Writing a News Story

Writing a News Story
Learning Objectives
 Identify the types of news leads and their
 Write news leads
 Organize news stories
 Be accurate and objective
 Use third person point of view
 Use sentence length and structure that are
appropriate for journalistic writing
 Use transitions
Writing the Lead
 The lead is the beginning of a news story. It is
the most important part of the story because it
conveys the main idea.
 Readers scan leads to gather information
quickly and to help them decide which stories
to read.
 Readers decide in the first seven to 14 words
whether or not to read a story. The lead must
grab the readers’ attention and arouse their
Writing the Lead
 Direct news leads are used on hard
news stories— stories about timely,
breaking news. The first one or two
paragraphs, the lead, give the most
important facts about the story.
 Leads on soft news stories, the less
timely feature stories about individuals or
about lifestyle issues, are often several
paragraphs long.
Writing the Lead
 Soft news leads use anecdotes or set up
scenarios that capture readers’
 These indirect leads may run as many as
six to 10 paragraphs before the reader
discovers the subject of the story. But
whether a lead is one paragraph or half a
dozen, it must be dynamic enough to
make the reader want to know more.
Direct News Leads
 Direct news leads are also called 5 Ws and an
H leads, because they answer most or all of
the main questions readers will ask: Who?
What? Where? When? Why? And How?
 Example: Choir members mixed business and
pleasure at a recent national contest in New
Orleans April 14-18 where the choirs reached
first place all around. (Rampage, John Marxhall
High School, San Antonio, Texas)
Direct News Leads cont.
 Try analyzing this direct news lead
according to the 5 Ws and the H:
 Who: choir members
 What: mixed business and pleasure
 When: April 14 to 18
 Where: News Orleans
 Why: a national contest
 How: by winning first place
Prioritizing Information for
the Direct News Lead
 The direct news lead puts the most important
information at the top of the story.
 Deciding which facts to use to begin the lead is
extremely important.
 Leads that tell who, what and why are popular
because readers recognize prominent names,
and they want to know what is happening and
what it means to them.
 When something happened is seldom the most
important or interesting part of a story.
Prioritizing Information for
the Direct News Lead
 A good strategy is to use the values that make
a story news: timeliness, prominence,
proximity, conflict, impact and human interest.
 If a reporter is not sure which of the 5 Ws and
an H will interest readers most, assigning a
number value to each word or phrase may
 Using a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the
highest interest and one being the lowest,
assign each key word or phrase a number
Prioritizing Information for
the Direct News Lead
 Creating the direct news lead helps writers
organize their stories by forcing them to identify
the basic elements before they begin to write.
 It’s a good idea for beginning reporters to write
down six one-word questions—Who? What?
When? Where? Why? How?—and the key
words that answer each question before
starting to write a lead.
 With the answers to these basic questions, the
reporter will be able to organize and write a
lead that includes all the most important info.
Summary Leads
 Direct news leads sometimes begin with
a paragraph that summarizes the story
and then add specific details, such as
names, ages, dates and locations, in the
second paragraph. These direct news
leads are called summary leads.
Summary Leads cont.
 The opening statements of summary leads are
similar to the previews of movies. Readers get
an idea of what the story is about, but they
can’t really tell how the story will evolve until
they have more information. Or, like a synopsis
of a short story, the summary lead outlines the
plot but leaves out all the descriptive narrative.
 Summary leads help readers determine
whether or not they want to read the story
based on a brief preview of the content.
Summary Leads cont.
 Either the first or the second paragraph
or the following story about an accident
could have been the lead. The first is a
summary lead:
 “One teen dies and three other were
injured in an accident in Adams County
over the weekend.”
Summary Leads cont.
 The second paragraph gives detailed
information for readers who are interested in
knowing more about the accident and those
 “Travis J. Vapp, 17, died at 12:20 a.m. Sunday
when the car he was driving went off a dead
end at the T-intersection of Highway 14 and
the KICS Road. Three passengers, Tom B.
Hansen, 17, Amy M. Hayes, 17, and Ryan M.
Conroy, 16, were injured in the crash.”
Summary Leads cont.
 Leads that summarize the story before giving
specific information are variations of direct
news leads, because they give all the
information necessary for the reader to know
what the story is about in the first paragraph.
 The summary lead adds one or more
sentences to the 5 Ws and an H lead. By the
end of the second paragraph, the reader
should know the basic facts.
Summary Leads cont.
 School papers use summary leads for
news stories because they work well for
hard news stories that are not published
immediately after the event.
Summary Leads cont.
 Example:
 “Bodiless heads are not usually the
mainstream definition of beautiful art, but for
one TFHS class, they have become both a
creative outlet and a teaching tool.
