Newspaper Basics for Student Journalists
A beginner’s guide to writing and editing
news stories and newspaper headlines
© ...
2
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction 4
Section I — Beginnings 6
Chapter 1 — Defining News 7
Chapter 2 — Hard News and Soft New...
3
Chapter 31 — Writing Journalistic Obituaries 144
Section V — Basic Newspaper Editing 151
Chapter 32 — Newspaper Organiza...
4
Introduction, for my King's University College students
Each year for most of the past decade, I have had the privilege ...
5
My first goal was to write a textbook that covers the basics beginning journalists, and
other students of journalism, re...
6
Section I
BEGINNINGS
7
Chapter 1
Defining News
What is news?
If Biff proposes marriage to Maggie … and Maggie says No! That’s news. If there’s ...
8
Consequences — if it has an impact, it's news. In the most logical of worlds, this one
would probably be No. 1. This is ...
9
Trends — if a trend is developing, it's news. Trends are important. They can have an
impact on our lives. Knowing about ...
10
Chapter 2
Hard News and Soft News
In the last chapter, we talked about the general qualities journalists generally agre...
11
social trends, how-to features that teach how to knit a sweater or build a fence, accounts
to trips to exotic resorts a...
12
Chapter 3
The Five Ws
Now that we have a working definition for “the news,” and now that we understand the
difference b...
13
“There was a fire!” says your roommate. OK, now that you’ve answered what, your next
likely question is going to be Whe...
14
Chapter 4
News Judgment
We have now considered the qualities that are commonly used to define information as
news. In a...
15
ignoring other more important stories. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are out
to lunch.)
This also contribute...
16
speech about his party's economic policy in a dozen towns. Some of the politician's points
might have been "news" on Da...
17
known businessman who once served a term as mayor. Because it added the element of
celebrity, that would change the lea...
18
3. What are the Five Ws and the H in this story?
Then you need to use your news judgment to figure out what's important...
19
Section II
WRITING THE BASIC NEWS STORY
20
Chapter 5
The Inverted Pyramid News Story
In the previous section, we defined the idea of “news.” Now we will learn how...
21
These important facts are followed by less essential information.
The style of writing is also known as the “wire servi...
22
If the Prime Minister has been shot by an assassin, it’s pretty obvious what the most
important fact in the story will ...
23
- The first thing the writer of a basic Inverted Pyramid news story should do is ask:
What is this story about?
- Write...
24
Chapter 6
The Basic Components of a News Story
All well-written new stories have most of the parts listed below. Compet...
25
news story. It is also the identification of who made the statements contained in quotes or
paraphrases of quotes. Attr...
26
Chapter 7
Writing Hard News Leads
The opening of a news story — usually the first paragraph — is termed “the lead.”
In ...
27
If you try to stuff too many of the answers to these basic questions into your lead, it will
be awkward and difficult t...
28
The order used here, which emphasizes the WHO, seems defensible given the questions
the readers of a local newspaper wo...
29
But the AP’s 11 words were by no means the least spent on this topic. The New York
Times lead summed up the story in a ...
30
Ho hum.
Or he could try to add a little value by spinning out a reference to the obvious aftermath
of such an event.
Po...
31
Highlight differences — find the fact, like the lipstick pink Cadillac, that makes the
story different.
Speak clearly —...
32
Avoid the insultingly obvious — let the facts speak for themselves. There’s no need to
tell readers that the death of a...
33
Chapter 8
The Second-Day Lead and Other Variations
Some journalists describe their job as writing history as it happens...
34
Sometimes, speaking realistically, there can be a certain amount of fakery involved. This
is the case with the Toronto ...
35
- The second-day lead tries to give immediacy to the story by describing what’s
happening at the next stage of the stor...
36
Chapter 9
The soft-news lead
If the hard-news lead is the essential skill that must be learned by all aspiring news
wri...
37
Typically, however, most successful delayed leads have one thing in common: they move
from the specific to the general....
38
Claude Bennett is working the floor, pressing the flesh, touching elbows. He’s cool. All
around him — pandemonium.
Ther...
39
Great-quote leads build on a quote. Passenger Charlie Powell knew something was
wrong when he heard the bang and felt t...
40
their yearly readin',
roundup, tea party
And ball. …
Summary
- Soft news requires a different approach to lead writing....
41
Chapter 10
Writing ‘Nut Graphs’
Feature stories need nut graphs for the same reason hard-news stories need summary
lead...
42
The story then could move naturally to describing the debate over the cutbacks, and their
impact.
Here’s another exampl...
43
Chapter 11
Attribution
The concept of attribution is the fundamental building block of the concept of modern
journalism...
44
Being too detailed and specific with attribution can make a lead cluttered and hard to
follow and should be avoided. Th...
45
This lead requires attribution because someone (the police) is speculating about the cause
of the crash. Now, look at t...
46
Premier Ralph Klein says he will use the Notwithstanding Clause of the Constitution to
prevent same-sex marriages becom...
47
Chapter 12
Using Quotes in News Stories
Quotes are indispensable to journalism as practiced today. This is because, mor...
48
The problem, of course, is that not all quotes are strong, or even make much sense. Some
direct quotes are pretty blah....
49
The mayor said she was confident the public agrees she has done a good job and will
return her to office on election da...
50
not to change the speaker’s meaning. Never combine ellipses with notes, such as
explanations in brackets.
Always fully ...
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Newspaper Ebook
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in...5
×

Newspaper Ebook

5,529

Published on

Published in: Education, News & Politics
0 Comments
5 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Views
Total Views
5,529
On Slideshare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
0
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
29
Comments
0
Likes
5
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Newspaper Ebook

  1. 1. Newspaper Basics for Student Journalists A beginner’s guide to writing and editing news stories and newspaper headlines © David J. Climenhaga, 2009
  2. 2. 2 TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction 4 Section I — Beginnings 6 Chapter 1 — Defining News 7 Chapter 2 — Hard News and Soft News 10 Chapter 3 — The Five Ws 12 Chapter 4 — News Judgment 14 Section II — Writing the Basic News Story 19 Chapter 5 — The Inverted Pyramid News Story 20 Chapter 6 — The Basic Components of a News Story 24 Chapter 7 — Writing Hard News Leads 26 Chapter 8 — The Second-Day Lead 33 Chapter 9 — The Soft News Lead 36 Chapter 10 — Writing ‘Nut Graphs’ 41 Chapter 11 — Attribution 43 Chapter 12 — Using Quotes 47 Chapter 13 — Active Voice vs. Passive Voice 54 Chapter 14 — Using Transitions 56 Chapter 15 — Stories in Chronological Order 59 Chapter 16 — Just Before You File… 63 Section III — Turning in Professional Copy 66 Chapter 17 — The Style Mentality 67 Chapter 18 — Memorization and Style 70 Chapter 19 — Canadian Press Style 72 Chapter 20 — Defamation Law 79 Chapter 21 — Defamation Threats 87 Chapter 22 — Promises to Sources 90 Chapter 23 — Contempt of Court 94 Chapter 24 — Young People in Conflict with the Law 99 Chapter 25 — Plagiarism 101 Chapter 26 — Ethics in Journalism, Fairness and Balance 105 Chapter 27 — Cultural Sensitivity 116 Section IV — Reporting the News 125 Chapter 28 — Interviewing 126 Chapter 29 — Covering Public Meetings 137 Chapter 30 — Covering Elections 142
  3. 3. 3 Chapter 31 — Writing Journalistic Obituaries 144 Section V — Basic Newspaper Editing 151 Chapter 32 — Newspaper Organization 152 Chapter 33 — Basic Newspaper Copy Editing 156 Chapter 34 — Common Pitfalls Faced by Copy Editors 158 Chapter 35 — Editing for Defamation and Contempt 162 Chapter 36 — Editing for Errors 168 Chapter 37 — More Work for Copy Editors 173 Chapter 38 — The Professionally Dirty Mind 180 Chapter 39 — Dealing With Profanity 183 Chapter 40 — Writing Basic Headlines 186 Chapter 41 — Common Headline Practices 192 Chapter 42 — Additional Guidelines for Superior Headlines 196 Chapter 43 — Writing Feature Headlines 207 Chapter 44 — Final Thoughts on Writing Headlines 213 Section VI — Public Relations 217 Chapter 45— Writing News Releases 218 Chapter 46 — A Journalist’s Perspective on News Releases 224 Chapter 47 — Media Conferences, Photo Ops and Other Events 229 Section VII — Glossary of Common Journalistic Terms 233
  4. 4. 4 Introduction, for my King's University College students Each year for most of the past decade, I have had the privilege of teaching an introduction to newspaper journalism course to undergraduate students at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary or The King’s University College in Edmonton. In fulfilling my part-time duties as an instructor (usually while working full time in journalism or public relations), I have had the opportunity to use a variety of newspaper journalism textbooks and to read many more. To be blunt, very few of them are satisfactory, let alone really useful, especially to students who are interested in taking a general introductory course in newspaper journalism, but not necessarily pursuing a career in the field. The faults of these textbooks, as I see it, typically fall into several areas. Many of them are too specialized, concentrating on one aspect of newspaper journalism — say, interviewing techniques or feature writing. That's fine if you want to study the field in depth, not so helpful if your objective is to learn the basics. A few are just plain bad — their titles and authors will not be mentioned to protect the guilty. Several of these expend barrels of ink revealing what students don't need to know — the daily newsroom routine and strongly held opinions of a certain assistant city editor, say, or the arrangement of the furniture in a well-known metropolitan daily's offices. Often they have less to say about what students really need to learn. For example, students do need to know how to write a simple news story with a clear lead. If they learn that skill, it will benefit them all of their lives, whether or not they decide to make a living as a journalist! Likewise, no harm will ever come to a student because he or she has learned about the importance of style, and the basic rules of the wire service style that prevails in most Canadian newsrooms. Others textbooks are excellent — but encyclopedically so. Carole Rich’s superb Writing and Reporting News, A Coaching Method springs to mind. But these books go into much more depth than is required — or even desirable — for students who want to test the waters of journalism before making a career decision, who want to learn how to write effective press releases as a sideline to some other career, or who simply want to write effectively for the campus newspaper. Moreover, almost without exception, the best newspaper journalism textbooks, Ms. Rich's included, are written by and for citizens of the United States and consequently have a strong American bias. To top it off, these imported textbooks are very expensive — adding to the financial burden borne by 21st Century Canadian students. Indeed, all journalism textbooks, even the really bad ones, seem to cost a fortune. It’s my bias, having worked for newspapers much of my adult life, that journalism isn’t rocket science, so it offends me when a journalism textbook costs as much as a rocket science textbook. So it was my objective, in writing this book, to create a text that addresses these deficiencies.
