Stories don’t exist. They happen.
A story is an event, not an object. It exists in time, not space.
It’s a performance.
It’s often about people.
It’s an experience for those receiving it – the readers, listeners & viewers.
Every real story has at least six elements:
1: a setting
2: one or more characters
3: some sort of complication
4: a process of responding to such complication
5: a resolution
6: some sort of closure
The classic Five Ws and one-H
THE REPORTER’S SHOPPING
Setting: where and when. The mood and the scene of the story. It isn't just
the location. It is total context of the story. Soak in all the details and write
Characters: who. Not just the main man but also others. Watch out for the
central characters and the supporting ones too. Titles, mode of
dressing, speeches, names (spelled correctly), physique, all the works. Show
the characters and their character as they unfold in the story.
Complications: what! …and partly why! What happened or is happening?
News is change, so what’s changed for the characters, when, where, and
Process of responding/resolving: what happened next? Who did what and
why? What did they say? How did they feel? Why? Good questions reveal
more than meets the eye.
Resolution: how has the process of events resolved itself so far for the
various characters involved? Most times reporters cannot wait for how the
story ultimately ends when it breaks, but several follow-ups can be covered
Closure: this is the final what….so what? Where does this story fits in the
broader context of our world or realty?
Remember: stories don’t exist; they happen. They’re events, not objects.
Stories are more than text, graphics, pictures, etc. they are images in the
memory – the minds and hearts of the people who reads, listens and views
As a reporter you are the story teller. You’re the choreographer who designs
the order of the sequence of the story so as to captivate the listener or
reader or viewer.
Reporters often begin with something that signals that what follows is worth
attention – the story’s lead.
The lead is usually what’s newest
or interesting or strange or most
significant in the story unfolding.
DON’T GET TRAPPED BY THE
There is a difference between story and myth. Look hard into the events
you’re covering to find what’s really going on. Don’t jump into conclusion…
Report only as much of the story as you’ve really gathered. Don’t fill in the
blanks to round out the story. Don’t downplay or gloss over holes in the story.
The story you’re telling is often the story of being told things by other people.
Don’t drift into telling their stories as your own.
FINDING THE STORY
One of the first steps is to see stories as adventures from people in your
A reporter’s job is to find stories of adventure, mystery and entertainment.
Besides the usual crime, fire, accidents and emergency stories, reporters
can find great stories about new appointments, youth, lifestyle and trends,
FINDING THE STORY
Where you are…..your community often have stories as you look around you
with a curious eye at things others may overlook.
What’s it like to watch people do their work – the unique, unusual or the notso-traditional.
On-the-job profiles are often interesting.
Most stories in this genre can be interesting if you approach them with an
appreciation for what the workers are doing and a keen eye for detail.
FINDING THE STORY
People are news
Meetings are news
Speeches are news
News of accidents and death
Business, labour and agriculture
Education, religion, government and politics
Crime and the courts
Science and health, arts and culture, etc.
Neighborhood and places
TIPS FOR FINDING IDEAS IN
Go to places where people are…bars, shops, markets, shopping malls, etc.
Meet the people in power
Meet the rest of the people
Visit schools, churches, mosques, events, etc.
Dig through records and documents
Identify burning issues and controversies…
ON THE BEAT…
Covering the community
Covering the suburbs
Covering law enforcement
RESEARCHING THE STORY
Five principal methods to gather information for news stories:
Documents and records
Social science techniques – data-driven stories…academic research, polls and
survey, experiments and content analysis.
Library research: and Computer-Assisted reporting
Types of interview:
the mini-interview or routine as in spot news coverage
Time spent preparing for an interview may make the difference between
success and failure. There are three principal steps:
1. arranging the interview
2. defining its purpose
3. conducting background research
The research effort enables the reporter to:
-develop questions in advance, avoid confusion and delay during the interview
-become armed with information that may convince the source to cooperate
-prevent deception by the source, who will recognize that the interviewer is well informed.
Flexibility is required
The subject may not behave as anticipated and new tactics may be in order.
The reporter’s objective is to control the interview, guiding its direction and tone.
The reporter may be perceived as friend, accuser, confidant or interloper, skeptic or
believer. The best role is the one likely to keep the source open and the reporter may
shift role to get the best from the source.
Most extended interviews follow a three-stage pattern: establish rapport, set the
tone of the interview; fact gathering – the heart of the interview; and a conclusion
– ending the interview possibly on a friendly note.
Questions that keep the interview flowing and guard against error have these
They are concise
They are complete
They are clear
They don’t lead
Appearance – clothing and mannerisms may offend source
Question wording – complexity or ambiguity may make questions difficult or
impossible to answer
Question delivery – the style of the interviewer may intimidate of offend the
Interviewer expectations – the source may attempt to conform to
expectations the interviewer conveys through words or cues
Feedback – sources may be conditioned to give certain answers because
interviewer gives positive feedback i.e. smiling.
