss this with your fellow participants in the comments section. Now let’s put all this information we’ve learned this week into unpicking this example. Take a few minutes to read it and take notes of important aspects, such as the five W’s and the strength of the quotes. By putting the five W’s together in order that you think is the strongest, you can produce a simple and effective intro. Now let’s look at expanding the story further. Here’s one way of writing it in less than 80 words.

Skip to 9 minutes and 10 seconds So to conclude this section, here’s a checklist of the main points. And I’ve put these as questions that you can ask yourself to check whether your story is a strong news story. Do the first four words have impact and hook the reader into the story? Does the intro summarise the key points of the story? Is the intro between 5 and 30 words in length? Does the intro include as many of the five W’s as possible? Does the intro focus on people? Does paragraph two onwards serve to add more information? Does the tie-up section contain the least important details? Have all the quotes been attributed correctly, with full names and titles?

Skip to 10 minutes and 9 seconds Are the chosen quotes used effectively and in the best place to drive the story forward? Do all this and you’ll write a successful news story.

What makes good news writing?

We’ll now build on what we’ve taken from the four experts and look at how to write a story.

This involves us examining the structure of news, the introduction of a story and how to correctly use quotes. We’ll also highlight underlying principles with a number of examples. As you consider these, it would be valuable to reflect on how the structure we’re using is utilised every day by journalists and post any thoughts in the comments area.

Please note that you are able to pause this video should you wish to study the slides in more detail.

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This video is from the free online course:

Introduction to Journalism

University of Strathclyde