  5. 5. 5 My first goal was to write a textbook that covers the basics beginning journalists, and other students of journalism, really need to know to do the job on Day 1 in the newsroom. I have, I think, partly succeeded. My second objective was to keep it short and sweet — a manageable and comprehensible package for an introductory course. A third was to write it for students who live and work in Canada. My final objective was to make it affordable. I will certainly succeed in this last goal with this edition, because students in CMNA 395, King’s University College's introductory journalism course, will receive this book for the cost of duplication. The quid pro quo I ask of you, my students, is that you read it with a critical eye, seeking out for me illogicalities, material that is missing but needed, things that can be improved, and the inevitable typographical errors that bedevil all journalists. With your help, this textbook can be completed, improved and made available to more students. David J. Climenhaga St. Albert, Alberta June 2009
  6. 6. 6 Section I BEGINNINGS
  7. 7. 7 Chapter 1 Defining News What is news? If Biff proposes marriage to Maggie … and Maggie says No! That’s news. If there’s a cold going around, that's news. If the college cafeteria is serving cream of weenie soup again tonight, that's news too. In other words, at least on one level, news is information that affects our lives. It may shock us, amuse us, worry us, or merely irritate us, but if it's close to home it doesn't take much to become news of interest. On the other hand, if Biff proposes to Maggie, and you don't know either of them … Who cares? That's not news. It's a little different on a daily newspaper or in a broadcast newsroom, but not really so very different. Most journalists, and especially journalism teachers, carry around in their heads a list of about a dozen qualities that they think make a story worthy of coverage. All these lists are similar, because the culture of the news business has been reinforcing itself for generations. Here’s mine, in what I think is its components’ approximate order of importance: 1) Timeliness 2) Consequences 3) Proximity 4) Conflict 5) Mayhem 6) Celebrity 7) Novelty 8) Humour 9) Trends 10) Sex 11) Inspiration/Human Interest 12) Helpfulness Let's look at each quality: Timeliness — if it's new, it's news. This may not be the way it works in real life. There’s nothing particularly new about influenza, and it has a profound impact on a lot of people's lives each year. But it is the way it works in the news business, because there's a lot of competition to be the first with a story. So, to most journalists, if not to the man and woman in the street, timeliness is the most important determining factor in deciding if a story is news.
  8. 8. 8 Consequences — if it has an impact, it's news. In the most logical of worlds, this one would probably be No. 1. This is why what governments do is considered so important by most journalists. If politicians vote to raise taxes, or close a school, it has an obvious impact on many people in a community. If nuclear war breaks out, it will have an impact on the lives of people all over the world. No news organization that is doing its job will fail to report a story that the editor believes will have an impact on its readers. Proximity — if it’s close to home, it’s more likely to be news. In the great scheme of things, three days of boiled potatoes in a cafeteria is no big deal. But on some university campuses, it might just cause a riot. The same is true of any action. The closer it is to home, the more likely it is to arouse interest and be defined as news. If a school bus plunges off a cliff in some distant land, the story is likely to be short and relegated to an inside page. If it happens in your community, it belongs on the front page of your newspaper. Conflict — where there's conflict, there's news. This is partly because where there’s conflict, there's more likely to be an impact on our lives. But it's also because conflict is dramatic, and exciting, and even entertaining. There's a reason so many works of fiction are about conflict. So whether it’s a war in a far country, or a noisy spat at city hall, conflict makes news. Indeed, conflict is so newsworthy that journalists sometimes succumb to the temptation of trying to generate conflict among the people they're writing about to make a better story. Mayhem — violence is news. There’s a nasty and cynical expression in the news business, “If it bleeds, it leads” Alas, there is more than a little truth to this, and this tendency by the news media may have a harmful impact on our perception of our society and the quality of our lives. Be that as it may, car accidents, drive-by shootings and schoolyard bullying all meet the criteria of news. Celebrity — if someone is prominent, what they do is more likely to be news. This is unhappy news to many people, but we all know it’s reality. If a street person assaults someone, it's not news. If an entertainer, a sports star or a prominent politician does the same thing, it is news. The more prominent the person, the bigger the news. Novelty — if something’s bizarre, it may be news. Something doesn’t have to be weird to be newsworthy, but oddity does often make otherwise inconsequential stories newsworthy. A pancake is a pancake is a pancake, but who can resist a story about a miraculous pancake with the image of a beloved religious figure on it? Humour — if it’s funny enough it’s news. Most everyone enjoys a chuckle, so if an event or development has a funny aspect, that may interest journalists. Often in journalism, there’s a cruel side to this notion — the “Darwin Awards,” which make fun of people who die after doing foolish things, or stories that sniff at scientific research as inconsequential, are examples. But even gentle humour can be newsworthy — if it can really generate a laugh.
  9. 9. 9 Trends — if a trend is developing, it's news. Trends are important. They can have an impact on our lives. Knowing about them can help us make wise lifestyle or business decisions. So many editors look for stories about a wide variety of trends. If slightly overweight people are living longer, as the New York Times recently reported, that’s a trend that’s significant to a lot of people. If interest rates are climbing, the weather is getting warmer, fewer people are having children or buying SUVs, or more young people suffering from depression, all those are trends worthy of attention by journalists. Sex — sex is news. It may be a serious story about a nation’s policy regarding who gets to marry whom, or the shenanigans of an entertainer. You may be delighted or scandalized. But most editors agree — whether they really approve or not — that adding sex to the brew makes a story more newsworthy. Inspiration — uplifting stories are news. If a story shows someone’s perseverance, grit, courage or decency in the face of adversity, it can be news. Note, however, that such stories generally fall into the area of “human interest” unless they are tied to one or more of the other qualities generally considered to make news. Helpfulness — if it helps you, it’s news. Maybe. Need instruction on an easy way to have a flatter tummy, build a birdhouse, get a university degree while living in jail, raise happy, well-balanced children while holding down three jobs? These are all legitimate topics for news stories. But they are not, you'll note, generally stories that belong on the front pages. How-to stories are often also special interest stories, another category sometimes included on these lists. How get more rose blossoms from a vine may not interest every reader, but it's a good topic for the gardening section. Of course, there’s a kind of multiplier effect at work in many news stories. The more of these elements they combine, the bigger the story will be. Summary - News is information that affects our lives. - Most journalists and students of journalism have about a dozen key categories that they define as “newsworthy.” - The more of these elements in a story, the bigger the story will be. - A dozen elements that qualify as news are as follows: Timeliness, Consequences, Proximity, Conflict, Mayhem, Celebrity, Novelty, Humour, Trends, Sex, Inspiration/Human Interest, Helpfulness.
  10. 10. 10 Chapter 2 Hard News and Soft News In the last chapter, we talked about the general qualities journalists generally agree make a story worthy of being covered. Before we start to learn how to write a basic news story, we need to pause to consider an important distinction that professional journalists make between two kinds of news — “hard news” and “soft news.” As the old joke says, there are two kinds of people: people who divide things into groups of two and people who don’t. In all newsrooms, there are two kinds of news: hard news and soft news. This is part of the way almost all professional journalists have come to view the world — by inclination and training. If you are to understand the culture of the people who report the news — either because you want to understand how stories become news or because you'd like to work in journalism — you need to understand this distinction. Hard news stories are accounts of events that have just happened or are about to happen. For example, crimes, fires, meetings, court testimony, speeches, protest rallies, acts of war, traffic accidents and elections are all typical topics of hard news stories. Hard news stories that have developed overnight or on the same day are often referred to by journalists as “breaking news.” Hard news stories emphasize facts, not opinion or analysis. So while hard news stories may contain “colour” — that is, highly descriptive passages using colourful language — the emphasis is on the bare, known, provable facts. Hard news is an account of what's happened (or is about to), why it happened, who was affected. Soft news, on the other hand, doesn’t depend nearly as much on the time element. Soft news places less emphasis on the facts — though it would be a terrible mistake to suggest that soft news must not have a factual foundation. Many journalists define soft news as news that entertains as it informs, with more emphasis on human interest, novelty and colourful writing and less of facts and events that have just happened. Soft news has less immediacy than hard news. Writers of soft news often aim for the reader’s emotions, not his or her intellect. Often a reporter has a little more leeway when writing soft news stories — he or she can write a little longer, use more dramatic language, reach for a laugh, maybe even let a little opinion creep into the story. Longer soft news stories are often called “features” or “feature stories.” (In the United Kingdom and Australia, these types of stories are sometimes called “take-outs.”) Profiles of famous people, descriptions of new diets and
  11. 11. 11 social trends, how-to features that teach how to knit a sweater or build a fence, accounts to trips to exotic resorts are all typical examples of soft news stories. Is soft news unimportant? Not really. But it’s not news that happened overnight. The best soft news stories are based on hard facts, and are derived from hard news. Many soft news stories contain more information and research than the hard news stories they were based on. Editors often encourage writers to tie their soft news stories to current hard news — in the language of the news business, this is known as finding a “news hook” or a “news angle.” Sometimes too, soft news is written about some aspect of a hard news story. When you read that a tsunami has killed thousands around the Indian Ocean, that’s hard news. When you read about the personal stories of a team of rescuers digging out tsunami victims, that’s soft news. Sad to say, the soft news category is also an excuse for a lot of really bad writing. Still, done well, even news so soft that it's tied to no event or matter of significance can have merit. If a piece on how to tie a bowtie can make a reader chuckle — or laugh out loud — its writer has succeeded. Summary - Journalists typically distinguish between two kinds of news — “hard news” and “soft news.” - Hard news stories are accounts of events that have just happened or are about to happen. - Soft news has less immediacy than hard news — writers of soft news often aim for readers’ emotions, not their intellect. - The best soft-news stories are based on hard facts.
