News Writing – Developing Structure

Here’s a tip from the school of the obvious – it helps if you understand what you are going be writing about before going anywhere near a keyboard. When you write the aim is for every idea to flow neatly into the next. You also don’t want to leave any holes in the story or leave out any of the key details.

Five Ws and one H

So before you start, ask yourself whether you understand the narrative or the series of events that have taken place.

At this point we are duty-bound to introduce the five Ws of the story – who?, what?, where?, when? and why?  Extra points go to those who have also considered the ‘h’ – how?

Top tip – We recommend that you have the Ws + H written down in your notebook as a reminder when covering potentially complex stories.

You’ll also want to consider the story’s worth. Let’s get back to real basics here and ask that controversial question – is the story newsworthy?

It’s often said that the ‘best stories write themselves’ – that’s to say it is clear what news value they have, and why users will want to read them.  You will know when you do an interview with a famous or controversial name in the news that it will appeal to your users.  Some other types of stories tend to have a sense of urgency to them and feel like they are begging to be written.

The nightmare stories (and we’ve all been forced to write them!) are:

  • When we’ve not understood what the story is about or why it is important.
  • Sometimes local newspapers and business-to-business (B2B) publications force their journalists to write articles to please advertisers. Here the distinction between what is PR, advertising and journalism becomes somewhat blurred.
  • The worst-case scenario is that the original story may have little news value. So the facts are stretched by the journalist, sometimes to near breaking point, in a last ditch attempt to make a mundane story marginally more appealing. In these situations it’s normally best to run another story.

Online News

The Internet is particularly suited for breaking news coverage and journalists can use live blogging to keep users up to date.

The Internet is ‘always on’, infinitely updatable and its distribution costs are minimal. News must be transmitted to the users as quickly and accurately as possible in manner that is impartial, objective and without overt bias.

News is a dish that is best served hot and straight from the oven. It loses its value quickly, so you will need to hurry to get it online quickly whilst ensuring you have your facts straight.

Textbooks on journalism usually highlight that the news reporter’s job is to seek out fresh information on matters of public interest. You’ll find that the extraordinary is news.

This is particular true on the tabloids, where journalist Martin Daubney (Press Gazette, 2012) recounts a pep talk from his editor:

He took me in his office and prepped me on the story approach that made he paper tick.  He said: “I don’t want dog bites man. Or even man bites dog. I want dog drives van”… Then he ushered me out with a flick of the wrist. It was hilarious, and weirdly instructive.

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