So you want to produce your first news story, but not sure where to begin, or what to do along the way. Creating a news article is actually a series of tasks that involve both reporting and writing. Here are the things you'll need to accomplish in order to produce a story that's ready for publication.
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Journalism isn't fiction writing - you can't create stories from your imagination. You have to find newsworthy topics worth writing about. You can get started by checking out the places where news often happens - your local city hall, police precinct or courthouse. Attend a city council or school board meeting. Want to cover sports? High school football and basketball games can be very exciting and provide great experience for the aspiring sportswriter. Or interview local merchants for their take on the state of the economy.
Now that you've decided what to write about, you need to hit the streets (or the phone, or your e-mail) and start interviewing sources. Do some research about those you plan to interview, prepare some questions and make sure you're equipped with a reporter's notepad, pen and pencil. Rerember that the best interviews are more like conversations. Put your source at ease, and you'll get more revealing information.
You may fill your notebook with quotes from your interviews, but when you write your story you'll only be able to use a fraction of what you've gathered. Not all quotes are created equal - some are compelling, and others just fall flat. Pick the quotes that grab your attention, and chances are they'll grab your reader's attention as well.
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Good clean newswriting is fine, but all the writing skills in the world can't replace thorough, solid reporting. Good reporting means answering all the questions a reader might have, and then some. It also means double-checking the information you get to make sure it's accurate. And donlt forget to check the spelling of your source's name. It's Murphy's Law - just when you assume your source's name is spelled John Smith, it'll be Jon Smythe.
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Hard-news stories are not the place to for opinion-spewing. Even if you have strong feelings about the issue you're covering, you need to learn to set those feelings aside and become a dispassionate observer. Remember, a news story isn't about what YOU think - it's about what your sources have to say.
So you've done your reporting and are ready to write. But the most interesting story in the world isn't worth much if no one reads it, and if you don't write a knock-their-socks-off lede, chances are no one will give your story a second glance. To craft a great lede, think about what makes your story unique, and what you find interesting about it. Then find a way to convey that interest to your readers.
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Crafting a great lede is important, but you still have to write the rest of the story. Newswriting is based on the idea of conveying as much information as possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible. The inverted pyramid format means you put the most important information at the top of your story, the least important at the bottom.
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It's important in news stories to be absolutely clear about where the information comes from. Attributing the information in your story makes it more credible, and builds trust with your readers. Whenever possible, use on-the-record attribution.
The Associated Press
So you've reported and written a terrific story. But all that hard work will be for nothing if you send your editor a story filled with Associated Press style errors. AP Style is the gold standard for print journalism usage in the U.S., which is why you need to learn it. Get used to checking your AP Stylebook whenever you write a story. Pretty soon, you'll start to memorize some of the most common style points.
So you've finished your article and sent it to your editor, who praises it profusely. Then she says, "OK, we'll need a follow-up story." Developing follow-up stories can be tricky at first, but there are some simple methods that can help you along. For instance, think about the causes and consequences of the story you're covering. Doing so is bound to produce at least a few good follow-up ideas.