  12. 12. 12 Chapter 3 The Five Ws Now that we have a working definition for “the news,” and now that we understand the difference between “hard news” and “soft news,” the next step is to think about the most basic building blocks of any news story. These are everywhere called the Five Ws (sometimes modified to the Five Ws and the H) and are well known to virtually everyone. Nevertheless, just because we all know that Who? What? When? Where? and Why? (not to mention How?) comprise the Five Ws (and the H), it’s worth thinking about this idea a little more in the context of writing professionally about news. Really, the Five Ws are the questions any reader or listener wants answered when he or she reads or hears any story — whether it is neighbourhood gossip, a fairy tale, a play by Shakespeare or a good joke. The difference between telling a joke, say, and writing a news story is just that we instinctively identify the Five Ws in a joke, while we have to take the time to identify them in a news story. So the starting point for writing any news story is understanding that the reader needs to know: WHAT … happened? WHO … did it happen to, or who made it happen? WHEN … did it happen? WHERE … did it happen? WHY … did it happen? HOW … did it happen? Unlike other forms of story telling, however, in the traditional news story — which we will begin to learn how to write in Chapter V — we not only have to make sure that we identify all Five Ws, we have to think carefully about what order to place them in. After all, the traditional news lead (that is, the first few lines of the news story), is very short. There’s usually not enough room to put all five Ws in the lead. Furthermore, unlike a joke, the style of news story common to English Language newspapers starts with the punch line! It doesn't build to a natural climax. So we have to exercise out news judgment — about which we'll learn in the next chapter — to determine which Ws belong at the start of the story. So, let’s imagine that your university dormitory roommate runs into the room, red faced and breathless, and shouts: “You'll never guess what I saw!” Your first question, of course, will be What? Now, let’s imagine some answers and think about what you’d ask next, and why.
  13. 13. 13 “There was a fire!” says your roommate. OK, now that you’ve answered what, your next likely question is going to be Where? (After all, in a situation like this, you want to determine if you’re in any danger, or if anyone else you know may be.) “In the cafeteria,” gasps your roommate. The next thing you’ll likely want to know is When? (This will answer the essential question, under the circumstances, of “Is it out?” In other words, what's its immediate impact on me?) So far, you've been exercising something not unlike “news judgment” — a process we'll read more about in the next chapter — by determining the facts most likely to have an impact on your own survival. “Just 10 minutes ago, but it's out now,” your roommate says, starting to calm down a little. At this point, while you may want to review in your mind the location of the fire exits just in case, your next questions can be a little calmer: “Anybody hurt? Who started it?” (In other words, Who?) “I think everyone’s OK,” says your roommate. “The Fire Department just got here and told everyone they could come back in the building.” The next questions — in storytelling and news writing both, often the hardest to answer — are the after-the-fact questions. How? How did it happen? (“Some grease caught fire in a frying pan.” Why? (“The cook went out for a smoke and forgot to turn off the stove.”) At this point, we've answered all the basic questions a university dorm resident would want answered in these circumstances, and in a primitive sort of way we’ve exercised our news judgment too. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? These are the tools used by any inquiring mind to explain reality. Therefore, these are questions that every news story must answer. Summary - The key building blocks of every news story are the facts that every reader needs to have answered. - The Five Ws — Who? What? When? Where? Why? — are the questions the reader of any story wants answered. - The initial problem for the writer of news is determining which of the Five Ws is the most important.
  14. 14. 14 Chapter 4 News Judgment We have now considered the qualities that are commonly used to define information as news. In addition, we have divided the news into two categories: hard news and soft news and learned about the Five Ws. Finally, before we learn how to write a news story, we need to think about the concept of news judgment. News judgment is that quality of thinking that journalists (not to mention their critics) use to determine the relative merits of one story over another, in addition to the relative value of one part of any given story versus another part of the same story. In a nutshell, news judgment helps reporters sort out how where a story fits into the other basic questions we have already discussed. We use news judgment to determine if a hard news or soft news approach is warranted. We use news judgment to decide which of the Five Ws to emphasize. We use news judgment to figure out what it is about the story that makes it news. News judgment is very important because a lot of time and energy is spent in the news business filling a limited space (or limited period of broadcast time) with a virtually unlimited amount of news. Think about it: Once the advertisements are factored in, and regular features such as columns, letters to the editor and the crossword puzzle are included, only a limited amount of space remains for news. Even a large metropolitan daily newspaper can have very limited room for certain categories of news. I was the night city editor of a large Canadian daily for several years, and it was my responsibility to fill the city pages with local news provided by a large staff of reporters. On many weeknights there was enough space for fewer than a dozen short locally produced stories! Often we had two or three times as many stories. That meant many good stories got "spiked" — that is, set aside and forgotten about. Others had to be trimmed by the Desk, as copy editors are collectively known. (This, in the parlance of reporters, is called "butchering.") The situation is essentially the same in broadcasting, except that the capacity for news stories is limited by the number of minutes in the newscast instead of available newsprint real estate. This means that a lot of good stories — or stories that might be considered good somewhere else — simply don't make the cut. Or, they may make the cut, but in the process get cut themselves to little more than a brief. This naturally leads to lots of vociferous arguments about whether a story deserves to run, how long it should be, and where it should be placed on the page. (It’s not just journalists who think about this. Lots of people, for a variety of reasons, feel strongly that journalists — "the mainstream media" — give certain kinds of stories more and better play than they deserve while
  15. 15. 15 ignoring other more important stories. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are out to lunch.) This also contributes to the competitive working atmosphere of the typical newsroom, in which journalists fight hard, with editors and with each other, to get the best possible play for their stories. A reporter working by herself writing a story must also exercise her news judgment to determine which facts get to stay and which facts get thrown out. Needless to say, if you are that reporter, and you have been told by your editor that your story can be no longer than 200 or 300 words, you are going to be tossing a lot of facts over the side. Finally, the reporter needs to decide which facts are placed in a prominent position in the story, and which facts go farther down. We'll discuss the format of the basic news story in much more detail in the next section, but it's no secret that in the conventional hard- news story, the most important facts are placed at the top and less important facts lower in the story. Since the generally accepted style of news writing prevalent on most Canadian newspapers calls for very short lead sentences, there will seldom be enough room to get all Five Ws and the H into that sentence. When Pope John Paul II died in the spring of 2005, for example, nobody wrote the story this way: An 84-year-old Polish man who lived in Rome died yesterday after a long decline and a brief illness. Yes, the facts are essentially correct, but we all understand instantly and intuitively what is wrong with this approach. Who and what are more important to this story than any of the other Ws. Here's how the BBC wrote it: Pope John Paul II, the third longest serving pontiff in history, has died at the age of 84. Naturally, this is a somewhat unscientific process. But is remarkable how different news organizations around the English-speaking world take the same approach to the same story — even though reporters write their stories in relative seclusion from one another. They have all, however, developed their news judgment along similar lines. One would only have to read the lead sentences from 100 different newspapers on the morning after the Pope's death to see the truth of this assertion. Because "good news judgment" is valued in the culture of news reporting organizations, it is worth thinking a little about how this process works. Lots of reporters — especially new ones — are accused of "burying the news" — that is, placing less important facts high in the story and burying important facts under mounds of copy. Reporters who recognize those gems of news are valued for their ability to recognize the real story. A crude example might be a politician who gave the same
  16. 16. 16 speech about his party's economic policy in a dozen towns. Some of the politician's points might have been "news" on Day 1, but they're getting pretty stale by Day 12. But imagine that, in his 12th speech that politician revealed that, at 16, he'd robbed a bank! Now that's news! Naturally, if a young reporter were to stick to the economic details of the speech, he would risk being accused of exercising poor news judgment. On the other hand, if he put the bank robbery story in the lead, you can bet that the politician and his supporters would accuse the reporter taking something "out of context." (This may seem to some an excessively cynical view, but after many years reporting news, I have concluded that "I was quoted out of context" usually means, "I wish I hadn't said that.") Let's cast our minds back to the common definitions of news and work through an imaginary but plausible set of circumstances to learn about how journalists use their news judgment: Let's say you're working on the city desk of a daily newspaper in a major Canadian city. Let's also imagine that you've just moved to that city to take this job. One morning, the city editor hears on the police scanner that there has been a serious automobile accident downtown. She sends you to the address mentioned on the police radio and you are able to determine the following facts: 1. A man named Stephen Koerner has been killed. 2. Koerner was the driver of a car involved in a single-vehicle accident. 3. The accident took place at 100th Street and 100th Avenue downtown. 4. The accident took place at 7:30 a.m. 5. Police say the accident happened when the man’s car lost control and hit a light standard at high speed. 6. Police also say they believe the man lost control after suffering a seizure, and that his foot then depressed his car's gas pedal. 7. A large crowd gathered at the accident scene. 8. Several people in the crowd said they felt bad that the man died. You return to the office and prepare to exercise your news judgment to write an acceptably short news lead. Some interesting facts must go over the side. Some will be kept. Many reporters would come up with something like this: A man died during the morning rush hour after he lost control of his car and plowed into a lamp standard at a busy downtown corner. Police at the scene said they believe Stephen Koerner suffered a seizure just before the accident, causing him to press down on his car's accelerator pedal. He was alone in the car. But imagine that upon your return to the newsroom with this lead already blocked out in your mind, you're informed by a senior copy editor that Stephen Koerner was a well-
  17. 17. 17 known businessman who once served a term as mayor. Because it added the element of celebrity, that would change the lead most reporters would write to something like this: Former mayor Stephen Koerner was killed during this morning's rush hour in a single- vehicle accident downtown. Police said they believe Koerner, who was alone in the car, suffered a seizure before his car plowed into a lamp standard. On the other hand, if you didn't know Koerner had been mayor, but had learned from police that this was the third consecutive day that someone had been killed at that intersection. Suddenly, because it adds the element of something extremely unusual, precisely where the accident took place would be of paramount importance. Resisting a powerful urge to refer to the address as “the death corner,” many reporters would write something like this. A man died during the morning rush hour after he lost control of his car and plowed into a lamp standard at the corner of 100th Street and 100th Avenue downtown — the third fatality in as many days at the busy intersection. Of course, if it turned out that both new facts were true, you'd need to use your news judgment to sort out which one was the most important and how to place them both appropriately in the story. Maybe you would come up with something like this: Former city mayor Stephen Koerner died this morning after his car plowed into a lamp standard at the corner of 100th Street and 100th Avenue downtown — the third fatality in as many days at the busy intersection. Sometimes all that stands between an insignificant announcement and a much better story is someone's memory of an important fact and the exercise of a little news judgment. If you worked for the newspaper in a town near an Armed Forces base and you'd received a press release about a routine appointment, you'd probably write a routine story. But if you remembered a fact or two, as someone did not so long ago, and used your news judgment, you might come up with a much better story, like this: A general who came under fire for a ceremony that cost taxpayers an estimated $250,000 has been hired to “guide” a leadership and ethics course for senior military officers. Retired major-general John Archibald MacInnes will be paid from $45,000 to $50,000 to act as mentor and guide for three months in a new course on conflict leadership and ethics at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto. So, before you write a story, you first need to think about three things: 1. Is it hard news or soft news? 2. What is it about these facts that makes them news?
