On the surface, defining news is a simple task. News is an account of what is happening around us. It may involve current events, new initiatives or ongoing projects or issues. But a newspaper does not only print news of the day. It also prints background analysis, opinions, and human interest stories.
Choosing what's news can be harder.
The reporter chooses stories from the flood of information and events happening in the world and in their community. Stories are normally selected because of their importance, emotion, impact, timeliness and interest. Note: all these factors do NOT have to coincide in each and every story!
2. Identify what kind of a story it is
Hard news (+/- 600 words): This is how journalists refer to news of the day. It is a chronicle of current events/incidents and is the most common news style on the front page of your typical newspaper.
It starts with a summary lead. What happened? Where? When? To/by whom? Why? (The journalist's 5 W's). It must be kept brief and simple, because the purpose of the rest of the story will be to elaborate on this lead.
Keep the writing clean and uncluttered. Most important, give the readers the information they need. If the federal government announced a new major youth initiative yesterday, that's today's hard news.
Soft news (+/-600 words): This is a term for all the news that isn't time-sensitive. Soft news includes profiles of people, programs or organizations. As we discussed earlier, the "lead" is more literary. Most of YPP's news content is soft news.
Feature (+/-1500 words): A news feature takes one step back from the headlines. It explores an issue. News features are less time-sensitive than hard news but no less newsworthy. They can be an effective way to write about complex issues too large for the terse style of a hard news item. Street kids are a perfect example. The stories of their individual lives are full of complexities which can be reflected in a longer piece.
Features are journalism's shopping center. They're full of interesting people, ideas, color, lights, action and energy. Storytelling at its height! A good feature is about the people in your community and their struggles, victories and defeats. A feature takes a certain angle (i.e. Black youth returning to church) and explores it by interviewing the people involved and drawing conclusions from that information. The writer takes an important issue of the day and explains it to the reader through comments from people involved in the story.
Hint: Remember to "balance" your story. Present the opinions of people on both sides of an issue and let the readers make their own decision on who to believe. No personal opinions are allowed. The quotes from the people you interview make up the story. You are the narrator.
Editorial: The editorial expresses an opinion. The editorial page of the newspaper lets the writer comment on issues in the news. All editorials are personal but the topics must still be relevant to the reader.
Young People's Press publishes two types of editorials:
Youthbeat (+/- 700 words): Youthbeat's are YPP's editorial bread and butter. It's your story, from your point of view. Tell it like it is. Youthbeats usually (but not always) combine personal experience(s) with opinion/analysis. Essentially, you establish your credibility by speaking from experience.
My Word! (+/-600 words): An opinion piece. Short, sweet and to the point. Not as likely to be a personal narrative. Christmas "spirit" bugs you? Say why. Had an encounter with a cop that left you sour? Same deal. Be strong. If you don't like something, don't beat around the bush. This is a space for you to rant and roll with as much emotive power as possible.
3. Structure for your article
The structure of a news story (hard & soft news & features) is simple: a lead and the body.
The lead One of the most important elements of news writing is the opening paragraph or two of the story. Journalists refer to this as the "lead," and its function is to summarize the story and/or to draw the reader in (depending on whether it is a "hard" or "soft" news story - See below for the difference between these two genres of news stories).
In a hard news story, the lead should be a full summary of what is to follow. It should incorporate as many of the 5 "W's" of journalism (who, what, where, when and why) as possible. (e.g. "Homeless youth marched down Yonge St. in downtown Toronto Wednesday afternoon demanding the municipal government provide emergency shelter during the winter months." - Can you identify the 5 W's in this lead?)
In a soft news story, the lead should present the subject of the story by allusion. This type of opening is somewhat literary. Like a novelist, the role of the writer is to grab the attention of the reader. (e.g. "Until four years ago, Jason W. slept in alleyways...") Once the reader is drawn in, the 5 "W's" should be incorporated into the body of the story, but not necessarily at the very top.
The body of the story involves combining the opinions of the people you interview, some factual data, and a narrative which helps the story flow. A word of caution, however. In this style of writing, you are not allowed to "editorialize" (state your own opinion) in any way.
The role of a reporter is to find out what people are thinking of an issue and to report the opinions of different stakeholders of an issue. These comments make up the bulk of the story. The narrative helps to weave the comments into a coherent whole. Hint: Stick to one particular theme throughout the story. You can put in different details but they all have to relate to the original idea of the piece. (e.g. If your story is about black youth and their relationship with the police you DO NOT want to go into details about the life of any one particular youth).
As a reporter, you are the eyes and ears for the readers. You should try to provide some visual details to bring the story to life (this is difficult if you have conducted only phone interviews, which is why face-to-face is best). You should also try to get a feel for the story. Having a feel means getting some understanding of the emotional background of the piece and the people involved in it. Try to get a sense of the characters involved and why they feel the way they do.
Okay, got it? Let's look at two examples as a way of summarizing the essentials:
Youth are banding together to start an organization. You want to show why are they doing that and the changes are they trying to make in the world. You want to say who they are and the strategies they are using.
An artist is having her first show. Why? What is it that she believes about her art? Is her artistic process rational or from the soul? What does the work look like?
Keep your eyes and ears open; listen to what your friends are talking about.
Read everything you can get your hands on; get story ideas from other newspapers and magazines.
Think of a youth angle to a current news story.
Research a subject that interests you ask yourself what you would like to know more about.
Talk to people in a specific field to find out what is important to them.
Begin collecting articles on your subject.
Talk to friends and associates about the subject.
Contact any agencies or associations with interest or professional knowledge in the area.
Create a list of people you want to interview; cover both sides of the story by interviewing people on both sides of the issue.
Collect government statistics and reports on the subject get old press releases or reports to use as background.
Interviewing do's and don'ts
Explain the ground rules of the interview to people unfamiliar with how the media works - this means that you tell them the information they give you can and will be published. If they do not want any part of what they say published, they need to tell you it is "off the record."
Tape the interview (so if anyone comes back at you, you have the proof of what was said).
Build a relationship with the person being interviewed.
Start with easy questions; end with difficult questions.
Read the body language of the person you're interviewing and if they get defensive, back away from the question you are asking and return later.
Don't attack the source.
Keep control of the interview; don't let the subject ramble or stray from the subject.
On the other hand, don't let your "opinion" of what the story should be colour the interview. Always remember that the person you are talking with knows more about the subject than you do.
Organizing the information
Gather your notes, interviews and research into a file.
Review your notes.
Look for a common theme.
Search your notes for good quotes or interesting facts.
Develop a focus.
Write the focus of the article down in two or three sentences.
Writing and editing
Remember you are the narrator, the story teller.
Don't be afraid to rewrite.
Be as clear and concise in the writing as possible.