Art teacher Shelly Christensen’s Studio Art
class has recently been learning about
sculpture and the human body through the
molding of heads and torsos.” (Bruin News,
Twin Falls High School, Twin Falls, Idaho)
Indirect Leads
 Indirect leads are leads that set a scene
or begin a story before revealing the topic
of the article.
 Indirect leads entice readers to read the
article by introducing a person or
situation that arouses readers’ curiosity
or invites them to feel some emotion or
relationship to the person or subject of
the story.
Indirect Leads cont.
 They are also referred to as delayed leads,
feature leads and storytelling leads because
they are usually longer that direct leads and
they most often introduce soft news stories.
 Indirect leads have been popular for use in
lifestyle and feature stories for a long time.
Today they are being used for hard news
stories, too, as the trend in newswriting moves
toward making news more reader friendly.
Indirect Leads cont.
 Today’s reader is also today’s television
viewer and computer user who is
surrounded by visual images. Indirect
leads tell stories and create images that
help the reader visualize the story.
 Some indirect leads appear on news
stories, and some lead into feature
stories. They may be several paragraphs
or just one sentence long.
Indirect Leads cont.
 Example:
 WASHINGTON (AP)—There’s a way to tell
people about your missing pet beyond tacking
signs on telephone poles.
The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal
and Plant Health Inspection service has made
its new Animal Care site on the World Wide
Web available to people who want to advertise
missing or found cats and dogs.
Indirect Leads cont.
 Example:
 Can it.
The recycling program at Westside, headed
by instructor Harley Hardison, has been
successful this year. (Lance, Westside High
School, Omaha, Nebr.)
 Most indirect leads are longer than the last
example. Typically, they last from one to six or
seven short paragraphs, but there is no rule.
Indirect Leads cont.
 The nut graf, the paragraph that tells exactly
what the story is about, concludes the indirect
 In the “Can it” lead, the second paragraph is
the nut graf, because it tells the reader that the
story is going to be about the success of
Westside’s recycling program.
 In a direct news lead, the first paragraph is the
nut graf.
Indirect Leads cont.
 In the following seven-paragraph lead,
the reader sees the classroom and feels
the lack of interest being displayed by the
students. The reader become part of the
scene and has empathy for the students,
because the reader has experienced
similar circumstances. Suddenly, both
students and reader are jarred awake by
the teacher’s words.
Your eyes are drooping closed and your
mind is far from the classroom, and you doodle
drawings on your paper just trying to keep
“Today we’re going to learn about birth
control, class.”
Suddenly, your attention shifts to the
teacher rather than to the squirrel prancing
across the telephone wire in the distance.
“Who can tell me what I mean by
A few people giggle and others turn red.
What you thought would be another boring day
may turn out to be interesting after all.
Abstinence, particularly in high school,
is the most effective form of birth control.
However, abstinence is only as effective
as the percent of people who use it.
The school, therefore, teaches
contraceptives as part of the health
curriculum to keep the students protected
if they will not abstain, according to
health teacher Christy Mata.
(Shakerite, Shaker Heights High School,
Shaker Heights, Ohio)
Indirect Leads cont.
 This indirect lead works because it invites
readers personally into a setting with which
they have some familiarity.
 The interest level of this lead is also
strengthened by the writer’s use of the pronoun
you to include each reader individually in the
scene. While the word you is not appropriate in
a direct news lead, it is occasionally effective in
an indirect lead that invites the reader to
become part of the story.
Types of Leads
 Types of Leads handout
Organizing the News Story
 The organization of a news story is very
 It gives the reader information that
explains the lead.
 It tells the story in a logical sequence.
Inverted Pyramid
 The sequence in which information is
presented in most news stories is called
the inverted pyramid.
 The inverted pyramid organizes
information from most important to least
important. The majority of news stories
are written in inverted pyramid style.
Looks like a pyramid turned upside down.
Inverted Pyramid cont.
 The direct news lead is the first paragraph in a
 After the lead, the story is logically organized
into blocks of detail that explain the lead.
 The reporter uses news judgment to decide
which information is most important and which
can be left for later in the story.
Inverted Pyramid cont.
 News judgment is a “sixth sense,” or intuitive
feeling, that journalists have about what stories
and issues are newsworthy and what their
readers will want to know first in a story about
an event that is important to them.
 A journalist’s news judgment is developed and
strengthened through practice, but even
beginners have some sense about what their
readers will want to know first.
Testing the Inverted Pyramid
 Stories can be tested to see if they are
organized in inverted pyramid style. Journalists
call this a crop test.
 Crop means to cut or to shorten. To use the
crop test, start at the end of the story. Read
each paragraph and decide whether it contains
information that is absolutely necessary to the
understanding of the basic story.
 If several paragraphs can be cropped from the
story without losing important information, it is
written in inverted pyramid style.