REPORTING THE STORY
Accuracy above all – is a mindset, an attitude
When in doubt, double check… otherwise leave out
Reporting demands courage!
Take risks…when necessary
Empathy is crucial…minimize hurt
REPORTERS AT WORK
…THE PROCESS OF
News thinking 1: getting ideas
Collect – reporting the story
News thinking 2: Focus – what’s
the news/what’s the story?
Order: mapping the story – do a
Draft: write, revise and re-write
Revise: edit your story and rewrite
…SHAPING THE NEWS
The nut graf story
The serial narrative
The ‘five boxes’ approach.
The trend piece
The multiple-element story
The wall street journal formula
THE INVERTED PYRAMID
One popular form of writing taught to journalists is called the inverted pyramid
This style is accomplished by imagining a triangle, point down. This triangle is
your news item.
At the top of the triangle-the wide base-is the most important information in
the story. That is the first paragraph. When someone reads that first
paragraph they should understand the facts of the event and the focus of the
article, as well as whether or not they want to continue reading.
Who, What, When, Where, How and Why should be included in this first
paragraph, or "lead."
THE INVERTED PYRAMID
…FROM THE TOP DOWN
This news story form is perhaps the most widely used and accepted in journalism
It puts the most news worthy information at the top, and then the remaining
information follows in order of importance, with the least important at the bottom end.
The inverted pyramid organizes stories not around ideas or in sequence of
happenings but around events and facts.
It tells stories, weighs and shuffles the various facts focusing on their relative news
In spite of its critics who say it tells stories backward, it remains invaluable as it takes
the reader, who is often reading in a hurry, straight to the point.
…SERVING THE NEWS, SERVING
It is a combination of the inverted pyramid and the narrative forms.
News writers who use the hourglass combine the inverted pyramid with
narrative elements that contained the power of story telling.
According Roy Peter Clark, its originator, this story form respects traditional
news values, considers the needs of the reader, takes advantage of
narrative, and spurs the writer to new levels of reporting and news writing.
The hourglass can be broken down into three parts:
The top which is presented in a summary lead followed by three or four paragraphs that
answer the reader’s most pressing questions, containing the most significant
information, just like the inverted pyramid does.
The turn signals the reader that a narrative, usually chronological is beginning. Usually the
turn is a transitional phrase i.e. according to the police…, that contains attribution for the
narrative that follows.
The narrative has three elements: a beginning, middle, and ending. It allows the writer to tell
a chronological story complete with details, dialogue and background information.
THE NUT GRAF
…GIVING READERS A REASON
Is also known as ‘the news feature’ or ‘the analytical feature.
It is generally seen being used by the ‘Wall Street Journal’.
It is called the nut graf because, like a nut, it contains the kernel or essential
theme of the story.
It invites readers into a story, often with an anecdote or scene, and then by
the third or fourth paragraph provides context by summarizing the
essence, or nut of the story’s theme.
It often includes supporting material that helps readers see why the story is
It justifies the story by telling readers why they should care.
It provides a transition from the lead and explains the lead and its connection to the
rest of the story.
It often tells readers why the story is timely.
It includes supporting material to make readers see why the story is important.
It is a paragraph that says what the whole story is about and why the reader should
It is a flag to the reader, high up in the story: you can decide to proceed or not, but if
you read no further, you know what the story is about.
As the name implies, nut grafs are a single paragraph long.
…THE WAY WE TELL
Narratives follow the chronological sequence often used in storytelling.
Narratives have characters, settings, themes, conflicts, plots with climaxes
Stories must be clear, non-fiction, and compelling.
Narratives are detailed and their endings are often take you back to the
FIVE BOXES STORY
It’s an approach used by veteran reporters to plan their news writing.
It contains five boxes namely:
BBI – ‘boring but important’
FIVE BOXES IS AN EFFICIENT
WAY TO ORGANIZE
INFORMATION, ESPECIALLY ON
Image, detail, draws
2. Nut graf:
4. BBI: boring but
3. Re-telling: retell
story begun in the
THE INVERTED PYRAMID
THE TREND PIECE
Speculation by experts
On probable causes and
Significance of trend
Alluding to original
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL FORMULA
THE MULTIPLE ELEMENT
Sissons, H. (2006). Practical Journalism: How to write news. London: Sage
Harper, C. and The Indiana Group. (1998). Journalism 2001.
Boulder, Madison: CourseWise Publishing.
Macdougall, C.D. (1977). Interpretative Reporting. 7th ed. New York:
Macmillan Publishing Co.
Ismach, H.A. and Dennis, E.V. (1981). Reporting Processes and Practices:
Newswriting for Today’s readers. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing
Scanlan, C. (2000). Reporting and Writing: Basics for the 21st century. New
York: Oxford University Press.