Reporting 101 - School of Journalism

Reporting 101
The nuts and bolts of a news story: process and product.
Why Journalism
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a
government without newspapers, or newspapers without a
government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the
---Thomas Jefferson
“I still believe that if your aim is to change the world,
journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.” ---Tom
“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they
will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it
and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”
---Joseph Pulitzer
Writing- not easy
“There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a
typewriter and open a vein.” - Walter Wellesley "Red"
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” – Nathaniel
“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say,
but what we are unable to say.” - Anaïs Nin
Reporting-definitely not easy
It’s in the preparation– in those dreary pedestrian
virtues they taught you in seventh grade and you didn’t
believe. It’s making the extra call and caring a lot.
Diane Sawyer
If you’re a reporter, the easiest thing in the world is to get a
story. The hardest thing is to verify. The old sins were about
getting something wrong, that was a cardinal sin. The new
sin is to be boring.
David Halberstam
The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who
tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau,
sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called "truth”.
Dan Rather
What is reporting then?
Getting the best obtainable version of the truth within
the given time constraints
Trying to be as non-partisan as possible
Highlighting stories and issues that are important to
the community being served
Providing accurate, interesting, significant and relevant
information through constant verification
Starting point for pleasant and unpleasant
What makes a good story?
A good focus- what’s the point?
How does it inform people? When, where, why and
how. I would like to add a new W- where from? What
is the source of your story?
Is it about a topic you want to read?
How will writing about it affect your readers?
Tips from an expert: Scott Simon of NPR: How to tell
a story
Qualities of a good reporter
Innate curiosity
Ample skepticism yet childlike excitement and
Desire to build intellectual capital
A thick skin-- you will always LOSE the popularity
Passion for the work
Willingness to pursue shoe leather journalism as
emphasized by Pulitzer prize winner Anne Hull
Different kinds of stories
News- what’s happening now/ issues of concern at the
Features- ongoing issues- usually social, human interest; ones
that touch the emotional core
Business- community business leaders, shop around the
Sports- school sports
Opinion- what are students talking about
Long form- an 800-word long feature that a student may
want to write about
News Writing
An event that possibly happened a day or two before
your paper hits the press or printing machine
Inverted pyramid structure- most important part of the
story comes first. Eg: any news story
Question for class: do you have opportunities for news
stories in your school papers?
Feature Writing
Offers you more creativity- allows you to write an
engaging lead rather than bog you down with a
straitlaced news sentence. One example.
Can comprise long form storytelling/ student profiles/
staff profiles/ an ongoing issue in the school.
Other forms include opinion writing- more of writing a
critical argument.
This is a good example of writing a feature that was
published on the weekend based on a news story that
was big during the week.
You have the idea, what next?
Read up on the issue; previous news stories, articles,
visit the public library (look up directions on Google!)
Online resources- there’s a lot of information out there,
make use of it.
Talk to people you think are experts on the issue.
Narrow the focus- try and explain the story in two to
three coherent sentences or come up with a Reporter’s
hypothesis/ research question.
What next?
Create an outline or a blueprint and start filling it in
with your notes and quotes you have gathered.
Once you’ve filled in all the blanks- rearrange the text
so that flows in a logical, coherent way.
A process to the writing:
Lead- 10%
Context- 10%
Body- 70%
Conclusion- 10%
Story must have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Sources and Interviews
Research the people you talk to.
Conduct interviews- preferably face-to-face when time
permits. Katie Couric tells you how.
Try to get diverse voices in to provide a larger perspective.
Be upfront about quoting them.
Online sources are becoming the norm but it might be a
good idea to have people’s permission to use their quotes.
To tape or not to tape interviews?
Story ideas- where from?
Local newspapers and news channels
Random, unscientific poll of students, parents,
Looking at other school newspapers to get an idea of
how they might have covered a news story
You have a group exercise that involves beatswonderful way of building sources and tapping them
for story ideas.
Finding good topics
What are the enduring issues? Universal subjects? Look at
before and after the news has occurred – personalize it.
Is there someone whose life is similar to that of someone
in the headlines? For instance, a star football player in the
headlines, what’s the life of other football players in the
school? Or someone who wants to make the football
When can you go in the opposite direction to get an
interesting story? An example would be interviewing a
poor person in a supposedly prosperous community.
Finding good topics
Is there an untold background tale?
Is an ending really another beginning? Writing about a
few alumni a year after they graduated. How is college
life treating them? Did they get scholarships?
Chip Scanlon from on storytelling
Question for class: How do you go about finding topics
for news stories?
What makes a good lead
Draw in audiences
About 10 percent of your total story length
Power of a good lead- some advice as given by Chip
Sampling of ASNE award-winning leads
Building a source base
Talking to people- be nice
Honoring what you promise them- returning with a
copy of the story when published, not quoting
something said in confidence.
Staying in touch- calling sometimes just to say hi.
Being as accessible to them as you expect them to be
Being honest.
Some writing rules
George Orwell in his essay, “Politics and the English
Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech
which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon
word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything
It’s cool to be uncool
Commitment to journalism and writing is priority
Long hours are norm
It’s a lonely job- but you aren’t alone
In the end, you will be the uncool person who asks the
annoying questions, uncovers the best obtainable
version of the truth, writes stories that count and
THAT is cool.
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