The Storytelling Pattern
 More and more news stories are being
written in an organizational pattern called
the storytelling pattern.
 The storytelling pattern invites the reader
in with an indirect lead.
 The body of the article gives the facts
and information necessary in any news
The Storytelling Pattern cont.
 The ending is usually a clincher, a statement
that returns the reader to the scene introduced
in the opening paragraphs, or that reaches a
conclusion necessary for complete
understanding of the event or story.
 The end of the story ties back to the lead and
is a necessary part of the story. It cannot be
cropped without diminishing the meaning of the
The Storytelling Pattern cont.
 Instead of giving facts in the inverted
pyramid style, from most important to
least important, the storytelling
organization tells the story in a circular
fashion. The end of the story refers back
to the beginning, completing the circle of
facts that make up the story.
Choosing an Organizational
 All leads and stories can be organized in
more than one way. No one
organizational pattern is right for every
 Sometimes a blend—putting a
storytelling lead on an inverted pyramid
story—works better than either inverted
pyramid or storytelling organization.
Choosing an Organizational
Pattern cont.
 The reporter determines the organization in the
planning stages of the story.
 Hard news stories—such as those about
accidents, fires and meetings—are most often
written with direct leads and inverted pyramid
 Features and timeless stories most often lend
themselves to indirect leads and storytelling
organization. Human interest news stories may
fall into either category.
 Find three examples of stories written in
inverted pyramid form. Print out each
story and write an explanation of why you
think each story is in inverted pyramid
 Find three examples of stories written in
storytelling form. Print out each story and
write an explanation of why you think
each story is in storytelling form.
Writing the News Story
 Once you have decided what kind of lead
your story calls for, what will go in your
lead, and what organizational pattern you
will use to write your story, the easy part
is done. Now begins the challenging part
of writing the story—the writing itself.
 What a reporter writes must be accurate.
The facts must be checked and doublechecked. The spelling of the names and
the identification of the people must be
checked and rechecked.
Accuracy cont.
 Checking facts with more than one
source is a good habit to develop. Verify
information with at least three sources to
be certain it is accurate. If three sources
do not agree, the information needs to be
checked until the reporter is certain that it
is correct. Any information that cannot be
verified should not be used.
 Reporters report facts. They must be careful to
maintain objectivity—that is, to report only
facts, not their own opinions. The reporter’s job
is to look at news from a distance and from all
 In a news story, whether it is hard or soft news,
the reporter must present only the facts about
an issue or event and let readers draw their
own conclusions. The reporter’s personal
views and values should not be part of a story.
Objectivity cont.
 Adjectives and adverbs describe things and
events, but some of them imply opinion. Be
careful of words such as definitely, largely,
quickly, eagerly, unfortunately, especially,
really, wonderful, just, tragic, greatly, finally
and only.
 Words like these imply emotion or judgment
that must be proven by the facts. The
judgmental or vague word could be omitted
without changing the meaning of the story.
Stronger, more factual statements would result.
Objectivity cont.
 Reporters who write news for publications that
appear less often than daily write most of their
news stories in news feature style.
 Descriptive words appear more often in
features and in news stories with indirect leads
than in timely news stories. Reporters can use
descriptive words and still be objective if the
descriptive words add detail rather than opinion
to the picture being created for readers.
Objectivity cont.
 To be more objective than they might be if they
described a person or a scene themselves,
reporters can quote someone describing the
person or scene.
 Reporters sometimes feel so strongly about an
issue that they are tempted to put their
opinions into their stories.
 Reporters may quote sources who respond
emotionally to facts in the story, but reporters
must not reveal their personal feelings in
writing news.
 Avoid Reporter Opinion handout
 Fact vs. Opinion handout
 Remaining Objective handout
Point of View
 Reporters also demonstrate objectivity through
point of view. News should be written from a
third person point of view with no first or
second pronouns such as I, we or you.
 A story written with third person point of view is
written as though the writer were standing
back, watching people in action and writing a
description of their activities.
Point of View cont.
 The second person pronoun you can be a
problem for news writers. You gives a
command. It tells the reader how to think and
what to do.
 Although it is implied in editorials and reviews,
you should not be used in straight news
stories. Even when giving information for
individuals to use, such as phone numbers to
call for information, a reporter should avoid the
word you.
Point of View cont.
 The word you is occasionally used in an indirect lead to
entice the reader to become personally involved in the
story, especially if it is a feature story.
 After the lead, the story should change to third person.
 “You” is also acceptable in a direct quotation in a story,
because it is being said by someone other than the
 Quotations are used in news stories to give readers
information from sources. Quotes are also used to
interpret information introduced by the reporters in
news stories.
 Newspaper readers don’t want to work
hard at reading and understanding when
they read the paper.
