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Writing News Stories

Write only about facts.

Facts are what you observed or can ascertain from talking to participants. You should NOT be the subject or a part of this story. Do not use ‘I’. A news story does not express an opinion unless it is expressed in a quotation from someone who was there or is an expert.

Some research is usually necessary to complete the story.

Have there been accidents at this corner before? Does the driver of the car who ran the light have a record of traffic violations? What was the mayor's position on the issue last month? What political action groups have taken sides in the controversy?

The people you quote should be as credible as possible.

Don't quote the five-year-old standing on the street corner who happened to see the accident unless that is somehow relevant to your story. Try to interview those who are experts on the subject. Represent fairly the words and intentions of the people you interview. You may clean up gross errors in language for clarity, but you must maintain the exact meaning of the quotation. Use "she said," never "she averred" or other synonyms for "said."

Determine what is the news story and what is the background story, which comes later in the piece. For example, three days after the car crash in which Princess Diana was killed, the news story is the revelation that the chauffeur had a high blood alcohol level. The background story (or back-story) is that the princess died in the crash.

Avoid loaded words. 

Delete words that carry emotional emphasis or show opinion. Remember, we just want the facts.

Use clear, simple language.

You should also use short paragraphs with one point per paragraph.

Don't guess.

Find out what you can and don't mention things about which you have only vague information.

Follow the standard structure.

1. A lead sentence that encapsulates the most important information.
2. A funnel structure that lists the information in descending order of importance (an editor will cut the story from the bottom up).
3. Include the back-story several paragraphs down from the lead–whatever happened before that will help us understand the latest news.
4. No conclusion necessary, though you may end with a twist or with a piece of information that suggests other directions for the story. Keep in mind that it probably will be cut!

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