  18. 18. 18 3. What are the Five Ws and the H in this story? Then you need to use your news judgment to figure out what's important and what's now. And then you need to start writing… Summary - News judgment is that quality of thinking that journalists use to determine the relative merits of one story over another. - News judgment is very important because a lot of time and energy is spent in the news business filling a limited space with a virtually unlimited amount of news. - A reporter needs to decide which facts are placed in a prominent position in the story, and which facts go farther down. - Good “news judgment” is valued in the culture of the newsroom.
  19. 19. 19 Section II WRITING THE BASIC NEWS STORY
  20. 20. 20 Chapter 5 The Inverted Pyramid News Story In the previous section, we defined the idea of “news.” Now we will learn how to write the news for newspapers. Journalists term this activity “news writing.” They almost always call the individual articles they write “stories.” However, “news stories” are not like traditional literary stories in a very important way. A traditional story begins slowly with some scene setting (“once upon a time…”), provides background information, rises to a climax, and often ends with additional information about what happened after the climax (an epilogue). A basic news story, however, begins with the climax and records all additional information in order of declining importance. If jokes were told like news stories, they’d start with the punch line! This is commonly known as the “Inverted Pyramid” story structure, because the order of precedence of facts can be illustrated as an upside-down pyramid. The most important facts are placed where the pyramid is fattest. The Five Ws and the H, obviously, should be found in the first few paragraphs of such a story.
  21. 21. 21 These important facts are followed by less essential information. The style of writing is also known as the “wire service style,” because it was early wire services — which transmitted accounts of breaking news from remote locations by wire — that pioneered this method of writing. Like any form of communications, the inverted pyramid news story has certain limitations. For example, it can sometimes be more confusing than a chronological account of an event — it’s the reporter’s job to ensure it makes sense. In addition, it is most certainly more difficult to write a clear Inverted Pyramid story than it is to write a chronological story. However, the form also provided solutions to several problems faced by people who want to communicate news: - It provided a format to convey information in a quick and efficient way. - It served as an aid to readers who wanted to use the newspaper as an index of the day’s news — that is, by scanning the lead sentence, readers could determine if they wanted to learn more or skip to something they found more relevant. - It allowed, at least on the face of it, a format for providing a dispassionate and unbiased account of events. (One commercial reason for the adoption of this approach was that this allowed wire services to sell the same story to variety of publications with strongly differing editorial positions on the issues of the day.) - It permitted different publications that might assign differing importance to a given story to conveniently edit any story to a length that suited its priorities. (Hence, in the newspaper business, the widespread use of the verb “to cut” to mean “to edit.”) For these reasons, the Inverted Pyramid news story has become the basic form of newspaper writing. It is also common in many other kinds of publication, including Web pages. Because it is so common, it is the form that must first be mastered by any student with a serious interest in journalism. Because in some ways it is not a natural way to tell a story, it takes some work to write this way with ease and fluency. The problem, of course, is that while it’s easy in theory to state that the most important facts should be put at the top of the story, it’s not always so easy to determine what facts are most important. This, of course, is where “news judgment” comes in.
  22. 22. 22 If the Prime Minister has been shot by an assassin, it’s pretty obvious what the most important fact in the story will be. If, on the other hand, the only potshots are being taken by opposition politicians, and the issues of the day is the appointment of a new Cabinet with 30 ministers, it’s not nearly so clear what is “most important.” The two best ways to develop this skill are: 1) Read a lot of newspaper stories. 2) Write a lot of newspaper stories. The first thing you should do when you sit down at your computer to write an inverted pyramid news story is ask yourself this key question: What is this story about? If you don’t ask that question, and really think about the answer, the risk is high that you will wander away from the main point of the story. This happens more easily than you might think. It can happen even in a simple, very short news story. However, if you can force yourself to condense the basic idea of your story into a single sentence, your story is likely to be greatly improved. Many writers call this concept writing a focus statement or focus sentence. One good way to come up with a one-sentence focus statement is to write or imagine a headline for your story. Another was is to imagine you are phoning a friend to tell her about the story, but she’s out and you have to leave a one-sentence message on her answering machine. If you think of how you’d do this with only 15 or 20 seconds available, you are on your way to writing a workable focus statement to keep you on track as you write your story. Summary - A basic news story begins with the climax and records all additional information in order of declining importance. - This is known as an Inverted Pyramid news story. - Inverted Pyramid stories provide a format to convey information in a quick and efficient way. - They also serve as an aid to readers who wanted to use the newspaper as an index of the day’s news. - Because it is so common, it is the form that must first be mastered by any student with a serious interest in journalism.
  23. 23. 23 - The first thing the writer of a basic Inverted Pyramid news story should do is ask: What is this story about? - Writers should then compose a one-sentence “focus statement” to keep them from going astray as they write their story.
  24. 24. 24 Chapter 6 The Basic Components of a News Story All well-written new stories have most of the parts listed below. Competent journalists know how to write each of these components into a cohesive whole. Most basic news stories should have: - A headline - A lead (sometimes written lede) - A backup quote - Attribution - Reaction - A “nut graph” - Background - An ending The Headline. The headline is seldom more than a one or two line summary of the contents of the news story, in larger type, that tells readers what the story is about and whether (for a particular reader) it is worth reading. Headlines have a telegraphic style and, because they must fit a particular and very limited space that is usually not known at the time the news story is being written, they are not usually written by the reporter. Headlines act as an index of the contents of the newspaper, and a summary of the information in its stories. The Lead. The lead is usually defined as the first sentence of a news story, sometimes as the first few sentences. If news stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, the lead is the beginning. The lead on a hard news story is often called a summary lead. Lots of journalists have their own definition of the ideal lead. Virtually all agree that a good hard- news lead should contain the most important facts of the story — at least some of the Five Ws. Most agree that the ideal lead is short — no more than 25 or 30 words. Leads should be “tight” — that is, written with economy. Leads need to be interesting — their job is to entice readers into reading the rest of the story. A news story with a strong lead is more likely to be read. The Backup Quote. Most news stories, except the briefest of briefs, should have a backup quote placed soon after the lead. Ideally, the backup quote — attributed to someone with knowledge of the story — will sum up the claim made in the lead in a pithy, comprehensible and entertaining way. The problem from the reporter’s point of view, of course, is that he must accurately transcribe a genuinely illustrative quote. Not every interview subject can or will provide a good backup quote. A good backup quote pithily explains what’s going on and keeps the reader reading. Attribution. All hard news stories require attribution, and even the softest of news stories require some. Attribution is the explanation of the source of the information in the
  25. 25. 25 news story. It is also the identification of who made the statements contained in quotes or paraphrases of quotes. Attribution allows the reader to judge for herself whether the facts set out in the story have merit. The best stories contain lots of quotes — and all quotes have attribution. A news story without attribution is worthless. Reaction. Most hard news stories, and all news stories that contain controversial statements, should have reaction — the comments of someone who is familiar with the situation written about, or of someone with an alternative view of the main thesis of the story. If there has been a natural disaster in Ruritania, reaction should be sought from the local Ruritanian community. If your community’s MP, a member of the opposition, slams the government, a representative of the government should have the opportunity to respond. Fairness requires reaction. The Nut Graph. A nut graph informs readers of the focus of the story. It is usually located in the top third of the story — near the beginning of the middle — and it states the main point of the story. Lots of news stories must deal with complex topics and a variety of ideas, but all good stories should focus on one key theme. Not every story requires a nut graph — in a short, hard news story, the lead will serve the same purpose as the nut graph. In a feature story with a softer lead, a nut graph is essential to set out for the reader what is going on. Background. Most stories need some background for the reader to understand what’s going on. The history leading up to an event, the cast of characters, the value of the local currency, the physical properties of water — all are examples of background. The more complicated the story, the more pressing the need for background. Background helps explain the action. The Ending. Notwithstanding the notion of the Inverted Pyramid story — which in theory can be cut anywhere — the most elegantly written stories come to a clear conclusion that somehow ties the story up with a neat little bow. Sometimes writers end a story with a reference to future action that is expected. (“The trial continues Monday.”) Sometimes stories end with a new quote that summarizes what has happened. Good endings often fall victim to heavy-handed editing. Still, they are worth the effort: Good endings leave the reader with a feeling of satisfaction. Summary - All well-written stories have a beginning middle and an end. - The beginning is known as the “lead,” pronounced lede. - Well-written news stories typically contain such components as attribution, reaction, background and an entertaining summation. - Many news stories — especially those with a soft lead — require a “nut graph” to sum up the point of the story.
