Week 3 (24/2): Basic news story construction

Cluttered and negative thoughts can cripple writers. Photo: Drew Coffman/flickr/CC

BY MARK GATELY

Today we will be looking at the basic rules and techniques for building a news story.

But first I’d like to take a quick detour and consider the mental approach to writing with particular reference to the sort of technical lesson we are about to do.

A lack of confidence or anxiety are perennial bedfellows for those in the writing professions whether you’re a best-selling author or a student at TAFE.

Potential stumbling blocks:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by the subject matter
  • Doubting your abilities as a writer
  • The ideas or words just won’t come

Possible consequences of succumbing to anxiety about your writing or course work.

  • The work just doesn’t get done
  • Short cuts such as plagiarism are taken
  • Your ability to complete the course is delayed or critically compromised

But, as those best-selling authors have proved, these are obstacles that can be overcome.

Important things to remember:

  • You’re not the only one
  • It’s not as hard as you think
  • Your teacher is ready and willing to offer support
  • Expert support is available through TAFE

Do not let doubts derail you before you even start.

Yoda said it best.

Return to scheduled programming

What is the difference between soft and hard news?

Hard news:

  • Primary purpose is to inform
  • Relies on verifiable facts and identifiable sources
  • Employs the Inverted Pyramid and simple, concise language

Soft news:

  • Primary purpose is to entertain or evoke and emotional response
  • Flexible structure and more informal language

Elements of a story

  1. Headline: Needs to work for all platforms, should be no more than 55 characters, must be written so readers can find them (using SEO or Search Engine Optimisation).
  2. Introduction or lead: Highlights the most important or interesting part of the story (usually who is involved/what happened) and is short (25-30 words).
  3. Body: The second and subsequent paragraphs amplify the points already made in further detail, usually in a more chronological sequence

Story components:

Paragraphs: Are fact units and in hard news often contain only one sentence. They enable the writer to structure their work and the reader to understand and absorb it.

Standfirst: A clear, single sentence summing up the story – quite often the lead of the story – that appears on the homepage of a website (see below).

Hyperlinks: In-story links either in the text or broken out that when clicked on take readers to another news story or source material (if you click here this hyperlink will take you to a more detailed version of today’s lesson).

Standfirsts on the Daily Telegraph’s sport homepage

Resources:

Hold the adjectives! A guide to news writing by Associated Press’s writing guru Rene J. Cappon
Writing Style [.ppt file]  AND Structure & Quotes [.ppt file]
BBC Academy – Writing for mobile: Bite-size basics
Deloitte – Mobile Consumer Survey 2018

TASK

First read this excellent guide to writing news and other story elements on the website Global Voices (you can also volunteer to contribute).

Then have a go at the following.

1. Lead writing practice:

Write a lead for each of the following stories.

2. Write a headline for each of the stories above, taking into account SEO (Search Engine Optimisation – you can read about best practice SEO here).

3. Story structure exercise

4. Find a simple press release and write a short news story (200-300 words) and a headline. Sources to try:

If you don’t finish your work in class time, please finish it at home and post it in the Student Weekly Tasks folder in the Drive or on your blog if it’s up and running.

Author: veritychambers

Journalist and teacher

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