 Reporters write in ways that make news
easy to read. Short sentences and short
paragraphs make news appear inviting
and easy to read.
Readability cont.
 Standard reading material appropriate for
a newspaper audience averages 17
words per sentence. Some sentences will
be longer; some will be shorter. Variety in
sentence length makes reading
Readability cont.
 Sentence structure also affects readability. The
subject-verb-object order is preferred for quick,
easy reading. Even a sentence in S-V-O order
can be difficult to read and comprehend if too
much information is included.
 When a sentence begins with a phrase or
clause, it becomes more difficult to read.
 Not every sentence should be a simple S-V-O
sentence. However, if the majority of
sentences in a story follow this pattern the
story will be easier to read.
 Transitions are the threads and glue that hold
a story together. Transitions are key words,
phrases and even entire paragraphs that link
the sentences and paragraphs together while
letting the reader know when a story moved
from one idea, place or time to another.
 Transitions also may help the reader
remember who is speaking. Sometimes they
set up contrasts or comparisons.
Transitions cont.
 Common types of transitions are key
words, ideas, or themes; pronouns;
transitional terms; paragraphs; and
 However, more than one type of
transition is usually present in every
Key words, ideas or
 Most stories have one or two key ideas,
and they are identified in the lead. The
same words, ideas or themes appear
throughout the story to remind the reader
that the story is still about the same
 Using a pronoun to refer to a person
named in an earlier sentence or
paragraph simplifies the writing.
 If a story has more than one subject or
source, pronouns must have clear
antecedents to avoid confusion.
Transitional terms
All kinds of words serve as connectors. To
understand how transitional terms work,
picture an outline:
A. Glue that holds story together
B. Help reader understand the story
Types of transitions
A. Key words
1. Definition
2. Example
B. Pronouns
C. Transitional terms
D. Quotations and paragraphs
Transitional terms cont.
 Each entry in the outline is preceded by a
roman numeral, a letter or number. Each time
a new topic is introduced or a fact that explains
the topic is added, a new letter or number is
added to the outline. The letter or number
before the new information is a transition.
 It indicates that another thought is being
added, a different topic is being introduced or a
new time period is being entered. Transitional
terms in news stories serve the same function.
Common types of
transitional terms:
 Conjunctions: and, but, or. Conjunctions usually
connect ideas that go together, such as two halves of a
compound sentence, or they set up contrasts that tell
the reader that there is another side to the story.
 Additives: also, in addition, again, further, moreover,
finally, in conclusion, next, so, thus. Additives help the
writer move on to the next piece of information.
 Contrasts and comparisons: but, however, on the other
hand, yet, instead, likewise, similarly. Words like these
tell readers that there is another side to the story or
issue and that now the reporter is going to tell them
about that other side.
Common types of
transitional terms cont.:
 Place indicators: near, here, there, adjacent to, across,
by, alongside, opposite. Any word that tells the reader
that the scene is changing or adds information that
enlarges or adds detail to the picture in the reader’s
mind may be a transition. These words say, “We’ve
been here; now we are moving over there.”
 Time indicators: later, that evening, after, meanwhile,
soon, next, finally. A word or phrase that moves a story
forward or backward in time helps the reader keep
track of the sequence of events. Time indicator
transitions help the reader organize the information
Paragraphs and
 A paragraph or a quotation can be the
transition that moves a story from one
idea to another.
Editing the News Story
 Every reporter is an editor. Writers and editors
continuously check stories for accuracy,
organization and writing style. This checking
process is called editing.
 Editing is a continual process. It begins as
soon as the reporter receives an assignment
and ends when the story appears in print.
 Each decision the reporter makes about which
sources to consult, which facts to include and
which quotes to use is part of the editing
Editing the News Story
 Each time the reporter chooses one
organizational pattern or lead instead of
another for a story, that reporter is editing.
 Stories should also be carefully reread and
edited for accuracy, objectivity and readability.
 After stories are placed on the page, they
should be checked to be sure that vital
information has not been deleted or errors
introduced into the story during the placement
Editing the News Story
 Editing is a team effort. Everyone who
writes, reads or places a story as it
moves through the newsroom is
responsible for editing it.
 The team’s goal is to make every story
as accurate and well-written as possible.
Each member of the team should check
the facts in the story to make sure their
Editing the News Story
 Each person should question every fact or
word that doesn’t seem right, every word or
name that might be misspelled, and all the
writing that may not conform to the
publication’s style or to the standard rules of
 Getting this feedback from other helps the
reporter identify and correct errors in the
writing or gaps in information before the story
goes out to the readers.
 Schaffer, James, Randall McCutcheon
and Kathryn T. Stofer. Journalism
Matters. Lincolnwood: Contemporary,
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