  26. 26. 26 Chapter 7 Writing Hard News Leads The opening of a news story — usually the first paragraph — is termed “the lead.” In some places, this is spelled lede to differentiate it from lead, the metal from which newspaper type used to be made. Despite the potential for confusion with base metal, good leads are golden! The lead is the most important part of any newspaper story, because the reader usually decides whether to continue reading based on the lead. As a writer, you have only a few precious keystrokes, and a few seconds of the reader’s time, to persuade her to stick with you. As a result, newspaper writers naturally struggle with their leads. If you fail to engage the reader because your prose is pedestrian or you presentation is boring, you are not long for the newspaper business, in which success is based as much on your ability to entertain readers as to inform them. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Hard-news leads — which are also often called summary leads or direct leads — must achieve two goals to succeed: 1) They must accurately summarize the most important facts in the story. 2) They must be interesting enough that the reader wants to continue reading. If a hard-news lead fails to summarize the facts contained in the story, the reader will not have a clear understanding of what is being reported and may not continue reading. If the facts are not accurately summarized, the writer will have misled the reader about the contents of the story. This is a surprisingly common sin among news writers. Because reporters work in a competitive environment, the temptation is great for them to exaggerate aspects of their stories to make them seem more newsworthy and hence worthy of better play. (This kind of exaggeration is disdainfully known in the trade as hype or torque.) The best way to achieve Goal No. 1, obviously, is for a hard news lead to provide the reader with as many as possible of the Five Ws. After all, the Five Ws are always the key questions the reader of any news story needs to have answered. Normally however, it’s not wise to try to include all five Ws — so the first task faced by the writer of effective newspaper leads is to try to select which of the Five Ws belongs in the lead, and which can be placed a little lower in the story. In other words, the writer must determine what is the most important information he wishes to convey in the story.
  27. 27. 27 If you try to stuff too many of the answers to these basic questions into your lead, it will be awkward and difficult to understand, and the reader may give up. (Some writers call this a portmanteau lead, as it resembles a traveling bag stuffed full. Others call it overloading. ) Consider the following example: Albert Wells Jr., 18, a Grade 12 student at Bellrose Composite High School in the Edmonton bedroom community of St. Albert and the son of Mr. And Mrs. Albert Wells of 1406 Ryan Street, died at about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday when his dark red late-model Chrysler sports car went out of control and struck a telephone pole near the intersection of Highway 16 and Highway 2A just east of the neighbouring City of Spruce Grove. The author of this passage is trying to cram in too many of the Five Ws in hopes of seducing the reader into continuing. Interestingly, 50 or more years ago a lead like this would not necessarily have been seen as overloaded. But like everything else, fashions in news writing are always changing, and one key change over the past half century has been a move toward shorter, tighter leads. To satisfy modern conventions, the lead above needs to be recast to tell only the essential facts: An 18-year-old St. Albert high school student was killed late Wednesday when his car struck a telephone pole west of Edmonton. The second example tells the reader enough to know what’s going on in the story. Additional details should be added later. This modern convention exacerbates a problem faced by all writers of hard news leads: determining the order of information in the story. Let’s analyze the story of the unfortunate Albert Wells Jr. to see how this process might work. First, what are the Five Ws in this story? Who: Albert Wells Jr. What: Killed in a single-vehicle accident. When: 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. Where: Intersection of Highway 16 and Highway 2A. Why: Car struck telephone pole. How: Car went out of control. In the suggested recast lead, the writer has chosen to name five of the six key points, but in more general fashion that allows for economy of words. How, and the remaining details, will be filled in later.
  28. 28. 28 The order used here, which emphasizes the WHO, seems defensible given the questions the readers of a local newspaper would most likely want answered. Here’s the lead again: WHO: An 18-year-old St. Albert high school student was killed late Wednesday when his car struck a telephone pole west of Edmonton. Still, journalism is an art, not a science, so another writer might try to emphasize another W. Let’s try the alternatives. WHAT: A single-vehicle crash west of Edmonton took the life of an 18-year-old high school student late Wednesday. WHEN: At 10:30 p.m. Wednesday an 18-year-old St. Albert high school student lost his life in a single-vehicle accident. WHERE: The intersection of Highway 16 and Highway 2A west of Edmonton was the scene of a fatal one-car crash Wednesday night. WHY: A car crashed into a telephone pole late Wednesday, resulting in the death of the vehicle’s lone occupant, an 18-year-old student from St. Albert. We can see more clearly when we try each of these approaches why the Who lead, in this case, works best. Still, as we saw in our discussion of news judgment in Chapter IV, an additional fact can change our decision about which W to emphasize. Imagine that the same intersection had been the scene of several fatal accidents in the preceding couple of years. Suddenly, Where becomes the most compelling fact: A deadly intersection west of Edmonton took another life late Wednesday when an 18- year-old St. Albert high school student lost control of his car and struck a telephone pole. Many city editors and newspaper writing coaches advise young newspaper writers to “keep it tight” or words to that effect. As a general rule, most newspaper editors would today agree that a good lead should be no more than about 25 to 30 words in length. Given contemporary sensibilities, this 30-word rule is good advice — especially when the story is so momentous that it speaks for itself. Consider these three leads from different news organizations all covering the same story on July 20, 1969: American Neil Armstrong has become the first man to walk on the Moon. So said the British Broadcasting Corporation, summing up one of the great stories of the century in 13 words. The Associated Press was even more economical: Man landed on the moon this day, Sunday, July 20, 1969.
  29. 29. 29 But the AP’s 11 words were by no means the least spent on this topic. The New York Times lead summed up the story in a mere eight: Men have landed and walked on the moon. Sometimes, of course, a less momentous story requires more words in the lead in order for the reader to understand what is going on. Even when the lead is packed with all Five Ws, though, economy with words is an aid to clarity. So, as my first city editor used to say, repeatedly: “Write tight!” Inexperienced journalists, however, should strive to avoid the fault of writing so tightly that their sentences turn into incomprehensible telegraphs. One good rule for writing good leads and avoiding this fault is to write in complete sentences. (A sentence, for those of you who have forgotten, or who were never taught, is a group of words that expresses a complete thought. “Jesus wept” is a sentence. “A bumpy road” is not.) While economical use of words will almost always help a news story, however, it is not necessarily enough. When a story is as dramatic as men landing on the moon, or political leaders assassinated, the facts will speak for themselves and a compelling story will result. When the facts are a little less momentous — a fire with no injuries in a still- unoccupied suburban house, a minor robbery, a development permit granted by city council, for example — something in addition to brevity is called for. In the competitive atmosphere of the newsroom, journalists need to market their stories to editors for good play (that is, favourable location in the paper), not to mention better assignments in the future. The lead, of course, is the best advertisement for a journalist struggling to win the attention of the editors who make the decisions in the newsroom. One way to write a good lead on an otherwise remarkable story is to include a telling detail — some fact, possibly quite minor, that sets the story apart. Imagine, for example, that a man has robbed a credit union of a small sum of money (inevitably “undisclosed,” because police rarely reveal such information). Also imagine that the man said he had a gun, but never showed it, and that he escaped in a car driven by a confederate. Not much grist here for the daily mill! This story’s unlikely to amount to much more than a three-paragraph brief in the back of the city section. Given this material, the journalist could opt for a bare recitation of the facts: A small sum of money was taken when a man who said he was armed with a firearm held up the City Credit Union on Railway Avenue just before closing time Monday.
  30. 30. 30 Ho hum. Or he could try to add a little value by spinning out a reference to the obvious aftermath of such an event. Police are searching for a man who robbed the City Credit Union on Railway Avenue of a small sum of money just before closing time Monday. But imagine that the robber escaped in a bright pink Cadillac bearing the name of a cosmetics company, or that he was wearing the uniform of a group of religious farm folk, or that his gun was revealed to be a rubber hammer! Any of these facts adds up to a striking detail that sets the story apart from all the other petty robberies that plague a big city on any day. Any one of them, incidentally, would make the story considerably more entertaining to write. Consider just one example: Police are looking for a man who robbed the City Credit Union just before closing time Monday, then escaped down Railway Avenue in a lipstick pink Cadillac. Because they set the story apart, such small facts belong in the lead. Another common way to add a little value — and a little interest — to the hard news lead is what journalists call the “impact lead.” An impact lead, as the name implies, explains the impact of a development being reported on the reader. So, a reporter might write: A fungal infection that can cause death has extended its range from Vancouver Island to the British Columbia Mainland — a development that could further depress the West Coast’s already lagging tourist industry. Once the writer has decided the most important information to put in the lead, perhaps including some telling fact, and presented it as a complete sentence, he should keep these additional common-sense lead-writing guidelines in mind. Keep it tight — use no more than about 30 words. Avoid distractions — strive to write a coherent lead that contains no capital letters other than the first one, no numerals, no commas and no formal titles. Remember, though, this is a goal, not a requirement. It is hard to do. Set the right tone — the tone of the lead should be appropriate for the event being reported on. A flippant, colloquial lead may be fine for a description of a spring festival or a soapbox derby. It is not appropriate for a report of a funeral, an airplane crash or an incident of domestic violence. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Don’t bury the lead — don’t make readers wallow through insignificant facts to get the point of the story. Usually, for example, it’s the city council decision that belongs in the lead, not who on council voted for it. Cut to the chase!
  31. 31. 31 Highlight differences — find the fact, like the lipstick pink Cadillac, that makes the story different. Speak clearly — jargon, acronyms, foreign phrases, abstract concepts, general and vague language all make it hard to understand what a story is about. Say what you mean and say it clearly and directly— your readers will thank you for it. Don’t mumble! Use active words — describe the action. Where possible use the active voice. Robbers held up the gas station is superior to the gas station was held up. Union members approved the contract not the contract was approved by the union. Be visual — help the reader “see” what’s happening. Jason Kenney looks exhausted. His complexion is chalky, his five-o’clock shadow positively Nixonian, his smart blue suit rumpled, and his tummy, a victim of too many quick and greasy restaurant meals, creeping over his belt. Put people first — don’t leave them in the background while favouring facts or technical material. Better to report that It is difficult to measure how many Ontario workers have lost their jobs because of U.S. trade sanctions, than to say It is difficult to measure the impact of recent U.S. trade sanctions on job losses in Ontario. Don’t start with subsidiary clauses — in other words, don’t put the cart before the horse. Despite an unusually dry spring, Saskatoon waterworks officials are confident that water rationing will not be needed this summer. Nope! Drop the dry spring for now. Use it later in the story. Saskatoon waterworks officials are confident that water rationing will not be needed this summer. Beware double-decker leads — don’t repeat the first paragraph in the second. This is a common error, as reporters strive to back up their leads with a telling quote and end up restating the obvious. A Victoria alderman is shocked and appalled that provincial transportation grants have been cut again. “I’m shocked and appalled that provincial transportation grants have been cut again,” Ald. John Thomson said Thursday. The quote should provide new information or be eliminated. Place the time element with care — strive for grace and clarity. The position of the time element in a lead is a potential problem. It should be placed so that it would sound natural if read aloud, but not at the risk of making the story confusing or unintentionally amusing. Normally, it’s better to put the time element after the verb: Union President Buck O’Dell and City Hospital Labour Relations Director Bob Clarke signed a new collective agreement Wednesday for the facility’s approximately 800 support employees. This sounds more natural than Union President Biff O’Dell and City Hospital Labour Relations Director Bob Clarke Wednesday signed a new collective agreement for the facility’s approximately 800 support employees. But not always: The Prime Minister said Wednesday… Now why did he say that?
