Sources Writers News Writing / PREPARATION




Always start with your local College and University courses. Normally they will offer extensive courses in writing techniques. You may consult our file on Graduate Schools or seek help through many private school offerings. Although many regard the writing and reporting of News as highly specialised we hope that the below links will provide you with proper guidance and valuable information.

Beginning Reporting

If you wish to write an article the guidelines below will help you get started.

•  The lead

•  Who, what, where, when and why

•  Write for a reader who's intelligent but unfamiliar with your topic

•  Use the “inverse pyramid” structure

•  Use direct quotations

•  Keep it clear and simple

•  Be objective

•  Check your facts

•  Keep it short

The lead

Every news article starts with a lead -- the first 1-2 sentences that summarize the most interesting point of the article. The lead should be brief yet catchy, giving the reader an instant sense of what the article is about and making him or her want to read more.

Who, what, where, when and why

News articles always include the essentials -- who, what, where, when and why.

Who is involved? Who made a scientific discovery? Who's speaking at a forum? Who made the donation? Who organized the new staff group? (Not just names, but titles and brief backgrounds if necessary.)

What is the nature of the news story or event? Is it a scientific discovery, a student activity, an appointment to a professorship, an award, a talk given at MIT, a new employee benefit?

Where is the news or event taking place? Is it a fair on Kresge Oval, a talk in Room 10-250, a demonstration in the Pappalardo Lab?

When will (or did) the event take place? What time and date is the event, or when will someone be available for an interview if needed?

Why is the story newsworthy? Tell readers why they should care. Who will be affected by this news and how? (For example, state what people or programs at MIT will benefit from a big donation, or exactly who is eligible for a new training program.) Just how unusual is your sports achievement or hobby? In other words, what distinguishes the story or event from others like it?

Write for a reader who's intelligent but unfamiliar with your topic

Use a minimum of technical terms and jargon. When you need to use a term that's unfamiliar to an intelligent layperson, explain it clearly and succinctly.

Use the “inverse pyramid” structure

Go from the most important material to the least important, and from general points to specific details. Telling a story in chronological order usually isn't the best way to inform readers. Many people read only the first few paragraphs of a story, so it's important to start with the most vital information and add details farther down.

A faculty meeting was held on Monday in Room 10-250 at 3:00. There were about 150 people in attendance. The meeting opened with a welcome by Professor John Doe. Professor Jane Smith then read the minutes of the May meeting. Following that, President Charles Vest announced that all MIT employees will receive a new car on reaching their 20th anniversary of employment.


'Inverse pyramid' (preferable):
All MIT employees will receive a new car on reaching their 20th anniversary of employment, President Charles Vest told a startled faculty on Monday. Vest made the surprise announcement in the middle of the faculty meeting in Room 10-250.

Another common mistake is including too much information. The purpose of a news article is to give an overview and highlights, not a full account -- something that tells the reader what he or she needs to know without a lot of unnecessary detail. You will probably end up cutting or editing specific things a person says, or elements of an event you're writing about. Just keep asking yourself what's interesting and necessary for a reader who's new to your topic, and what can be left out. If you think readers will want more information, feel free to include a web site they can go to.

Use direct quotations

When a speaker says something that clearly summarizes a point, write down the exact words and use them in quotation marks. It's obviously impossible to write down everything verbatim when you're listening to a lecture or interviewing someone. Writers usually take notes and paraphrase most of what the speaker says when they write the article. But try to train your ear to pick up on isolated sentences that stand out; often they succinctly illustrate a point, offer an opinion, or are even controversial or funny. If you're not sure whether you wrote the words down accurately, check with the speaker afterwards.

Keep it clear and simple

Write in short, simple sentences.

Avoid using clichés, such as “cutting-edge” or "major breakthrough," by focusing on what is unique about your topic.

Avoid jargon words that are understood only by experts in your business or academic field.

Don't use a long word when a short one will do. It doesn't make the article look any “smarter” and only confuses the reader.

When you have to introduce an unfamiliar term or idea, use smaller words, concrete examples and even similes to clarify ("fibrillation is where the heart quivers instead of pumping rhythmically, like a fist opening and closing.") Use the active voice (“the president announced,” rather than “it was announced by the president”).

Be objective

People in your article can express enthusiasm, state opinions or make claims -- but only in direct quotes. The bulk of the article should be factual and written in the third person ("he," "she" or "it" rather than "I" or "you"). An article has more credibility if it's not trying to “sell” something.

Check your facts

If necessary, have a knowledgeable person (probably someone you interviewed) review your article for accuracy before you submit it for publication. However, be aware that the News Office always edits articles. An editor might rearrange the entire article or just fix spelling errors. If something is unclear or incomplete, or the article seems to need extensive editing or rewriting, an editor will contact you and may send it back to you for reworking.

Keep it short

An article about an upcoming event has a limit of about 150 words; an after-the-fact article covering a lecture or forum discussion should not exceed 500 words.


The writing process
Getting organized
Story structure
The news lead—part 1
The news lead—part 2
The rest of the story
The tools of the trade

Available from Columbia University Press

Edward Bliss, Jr. and James L. Hoyt

" Writing News for Broadcast is more than a book about writing. It is a book about what it means to be a writer."
—David Bartlett, President, Radio-Television News Director Association

Writing News for Broadcast is the Strunk and White of broadcast newswriting books. Long considered the gold standard of broadcast journalism textbooks, this guide for the student and the professional has inspired generations of newscasters through its eloquent examples and emphasis on the writer's responsibility, commitment, and integrity. It is written in a conversational style reflecting years of professional and teaching experience in radio and television newswriting.

This new edition is fully revised with examples throughout, drawn from fine writing by journalists at networks and local stations. It includes updated chapters covering use of the wire services and special formats that have become popular in recent years such as the newsmagazine. But the third edition retains the inspirational quality that has for years made this text so widely respected. In this process of providing clear, succinct instruction in the basics of the trade, it conveys to students and practicing newswriters a sense of the extraordinary tradition within which they work. The authors' emphasis on skill and creativity, responsibility to the listener, and appreciation of the profession's finest hours and finest writers make this book unique.

About the Authors

JAMES L. HOYT is professor of broadcast journalism at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at University of Wisconsin , Madison .

EDWARD BLISS, JR. is the editor of In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow, 1938-1961.

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