How do you go about writing a good news story?

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Answered by: Judy, An Expert in the Writing News Reports Category
Let me cut to the chase here. Less is definitely more when it comes to writing a good news story. Most new journalists need to learn this when starting out.

The first thing you're going to learn is the "inverted pyramid" style of writing. The most important information of the story goes at the top and bottoms out to the least important information. Throughout your whole story, you'll have to answer the basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how?



Before you start the nitty gritty of writing a good news story, you obviously need to find relevant sources and interview them in order to collect your information. Most of the questions you will be asking will take some form of the ones I mentioned above (who, what, when, where, how, etc). After you've finished the interview, now comes the fun part: sifting through all your notes to find out what's worth being mentioned and what's not.

This is often the road bump that weeds out good writing from bad writing. How do you know if you're including too much, or too little, of what your source told you?



First, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the average reader. Why would they care about this story? If you were writing a story about how free flu shots are being offered at the local clinic for elementary school children in winter, what would you want to know?

Let's say you interviewed Jackie Myers, who heads the clinic and is your main source of information. She generally tells you the importance of children getting flu shots in the winter where to get them, how to get them, etc. She also mentions that the following summer, another similar event will happen where free sunscreen will be given away to help protect kids against sunburn.

The story is about flu shots in winter. Does it really matter that we include the fact that free sunscreen is being given away months from now? Nope. Is it interesting enough to at least garner a mention? Possibly, but where in the story should it go? If you said it's best at the end, you're right.

See?

Throughout most of our primary and secondary school years, we are taught that "good writing" is something long and wonky and barely understandable to the average human being. "Good writing" is only something that the elite can possibly accomplish.

Literary elitists often scoff at journalists, particularly those who write fast-paced news stories that are driven toward a news consuming audience. They claim that traditional journalistic writing isn't "complex" enough and doesn't challenge the reader to think.

What they fail to realize is that people are reading news because they want NEWS - they don't want to trudge through a Thomas Pynchon novel. They just want to know if that initiative to ban cigarettes inside restaurants passed last night. They have no need for complex metaphors or long and drawn out exploration of the bigger themes of a story. They just want THE STORY, boom, right in their face without waiting around for a build up.

Good news writing is not the same as writing a James Joyce novel. It's not for bored English students to dissect and analyze; it's for the average reader on the go who simply cares about what's going on in their community and wants that information delivered to them efficiently.

However, some longer forms of journalism have lots of leg room to be more creative with their writing styles. But that's for another article.

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