When writing a news story there are guidelines in place to ensure your story is straight to the point, structured and accurate.
All good journalism students are aware that the perfect lead should include the ‘what’ first, unless the ‘who’ is more important, the ‘where’ should also feature and the ‘when’ is usually incorporated at the end of the sentence. The lead should only be one sentence, two at the most, in order to state the main facts as simply as possible. The ‘why’ and the ‘how’ should be discussed high up in the story and the rest of the facts should follow in a set inverted pyramid structure. Three quotes is a good number and the first should preferably be in the third paragraph. There are exceptions, of course, but generally if you follow the rules you are onto a winner.
However, feature writing seems to me to be a little more difficult. It is the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ which often take centre stage. Following a large event or news story, features can provide the detail that readers want to know about. A writer can immerse themselves in the depth of the story rather than simply stating facts. They can even include their own opinions but supporting themselves using the solid groundings of primary reportage.
A journalist has much more creative freedom in which to entice the reader with. Firstly they must choose the type of feature which will best fit the information they wish to share. Lifestyle, backgrounder, profile, interview, how-to-do-it, opinion column… the list continues.
Then the style can be chosen. Do you wish to write in first person or third person? Perhaps in second person, including the reader at all times. Do you want your feature to read like a fictional book, full of description and painting a vivid image in the reader’s mind? Or would you prefer a more simple approach, colourful and engaging, yet an easy read?
Another question that you must ask yourself is how are you going to grab the attention of your reader? Just like a news story, the lead is vital in hooking the reader. The difference is that you can take as many sentences as you like to do so.
You may wish to explain the topic straight away by asking a simple question, or you may use a delayed lead where you can take several paragraphs to get to the point, perhaps by using an anecdote to ease the reader in. How about a shocking, horrific or emotional introduction? Have you considered a contrast lead, comparing an idealistic beautiful image with a graphic and horrible reality? The latter seems rather depressing to me but the choice is yours.
In my opinion, more freedom = more fun!
Picture: google images
My attempt at news writing after being designated Central Bournemouth as my patch…
A new website set up by the Home Office shows that Bournemouth is home to some of the highest crime figures in the country. Fir Vale Road and Lansdowne Crescent saw 72 and 68 crimes respectively in December 2010.
Jon Shipp, Night Time Economy Coordinator for Bournemouth Quality Nights (BQN) Initiative, says that crime has decreased in the past two months. He said: “Bournemouth has a massive amount of visitors compared to other towns so crime rates are going to be higher. It’s important to keep this in perspective.”
BQN Initiative, part of Bournemouth’s Townwatch, is responsible for improving night-time safety. The initiative ensures police and chaplains patrol the streets at night and organise the annual Best Bar None audit.
Best Bar None will run for the fifth year in August awarding pubs and clubs points for reduction of crime and disorder, health and safety and licensing regulation.
Shipp added: “The majority of premises in Bournemouth are very well managed as you can see from the 24 accredited clubs in our Best Bar None initiative but if clubs do not take their responsibilities seriously then vigorous action must be taken.”
Upmarket clubs The Studio and Priva lost their licence this month after complaints of assault, drunkenness and drug abuse.
Rob Knowles from Dorset’s Door Supervisor Training Organisation says strict regulations are also being introduced to club bouncers. He said: “It’s important that bouncers are trained to intervene safely so that they don’t react violently to someone and make a situation worse.”
Bournemouth University student, Hannah Bedwell, often visits the town’s clubs but has never been a victim of crime. She said: “I always make sure I stay in a group but as it’s a busy area I know there’re always people around if I need help.”
Last year Bournemouth was awarded The Purple Flag which recognises excellence in the management of town centres at night. Bournemouth was praised for providing a safe, clean and pleasant night-time experience.
Photo: Bournemouth Echo
At first glance media law can seem, to say the least, a little bit daunting. When my Journalism lecturer presented an hour of rules and regulations, what you can and cannot say, who you can and cannot identify, all of a sudden reporting seemed rather scary. One mistake and you could have a libel case on your hands and even worse a damaged reputation as a journalist.
Of course, I was aware that there were restrictions, but journalists really do have so many barriers in-between free speech and the responsibility of informing the public.
Below is my condensed list of media law from the NUJ and PCC code of conduct:
- Accuracy is vital. Yes, we all know that sloppy grammar, punctuation and spelling is not professional but, more importantly, a simple slip could drastically change the meaning of the matter you are informing about. On the occasion an inaccuracy is published, correct and apologise… IMMEDIATELY!
- Be subjective. ‘Said’ is such a simple, and slightly boring word, but it does the job. Words like ‘confirmed’, ‘suggested’, ‘acknowledged’ puts your own stance on the matter and you must remain neutral. Also, ensure that you get balanced quotes so that the story is not one-sided.
- Be cautious in establishing what is fact and what is rumour. Rumours should only be reported in the interest of the public. Make sure you are always supported with authoritative sources. Oh, and don’t sensationalise, stick to the facts.
- Always report in good taste. Avoid publishing graphic details and gruesome photographs. Firstly, because you must respect victims and their families and secondly, who actually wants to read a horror story over breakfast first thing in the morning?
- Obtain information, photographs and illustrations by straightforward means. Remember to be ethical in collecting information and remember to protect confidential sources. The public interest should always come first.
- Never encourage discrimination. Only publish information about age, race, gender, marital status and sexual orientation if it is relevant.
- Be aware of reporting restrictions with regards to children. You must not identify them if they are under the age of 18 and involved in court proceedings. If you are reporting on non-judical matters then always seek permission from a parent or guardian.
- In court – now this is a complicated one. You should include in your report the name of the court, the defendant’s name, age and address and the charge or charges. Then of course you should state the plea, verdict and sentence. When writing about the case include details of who did what to who, where, when and how. Ensure you get accurate quotes. To obtain accurate quotes in court. Learning short-hand is a great idea as dictaphones and cameras must not enter the court room. You can identify the magistrate by name, however, you must not identify the jury. I suggest further research into court laws!
Hope this helps!
Picture: google images