  32. 32. 32 Avoid the insultingly obvious — let the facts speak for themselves. There’s no need to tell readers that the death of a small child is tragic. There’s something wrong with them if they can’t figure that out for themselves. Yet “tragedy” is probably the most overworked word in Canadian tabloid journalism. Avoid clichés — don’t let something go terribly wrong. Yes, that motorcycle rider is lucky to be alive. He may not be so pleased about losing his right leg. This rule applies to more than leads, of course. Clichés like these anywhere in your story will have readers choking back tears. Summary - Journalists call the opening of a news story “the lead.” - The lead is the most important part of any newspaper story, because it is based on the lead that most readers decide whether to continue reading. - The lead must accurately summarize the facts of the story. - The lead must be interesting enough to command and keep the reader’s attention. - The modern preference is to keep leads short. - Economical use of words will benefit any news lead. - A telling detail that sets a story apart from the others belongs in the lead. - Lead writers should speak clearly and use the active voice.
  33. 33. 33 Chapter 8 The Second-Day Lead and Other Variations Some journalists describe their job as writing history as it happens. That means that reporters often cover stories that will continue developing over days, weeks or longer periods. This creates the need for what is known in the trade as the “second-day lead.” The basic hard news lead assumes the reader is hearing about the story for the first time. The second-day lead tries to “advance” the story, or take it another step forward. Some journalists term this giving a story “forward spin.” In other words, the second-day lead can give a sense of immediacy to a story that is growing old — or that will be old by the time it appears. The notion of advancing a story is particularly important to newspaper journalists who know that many readers will read their story after they’ve already been alerted to the breaking news on their morning drive-to-work radio program. So, instead of writing a basic lead, say: A bearded man in black wielding a rubber mallet, who witnesses said resembled a member of a religious farming commune, held up a downtown service station late yesterday. … a journalist might try to add a little forward spin: Police are still seeking a bearded man in the black garb of a religious farming commune who held up a downtown service station with a rubber hammer late yesterday. Here’s a second-day lead from the June 2, 2005, edition of the Toronto Star: Police chief William Blair said today that yesterday afternoon’s shooting that wounded two innocent women at the Yorkdale subway station was believed to be drug-related and he said police are stepping up plans to take down the “small number of gangsters” still operating in Toronto. The news is that two innocent women were injured in a shooting. But given the vagaries of newspaper publishing, the Star’s editors knew the story would be getting long in the tooth by the time it appeared on the streets in the wee hours of the next morning. So they gave it some forward spin, to wit, police plans to nab Toronto’s remaining gangsters. Sometimes second-day leads are entirely justifiable. It’s legitimately news, for example, to tell readers that police have not yet caught the bearded robber clad in black. It’s professional to phrase that important information as forward spin.
  34. 34. 34 Sometimes, speaking realistically, there can be a certain amount of fakery involved. This is the case with the Toronto Star lead. Is it really news that the Toronto police are stepping up plans to take down crooks? Or was this just a reporter’s response to a demand from management for a second-day lead? Since the police always intend to round up crooks, I say this second-day lead is a contrived one. But that, folks, is how the game is played! Novice newspaper writers should always be able to write a second-day lead when asked to by their editors. New journalists should also be familiar with a couple of other variations on the standard hard-news lead. The delayed-identification lead is useful when the Who element of your lead is not as important as the What element. The story of poor Albert Wells in the previous chapter contained an example of the delayed identification lead: An 18-year-old St. Albert high school student was killed late Wednesday when his car struck a telephone pole west of Edmonton. Albert Wells Jr., 18, of St. Albert was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident near Spruce Grove at about 11:45 p.m., police said. The writer identifies the accident victim by more newsworthy qualities in the lead, but doesn’t actually provide the details of his name until a later paragraph, delaying the identification. Another useful common variant is the impact lead, which attempts to explain in the lead how readers will be affected by the news being reported. Here’s one: The one-per-cent increase in interest rates announced by the Bank of Canada Thursday is expected to exert significant downward pressure on residential housing prices nationwide, bank economists agree. Summary - When covering stories that develop over a period of time, reporters need to write leads that take this into account. - When covering stories that may have been reported on broadcast media by the time they appear in the paper, journalists need a way to “move the story forward.” - One common way to deal with this problem is called the second-day lead.
  35. 35. 35 - The second-day lead tries to give immediacy to the story by describing what’s happening at the next stage of the story. - Delayed identification leads are useful when the identity of a person in a news story is less important than what has happened to them. - Impact leads attempt to explain the impact of the news reported in the lead on the story’s readers.
  36. 36. 36 Chapter 9 The soft-news lead If the hard-news lead is the essential skill that must be learned by all aspiring news writers, sooner or later they will all be asked to write a soft news story. What should a writer do when hard news goes soft? For starters, of course, a different kind of lead is required. Indeed, the key difference between hard news and soft news is the approach taken in the lead. Soft-news leads are often referred to as “feature leads” or “delayed leads.” These terms both give important clues about the fundamental problems faced by writers of soft-news leads. First, soft-news leads are generally found atop “feature stories” — that is, stories that in the terminology of the trade are a little longer, more reflective, use more colourful language, or perhaps probe a little deeper. They are stories that, at least in theory, give more scope to a writer’s creativity. In attempting to begin such a story — which may aim for the heart rather than the head — the writer ought not to hammer the reader with the most important facts. Indeed, with the approach typical of soft-news leads, the writer goes nowhere near the Five Ws in the opening of the story. Instead, she can take a little time to set the tone, paint the scene, introduce the reader to the atmosphere that surrounds the story — hence the notion of a delayed lead. The writer of soft news is allowed to tease the reader at the start of the story, and to use a more traditional storytelling structure of beginning, build-up, climax and conclusion. Thus the writer of a story about riding in a freight train locomotive through the Rocky Mountains, say, need not start with the most important facts — whatever they may be. (Maybe, The new General Electric AC4400 heavy haul locomotive can use its 4,500 horsepower diesel engine to haul…) Rather, she can write something like: This ain’t the Orient Express, but it’s still murder! With a soft-news lead like that, readers will get the point, and will more than likely stick around to get the story. In theory, with soft news leads, almost anything goes. But with one important caveat: It must work! The scope given soft news writers gives us some of the best writing in the newspaper. Alas, this artistic license also gives us some of the worst.
  37. 37. 37 Typically, however, most successful delayed leads have one thing in common: they move from the specific to the general. So, for example, a feature story might start by describing Farmer John out standing in his field. The aim, of course, would be to illustrate why John’s outstanding in his field. While writers of soft-news leads are permitted — expected even — to take longer to get to the point of the story, they need to remember that readers nevertheless want to get to the point fairly quickly. After all, their objective is the same as that of a writer of a hard- news lead: to hook the reader, and to reel him in! In an era when tight leads and short stories are in fashion, a key piece of advice to novice news writers is to keep their soft news fairly hard. A delayed lead is fine, but not to the point the story becomes tedious. Moreover, this delayed approach requires the placement of a “nut graph” — a paragraph that sums up the focus of the story — high in the story. The nut graph, which we will discuss in more detail in a subsequent chapter, should appear by the fourth or fifth paragraph of the story. Writers should also remember that soft news, done properly, still requires plenty of hard facts. Soft or not, we are writing journalism, not poetry! Finally, writers need to remember that because of the fashion of the day, their soft news stories — like hard news stories — will be short and may grow even shorter. In short, as it were, the scope for delay in a delayed lead is shrinking. Now, as we noted above, the most common form of the delayed lead moves from the specific (an example) to the general (a principle). So, for example, on June 4, 2005, a Toronto Star reporter wrote: Most Palestinians think Khaled Kasab Mahameed has lost his mind. Two months ago, the Muslim lawyer from the biblical town of Nazareth took it upon himself to do what no Arab has ever before dared — he launched a museum dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust. A specific example of the action of one person is designed to illustrate the point, as the Star’s reporter put it a few lines later, that “as symbols go, Mahameed's efforts have been hailed as a watershed moment in Israeli-Arab relations.” In addition to moving from specific examples to general principles, most soft-news leads also tend to be anecdotal, or narrative, in nature. That is, they tell a story rather that set out a statement of important facts. Here’s an example of a storytelling lead, used atop a personality profile of an Ontario politician who attended the 1983 Conservative convention:
  38. 38. 38 Claude Bennett is working the floor, pressing the flesh, touching elbows. He’s cool. All around him — pandemonium. There are almost 10,000 souls crammed into the Ottawa Civic Centre Arena this hot spring night, come to watch the destruction of some political careers, the flowering of others. Everyone is here for the show: pinstriped lawyers from unprestigious firms, bulging and purple-faced but still hungry; lean, shrewd-eyed, sunburned farmers from Elk’s Knuckle, with their plump, honest, ladies’ auxiliary wives; unwholesomely svelte young men in silk suits, $60 haircuts and wraparound sunglasses; tight-faced college keeners shadowing jobs as executive assistants; incredibly beautifully women, clad in gowns as colourful and splendid as Joseph’s coat. … Naturally, journalism professors (having no need to write to deadline), love to classify this stuff. Since there are plenty of things a writer can do with a soft-news lead that could never be contemplated in the hard news pages, there’s lots of scope for creating lists of categories of soft news leads. Of course, there’s really no end to the number of great ideas — or lame ones — that can be used for leading soft news stories. Here are just a few: Teaser leads try to tease the reader to tickle her fancy. Determined to live long and prosper, a drought-ridden Vulcan, Alta., started the 1990s with a bold move to put itself on the intergalactic map. And it worked … sort of. The writer hoped readers would stick with the story to find out that the Southern Alberta town had gone boldly where no other dust-blown Prairie town had gone before by bringing itself to the attention of North America’s legions of Star Trek fans. Ironic leads try to use the humour in irony to grab readers’ attention. Here’s one from a how-to story, a common type of feature, which tried to teach readers how to tie a bowtie. It takes a real man to wear a bowtie. Any sissy can strap on a long tie or wear no tie at all. But try walking into a room full of grease monkeys in stained coveralls and asking directions to the foreman’s office — if you’re wearing a nice polka-dot bow-tie, they’ll know right off who’s boss! Question-mark leads ask a question. They top most journalists’ leads-to-avoid list. Why? Because they usually ask questions readers don’t want answered. Still, done right, they can work. Is cowboy poetry keeping up with the times? Most of the more than 90 poets lariat who rode into Pincher Creek from across Western Canada and the United States this weekend for their seventh annual Canadian gathering say No. More to the point, they practically shout it: “NO!” List leads reinforce evidence of a trend. General Motors boasts that it makes the most fuel-efficient large cars on the market. Toyota’s hybrid cars sell so well that buyers usually aren’t able to arrange a test drive. Mercedes is building a two-seater that gets more than 75 miles per gallon. Suddenly, good mileage is important again.
