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
At first, the idea of finding a news story in a designated patch may seem daunting. Especially so if it’s an area you don’t often visit or have any contacts for. But, after completing a patch report myself, I can safely say to you don’t panic. All you need is an open, inquisitive mind and the enthusiasm needed to fully immerse yourself in the role of the reporter.
The first thing I thought to myself when allocated Bournemouth town centre as my patch was how on earth am I going to find a story? But, I will let you into a little secret…everything can be a potential source for a story. What you read, what you see, what you hear, everything. All you have to do is learn to dig a little deeper into leads by asking question after question. Then you will find a fresh and exciting angle to follow up.
As a starting point, why not watch and read the local news relevant to your patch. News often evolves so find a story and then consider what has been missed out and question why. Asking yourself whether certain points in a story that have been left out or unexplained could yield a fresh angle. Perhaps, you feel the story is biased, in which case, finding another perspective could be the next step forward.
In addition to reading local news, you may find a story by observing the national news to see if there is a local angle that applies. Residents are always interested in the local impact of a big story, for instance, during the national elections people were eager to know how particular national policies would affect their own town. A personal example of when this worked for me was during a work placement at Reading Chronicle. I was given the task to browse through the national papers to see if any news could apply to the town. After reading a story about thermometers selling out fast around the country due to the swine flu epidemic, I used my investigative skills to find if this was the case for chemists in Reading. It was- for all of them.
I only found this out through personally speaking to those who managed the chemists. It’s important to remember that people are ‘sources’ so cultivate them and take the effort to get to know them. The more authoritative people you can connect with, the more newsworthy stories you are likely to find. If you can get government officials, police officers, lawyers etc to speak to you then you will have a high chance of writing a credible story. So, get on the phone to as many of these people as possible and ask them what is happening or whether they have heard any particularly interesting news.
From speaking to people you may also find trend stories. Perhaps certain events have happened on numerous occasions to different people? Perhaps burglaries, attacks, missing pets? As a reporter you should start to list similar situations and ask the question ‘why is this frequently happening?’
But the best advice anyone can give you is to just get out there and give it a go. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times, speak to as many people as possible and, above all, think like a reporter. It might be that on your first attempt you don’t find anything but don’t give up. Eventually you will find the lead of all leads which will result in a credible, newsworthy story that everyone will be interested to read.
Picture: google images
In the second week of my journalism unit we were well and truly thrown into the deep end. After just a week of journalism theory we were to become Bournemouth University’s official reporters as we investigated how students really feel about semesterisation. It’s true what they say though, the best way to learn anything is to just have a go… so that’s exactly what we did.
Here is my beginners guide to reporting:
- Firstly, be prepared. Research the facts first, know the subject inside out and read any related articles first. Having a solid understanding and knowledge of Bournemouth University’s semesterisation programme was key.
- Make sure you know what you want to ask interviewees and choose people who will add credibility to your story. I prepared a selection of questions to ask students and lecturers at the university. However, these were only used as guidelines as it was important to respond to the answers given and to find out more about particularly interesting points. You don’t want to miss a crucial angle by skipping to the next question.
- Finding contacts can be difficult. Students were not too difficult to find as I was already at University so I decided to chat to students in the SU bar. Speaking to lecturers was a little bit harder as they work to a busy schedule. To overcome this I researched specific lecturer’s office hours and dropped by to see if they were available to chat. Speaking to those involved with the student union was also useful and they were particularly keen to share their views.
- When reporting make use of all the mediums around you for reaching potential sources- Twitter and Facebook can be great for this.
- Once you’ve found a wide range of sources, getting each of them to speak to you can be even harder. Always be polite and introduce yourself, the subject you would like to discuss and explain why you are interested in their views.
- Remember to take all key details that may be needed in the story. For this example, I took the interviewee’s name, age, degree and year. Also, if you are unsure of a spelling then ask. It is always best to double check all details are correct at this stage than to get it wrong in the report. If a source asks to remain anonymous then you must respect their wishes.
- If possible take a contact detail so that if you have any queries when writing the story you can get back in touch.
- Remain organised. A good reporter should have spoken to many sources before they begin writing so it is important to keep all your notes in order. I also find it is useful to keep track of all the people I have contacted and ticked off those who have responded. It does not look professional to pester those who have already declared they are unwilling or unable to comment on a topic.
- Once you feel you have enough information full of credible sources and a clear, newsworthy angle you are ready to write.
Photo: google images
“Writing has always been my passion. It’s a way to express myself, my feelings and opinions or I can fully emerge myself in another world through creative writing. When I write it feels like a release of emotions and an escape from everyday life.”
This was the answer I prepared when my journalism lecturer asked in our first seminar this year why we had chosen his unit. It was an honest answer but I dreaded being chosen to answer. This was mainly due to the fact that I didn’t want to announce that I actually intended to follow a career on the other side – in PR.
So why did I choose this unit?
Ever since I was a small child I would write. In my pre-school years I would copy out children’s books and then as I became slightly older I would start to write my own little imaginative stories. I can vividly remember the sense of pride and satisfaction I felt as my parents read and praised my work. But it wasn’t just creative writing I attempted. In my final year of primary school I wrote and edited my very own magazine – my first taste of ‘journalism’. And to cut a long story short, the pattern continued throughout school and sixth form as I excelled in both English and Media Studies.
As you can see through this blog and my work portfolio, I still enjoy writing and I believe that continuing and furthering your writing skills stands you in good stead for whichever career path you choose. For instance, PRO’s are often writing press releases and features to send to journalists or using social media platforms, such as blogs, to publicise their company.
As well as in writing, I have a great interest in the media and its powerful influence on our lives. Being part of that in some way fills me with excitement. Whichever profession in the media you choose surely it makes sense to understand how they all work together? The journalism unit is vital in my final year of my degree not only to develop my writing skills but to compliment my other units: public relations, advertising and publishing. I would recommend Bournemouth University’s Communication and Media degree to anyone who has a general love for the media. No other degree would give you such a well-rounded understanding of the integrated professions and how they relate to each other.
If I am to employ successful PR practice in the future I need to understand the role of the journalist in order to work beside them effectively. I need to be aware of their pressures and demands, instead of focussing purely on my own, to form a good working relationship with them. At the same time PR involves writing clear and concise press releases with newsworthy angles which will help save a busy journalist time. In my opinion, having a solid understanding of the role of a journalist is key and vice versa.
Check out the clip below which demonstrates the importance of PROs and journalists understanding each other’s job role: