News writing

Notes to accompany the Exeter Observer community journalism training course.

News reports

News reports are the foundation on which all other journalism is based.

They should deliver the minimum elements necessary to tell a story succinctly.

Their anatomy is straightforward, with a limited range of possible story structures.

Basic news reports consist of four elements:

  1. Headline: used to be written by (sub)editors, not journalists, now more focussed on search engine optimisation (when online) so often written by content managers.

  2. Standfirst: sells the story, piquing interest by satisfying a need for particular content, highlights the most interesting point(s) in a story.

  3. Lead:

    • the most important element in a story, will determine whether it gets a second look in the few moments it takes to assess its relevance
    • usually delivered in a single opening paragraph, but a second, or occasionally third, may be needed to get the message across
    • quickly explains what the story is about without being cluttered with unimportant details
    • should (usually) answer six questions: who, what, why, when, where and how (not necessarily in that order)
    • hint: these answers will be form the basis of the following body.
  4. Body:

    • usually follows (inverted) pyramid structure in which importance determines the position of elements
    • relevant direct and indirect (attributed) quotations should be included to give story real-world context and substance but not to tell the whole story
    • background information inc. facts/statistics should be employed judiciously, not just because it is to hand
    • accuracy and clarity are essential (news reports are not opinion pieces)
    • style conventions must be obeyed (see style)
    • no assumptions about prior reader knowledge should be made and any necessary explanations should be kept simple.

Additional elements may include infoboxes, tweets, pullquotes and accompanying visual collateral inc. photos, video and infographics.

News briefs

Should capture the essence of a story as well as what is needed to put it together:

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