  39. 39. 39 Great-quote leads build on a quote. Passenger Charlie Powell knew something was wrong when he heard the bang and felt the wing of the elderly Grumman Goose seaplane dip. “I thought, ‘We’re all gonna die!’ … And most of us did.” Person-centred leads, like the one about the Nazareth lawyer above, try to use a story about an individual to illustrate a broader situation involving lots of people. Contrast leads highlight an ironic contrast to make a point. The mild mannered office clerk who turns out to be a mass murderer and the millionaire pilot who squired around movie stars then and hides in a hotel room now are all fodder for this approach. Play-on-word leads can be sublime, but they carry a high risk. After all, it’s said the pun is both the highest and lowest form of humour. A description of a boy and his grill might work on a summertime story about outdoor cookery. But if you’re thinking of linking petunia sales to the sweet smell of success, well, just forget it! Situational leads describe a situation in hopes of illuminating a bigger point. Ralph Plotz is exhausted. His complexion is chalky, his five-o`clock shadow positively Nixonian, his smart blue suit rumpled, and his tummy, a victim of too many quick and greasy restaurant meals, creeping over his belt. Still, you can sense the little tremor of anticipation when Plotz — suddenly the “enfant terrible” of Western Canada’s small-c conservative scene — eases his squat frame up to the podium. But the risk is high that they can descend into untended hilarity. The old journalist sits at his desk, staring at his computer, without an idea in his head. As more than one observer has pointed out, if the most exciting thing someone can do is sit, it’s time for another subject! Nightmare leads — It was a nightmare come to life… — and poetic leads are right up there on most folks’ Don’t-Do lists. Still, as in most creative matters, never say never. Done right, almost anything can work! Consider: They'll be ridin’ From Vancouver, Manitoba, Dawson Creek. Even one From Lubbock, Texas, Has set out For Pincher Creek. It's those drat-blamed Cowboy poets, 81 of ’em In all Comin' for
  40. 40. 40 their yearly readin', roundup, tea party And ball. … Summary - Soft news requires a different approach to lead writing. - Soft-news leads are also often called delayed leads because they start by telling a story before getting to the key facts. - Delayed leads require the use of a “nut graph” — which explains the thesis, or the main point, of the story. - The nut graph should be placed high in the story so that the reader does not have to wait for long to find out what the story is about. - Most successful delayed leads move from the specific to the general. - Most soft-news leads tend to be anecdotal, or narrative, in nature — telling a story rather that setting out a statement of important facts.
  41. 41. 41 Chapter 10 Writing ‘Nut Graphs’ Feature stories need nut graphs for the same reason hard-news stories need summary leads. A nut graph is a common newspaper industry term of a paragraph near the top of a story with a delayed, soft-news lead that sums up the focus, or the main point, of the story. In other words, it does the same job as the summary lead. It explains the main point of the story. Virtually everyone in the newspaper industry, by the way, abbreviates paragraph to graph. We’re not talking her about the graphs used to illustrate statistical stories. Like lead and lead, you’ll just have to get used to it! Nut graphs are also sometimes called focus graphs or focus statements, because they set out the focus or thesis of the story, or bridge paragraphs, because they bridge the colourful illustrative lead with the rest of the story. If the soft lead engages the reader’s imagination or emotion, the nut graph tells him why it’s worth continuing to read. Done well, the transition from the lead section to the meat of the story will be smooth and natural. Here’s one example. First the soft-news lead — which described a car accident experienced years earlier by Alberta’s premier: Ralph Klein may have been an inch from death, but at least he wasn't far from an emergency ward. The time was 2 p.m., Nov. 5, 1981. The place was a busy downtown intersection in Calgary. Then-mayor Klein and his faithful sidekick Rod Love were returning from, of all things, a Calgary General Hospital Board meeting. Near-disaster for the pair came in the form of a hurtling half-ton pickup, piloted by a young man from Olds who apparently didn’t see a light turn red. When the dust settled, Love's car was a write-off, the young man faced charges, and Klein was on his way to the nearby Holy Cross emergency ward. That’s followed by the nut graph, which puts the story in context — that was then, this is now — and explains why the situation 13 years before was ironic, if not significant: Thirteen years later, Klein had a new job in Edmonton, and inner-city emergency wards in Calgary — including the one at the Holy Cross — were on their way into history as a result of budget cutbacks.
  42. 42. 42 The story then could move naturally to describing the debate over the cutbacks, and their impact. Here’s another example: Don't ever try to tell Karen and Bob Lyons word-of-mouth advertising doesn't work. They’d tell you about the gentleman from Japan who rented a car in New York City and drove across the continent to Pincher Creek to buy about $100 worth of their prize- winning honey. When he got there, he was surprised by how far it was, recalls Bob. But he never gave up and turned back. Then the nut graph: The Lyons’ visitors’ book is filled with the names of honey lovers from Japan, Europe, Australia and almost every corner of Canada and the U.S. The advertising effort that attracts these sojourners to this community about 150 kilometres south of Calgary is simple yet effective: word of mouth. Summary - Feature stories need nut graphs for the same reason hard-news stories need summary leads. - A nut graph is a paragraph near the top of a story with a delayed, soft-news lead that sums up the focus, or the main point, of the story. - Nut graphs are also sometimes called focus graphs or focus statements, because they set out the focus or thesis of the story.
  43. 43. 43 Chapter 11 Attribution The concept of attribution is the fundamental building block of the concept of modern journalism. Without attribution, we all now sense, a story is nothing. Or, to put that another way, without attribution, a story is just your opinion, and who cares what you think? At least, if you have an opinion, as far as the world of journalism is occurred, you’d better be in a position that makes it worth reporting what your opinion is. Attribution, in other words, is where you tell your reader where you got your information. It can be as simple as the words “he said.” The idea of attribution in modern newspaper writing comes from the idea that a reporter’s job is not to write his own opinions, but is to provide readers with an unbiased — or at least a balanced — description of the facts of a story. Needless to say, inhabiting a real world as we do, it is never really true that a journalist can provide a strictly objective account of anything. Of course we all bring our opinions, our faith, our cultural perspective to anything we write about. But that discussion is for philosophy class, or maybe sociology. Certainly our personal ambition and our cultural biases may affect the stories we choose to report, and to some degree the assumptions we bring to reporting them, but the game of journalism as it has been played in North America for most of the past century has been at least to write our stories as if we were presenting an unbiased accounting of the facts. That means attribution is essential in a news story, hard or soft, because it is important to show readers where statements come from, who made them, why they made them, and why readers ought to consider their views. In other words, it is a basic assumption of modern journalism that readers are entitled to know the source of the facts, quoted statements and opinions in your story. Where to place attribution in a story can be trickier. Normally, reporters are expected to provide the source of the source of the information in their lead. This can be phrased specifically: It’s time for federal legislation to outlaw the practice of hiring replacement workers during strikes, says Buzz Hargrove, President of the Canadian Auto Workers union. Or it can be put more generally: The body of a man found near Fernie, B.C., has been identified as that of a missing hunter, police say.
  44. 44. 44 Being too detailed and specific with attribution can make a lead cluttered and hard to follow and should be avoided. That detailed information can come deeper in the story. Nevertheless, regardless of where it is positioned in the story, every person quoted and most people referred to in a news story should be fully identified by name, job and (if only by implication) the reason they are quoted. This is known as setting up the quote. A quote in which the speaker has not been completely identified has not been properly set up. Sometimes attribution may be eliminated from a lead because it is common knowledge. Canadians are to vote today in a general election. But be careful, one man’s common knowledge is another man’s opinion. It is usually best to err on the side of providing attribution. Likewise, sometimes attribution may be skipped because it is implied. A man was in custody today in Yorkton, Sask., after an armed standoff following a police chase. It’s pretty clear the source of this information was the police, so the “police said” is implied. Further, most reporters know by experience that the police may be trusted to provide trustworthy information on some topics, and perhaps less so on others. We can be confident, for example, that if the police say they have arrested John Smith, suspected of a string of bank robberies, that they have done so. Our stories can safely reflect that. We should be more careful, however, when they imply (as they often do in such circumstances) that Mr. Smith is obviously guilty of the crime with which he has been charged. But even in this case, attribution is soon required. Yorkton RCMP said a man armed with a shotgun held officers at bay Monday night in a trailer court and threatened to kill himself. If we write that the weather tomorrow is expected to be sunny and warm, it’s pretty obvious that the source of the information was the weather office. Still, in such an example, there would be little harm to the lead is saying so. Attribution can also be skipped in the lead if the facts are easily verified. An 18-year-old St. Albert high school student was killed late Wednesday when his car struck a telephone pole west of Edmonton. No attribution required in the lead — although you’ll want it lower in the story regardless, even if it’s only a “police said.” But attribution must be placed in the lead is someone is making an accusation, or if opinion or speculation is involved. Consider this lead: Mechanical failure may have been involved in the death of an 18-year-old St. Albert high school student killed late Wednesday when his car struck a telephone pole west of Edmonton, police said today.
  45. 45. 45 This lead requires attribution because someone (the police) is speculating about the cause of the crash. Now, look at this one: Alcohol use is suspected in the death of an 18-year-old St. Albert high school student killed late Wednesday when his car struck a telephone pole west of Edmonton, police say. This lead requires attribution even more urgently, because it contains an accusation about the conduct of the crash victim. Even though the victim is dead, fairness obliges to point out the source of the accusation. If the person accused were still alive, practical legal considerations — the presumption of innocence, the right of an accused person to a fair trial — make the need for attribution more pressing. The next lead would be fine, because it is factual and verifiable: A seriously injured St. Albert high school student has been charged with driving drunk after the car he was driving struck a telephone pole west of Edmonton late Wednesday. But imagine, instead, that the story went something like this: Albert Wells Jr. of St. Albert smelled of alcohol and slurred his words as he was cut from the wreck of his car by rescue workers… Obviously, in this case, attribution would be essential. …a Spruce Grove fire-rescue specialist testified Tuesday in a Court of Queen’s Bench trial. Whenever you site an accusation in a story, whether it is the police, a neighbour or a politician making the accusation, you owe a debt of fairness to both the accused person and the reader to explain who is making the accusation — and possibly to provide context that could explain their motive for doing so. Whenever a statement is placed inside quotation marks, implying that that the statement is someone’s exact spoken or written words, attribution must be provided. Finally, attribution is normally placed after the statement for which it is provided, especially if the information attributed is not earth shaking, or is perhaps not certain to be true. If taxes are not raised, the town of Duckville may have to curtail some essential services by the end of the year, says Town Councillor Ignatius Jones. The city has no business putting fluoride in Calgarians’ water, says Ald. Pearl Flugmann, a candidate for mayor in the Oct. 19 civic election. But sometimes, the identity or position of the person making the statement is so newsworthy, that the attribution belongs in front of the information being attributed.
  46. 46. 46 Premier Ralph Klein says he will use the Notwithstanding Clause of the Constitution to prevent same-sex marriages becoming legal in Alberta. Or: The appointed head of the Metro Health Region says board members – including himself -- should be elected. Summary - Attribution is a fundamental building block of the concept of modern journalism. - Attribution is where you tell your reader where you got your information. - It can be as simple as the words “he said.” - It is a basic assumption of modern journalism that readers are entitled to know the source of the facts, quoted statements and opinions in a story. - Some leads that contain obviously factual information known by most people do not require attribution. - Leads that contain accusations, speculation or opinion always require attribution in the lead. - Attribution is normally placed after the statement for which it is provided. - But if the identity of the speaker is highly newsworthy in its own right, attribution may be placed before the statement.
  47. 47. 47 Chapter 12 Using Quotes in News Stories Quotes are indispensable to journalism as practiced today. This is because, more often than not, news is what people say. Naturally, we all understand that Who says something, and What they say, makes news. But remember too that news is often also How they say it, When and Where they say it, and Why they say it. Quotes are important because they are the key mechanism of establishing attribution in journalism. So quotes and attribution go together like fish and water — it’s important to establish who said something (attribution), and it’s important to accurately establish what was said (quotes). Quotes lend authenticity to journalistic reports. They put readers in touch with what people in the news actually said. At least in theory, they allow readers to judge for themselves the merits of a speaker’s arguments. They are used as evidence to back up the statement you have written in your lead. For these reasons, whoever is being quoted must be identified clearly. It’s important that the reader of a news story is always be able to tell exactly where the information he is reading comes from. He should never have to guess if it’s the prime minister speaking, say, or just the reporter. In standard journalistic practice, there are two types of quotes: direct quotes and indirect quotes. A direct quote is the exact words that were spoken by somebody. Direct quotes are identified by the use of quotation marks. Everything inside the quotation marks should be exactly (or very nearly exactly) what the speaker said. The quotation marks mark off the words actually spoken from all the other material in the story. The value of direct quotes is that — again, at least in theory — they tell the reader precisely what someone said, in their own words. They allow the reader to make her own judgment about the merits of what the speaker had to say. They provide evidence that the statement in the lead can be backed up by documentation of something someone said. Moreover, direct quotes lend drama to a well-written story. A strong quote, accurately reported, can be the key to an effective story. The best quotes are entertaining and succinct.
  48. 48. 48 The problem, of course, is that not all quotes are strong, or even make much sense. Some direct quotes are pretty blah. Others are confusing. In such cases, an indirect quote is better. So, newspaper writers should not fall prey to the common temptation to quote at any cost. More often than not, this arises more from the need to show their editors they are doing a good job than from the actual requirements of their story. Nevertheless, a direct quote should always be used when the speaker is saying something controversial, or when he is accusing someone of something. An indirect quote is a paraphrase — that is, the writer’s version of what someone said. The advantage of indirect quotes is that they can cut through excess verbiage to express what a speaker means succinctly. They can make a dull quote more lively, and a confusing quote clear. The principal difficulty with indirect quotes is that writers don’t always understand or interpret correctly what a speaker is saying. So if you’re going to quote someone indirectly, you need to be certain that you really understand what they meant when they spoke and ensure that you paraphrase them accurately Usually, well-written news stories use a mixture a direct quotes and indirect quotes. Let’s consider a couple of examples. Imagine that you’re covering a civic election in a big Canadian city. You interview the mayor, and she tells you: "I believe that I have done a good job and I am confident the citizens of our city share my view and will return me to office." This is a quote that’s on the borderline between being suitable for direct quotation or indirect quotation. Practically speaking, you might want to use it if it’s the best you’ve got and your story needs to demonstrate that you heard the mayor talking. Now, you would definitely want to use an indirect quote if the mayor had said something like this: “Speaking confidence-wise, regarding my electibility, notwithstanding the volatility of the electorate mediated by the popular perception of my past and ongoing administrative successes, I think it’s overwhelmingly clear that the citizenry shares my perception of a positive work-service continuum while in office and the probability is high that I will be returned with an increased plurality after the cessation of balloting.” A succinct paraphrase along these lines would work better:
  49. 49. 49 The mayor said she was confident the public agrees she has done a good job and will return her to office on election day. On the other hand, if the mayor said of her chief challenger in the election, “I’ll kick Bobby’s ass!” you’d definitely want to put that in direct quotes. There’s just no way to effectively paraphrase such a sentiment! Using the same yardstick, in this example the direct quote is clearly superior to the paraphrase. Direct quote: “That jerk is the worst referee I’ve ever seen! He must be blind!” Indirect quote: He criticized the referee’s abilities. Returning to the first example, while new reporters are frequently told that editing quotes is completely unacceptable, it would be permissible to make a few minor editing changes if she had said: "I believe, uh, that I have done a, a, a good job and I am, er, confident the citizens of our city share my view and, uh, will return me to office." Random ums, uhs, ers and meaningless repetitions may come out of a quote without harming its integrity or the ethics of the writer. But again, you must be certain that what you’re taking out really is only a meaningless sound. Now, let’s consider some guidelines for when to quote, and when not to, in news stories: If you quote directly, you must quote accurately. Inside quotation marks, you are pretty much stuck with what the speaker said. There’s an obvious ethical problem with revising a direct quote in hopes of improving it. Fixing a minor grammatical error or editing out a meaningless repetition may be acceptable in many journalistic circles — but in this age of tape recorders and ever-present microphones, it is dangerous. Changing words outright or even reorganizing them a little is not appropriate. When quoting directly, you must strive for technical accuracy. If you quote directly, you should strive to quote elegantly. Beware the temptation to break the flow of the quote to include explanatory notes in brackets. Too many of these stage whispers ruin the quote and disrupt the flow of the story. If you must use explanations in parentheses, consider a paraphrase instead. Good quotes shouldn’t require a lot of explanation. Ellipses in quotes should be used with care. Ellipses — three dots used to delete wordy passages from otherwise coherent quotes — can be useful. Say someone said: “I’m certain because I’ve been around Parliament for a long time and really, really know what’s going on that we can defeat the government on Tuesday.” This could be usefully shortened to: “I’m certain … we can defeat the government on Tuesday.” But take care
  50. 50. 50 not to change the speaker’s meaning. Never combine ellipses with notes, such as explanations in brackets. Always fully identify the speaker when you quote directly. If a statement is within quotation marks in a news story, the person who made the statement must be identified. In journalism, this is termed setting up the quote. A quote that suddenly refers to Smith, instead of Sr. John Smith, Chief of Dentistry at the Nanaimo Clinic, for example, has not been properly set up. Usually, when a quote falls below a reasonable standard of pithiness, use a paraphrase. There is little value in directly quoting the mayor saying something like “over the past six months, the spouses of city council members have only taken taxpayer- financed trips on 16 occasions.” Better simply to say, The mayor said spouses of city council members have only taken taxpayer-financed trips 16 times in the past six months. But very important statements require direct quotation, even if they are dull. If the Prime Minister is giving a speech on, say, the results of Quebec's next independence referendum, it's advisable to quote him in his own words, even if they're tedious. Use fragmentary or one-word quotes sparingly. Fragments and one word quotes are OK to express doubt — he called the party’s actions “criminal.” Likewise, they are acceptable to show someone used a highly charged word — he accused the chief executive of behaving like a “Nazi.” They can also indicate cultural or ideological disagreement. However, one-word quotes are not an appropriate remedy for sloppy note taking. The context of the quote should always be clear to the reader. Without more information, this quote is not particularly helpful: “It’s all politics,” the Liberal candidate said of the NDP campaign. Say what? Some writers try to solve this problem by adding afterthoughts: “It’s junk,” he said of the new Korean-built sedan. Recast when faced with the need to add afterthoughts. Quotes should back up the lead, not repeat it. Avoid double attribution. The story’s first quote should provide additional information or insight and move the story forward. Avoid leads like this. The prime minister was shocked and appalled by the opposition’s accusations of corruption. “I’m shocked and appalled by the opposition’s accusations or corruption,” the prime minister said. Avoid quotes that the speaker didn’t say. This is a common sin of headline writers. If you’re going to say, The critic called it a ‘wonderful’ movie, make sure she used that word. Partial quotes must fit the grammatical structure of the sentence. Avoid ungrammatical use of partial quotes: The driver admitted he “don’t have a chance” in Tuesday’s race. But also avoid partial quotes that would never have been spoken by the

×