There are several benefits of learning to write a news story:
- You learn to be concise.
- You learn to keep your opinion out of the way.
- You learn to look for answers.
- It keeps you writing!
Here are the basic facts about a news story:
- It is used to inform, typically the public.
- It provides the facts in a concise manner.
- It is considered a reliable source due to an emphasis on accuracy.
- It provides the most important information first, fleshing out the details as the article continues.
- It theoretically is not used to persuade, and therefore attempts to be non-biased.
- It theoretically relies on more than one source of information.
Here are easy-to-follow suggestions to help your student prepare a news story:
Write a good lede.
The lede is the first sentence of a news story and typically contains all of the facts the reader needs to know. If this one sentence was the only thing the reader read he should have all of the facts necessary to be considered “informed.” (These days you’ll find some writers take two sentences to accomplish the same thing. One is best. A good writer who knows his subject well should be able to do it in one. Think of it as a challenge!)
The lede answers the questions who, what, when, where, why — all in one sentence.
Naturally, the goal is for the reader to want to read the entire article. Therefore, the lede needs to be not only informative and factual, but also interesting.
Make a cone.
The remainder of the story will be written in the shape of a cone — the most important information at the top funneling down to the least important and/or background information.
This part of the story elaborates on the key points contained in the lede.
Provide quotations from the major players in the story.
There is nothing more convincing than reading words directly spoken by the person involved. If there are two sides to the issue, you need to have two quotes — one representing each side.
Naturally, this means you will have to hunt for qualified sources and possibly interview them. A qualified source needs to be someone directly involved — not just a bystander with an opinion.
Follow the rules of proper attribution — full name, title on the first reference, last name thereafter.
Keep it concise.
Most news story writers are given a word limit depending on where the story is to be published. For example, you’ll notice that front page stories tend to be much longer than stories found near the back of the paper. A major event will be covered in detail, while an announcement will primarily simply provide the facts.
There is no room for highfalutin words or unnecessary jargon.
Descriptive adjectives and adverbs should also be avoided, not only because they adversely affect the word count, but because they also typically reflect an opinion.
There should be very few pronouns in general because of the way readers read news articles — making a z shape scanning from paragraph through the line, down to the next paragraph, through the line, etc. You don’t want the reader to get lost in pronouns and bail because of lack of clarity.
Make it interesting.
All that said, news articles shouldn’t be boring. By using active rather than passive sentences, a sense of excitement can be conveyed in your writing.
- Read several news stories. Look for the points mentioned above.
- Choose one and create a chart showing where and how the who, what, where, when, and why questions were answered.
- Think of a current event story that you are interested in or an event that recently happened.
- Play reporter. Take notes and compile information.
- Answer the 5 Ws.
- Find several qualified sources among those who were involved or in charge. Take down their words — exactly.
- Write the remainder of the article by fleshing out the details working from most important to least important. Background information, if any, should go at the end.
- Choose a pithy and exact headline.
- Check your work:
- Is your lede one sentence?
- Does it include answers to the 5Ws?
- Have you included properly attributed sources?
- Have you avoided including your own opinion?
- Did you use the active voice, active verbs, and descriptive nouns?
- Have you kept the word count to as low a number as possible?
- Have you avoided using pronouns? Jargon? Adjective and adverbs?
- Is your headline concise and exact?
Printable at John Hopkins University for recording the answers to the 5Ws (and H for how) along with the lede.
How to Write a News Story
Quotes and Attribution
Simple rules at the University of Richmond Writing Center.
Writing the News Story Exercise
Great way to wrap up! Provides stories that students can write based on the given facts, and then compare to suggested answers.
Complete course at Annenberg Learner. (Parents may wish to preview.)