True / False Quiz

  • Inverted pyramid stories arrange the information in descending order of importance or newsworthiness. a. True b. False
  • The primary advantage of the inverted pyramid is that readers with less than a high school education can easily understand stories written in this style. a. True b. False
  • Generally, the second paragraph in a news story does not need to emphasize the news because this has already been done in the lead. a. True b. False
  • Journalists should avoid devoting the entire second paragraph of a story to background information. a. True b. False
  • The term kicker can have two meanings: It can refer to an additional line set above the main headline of a story that helps draw attention to the story or it can refer to the ending or the story itself. a. True b. False
  • Reporters often use lists in news stories that involve several ideas, subtopics or examples. a. True b. False
  • The hourglass story structure begins with a chronology or sequence of events and then turns into an inverted pyramid. a. True b. False
  • The hourglass style is particularly useful in writing stories that have no meaningful chronology. a. True b. False
  • The focus style story begins with a lead that focuses on a specific individual, situation or anecdote and uses that to illustrate a larger problem. a. True b. False
  • It is easier to cut the final paragraphs of narrative stories than those of stories written in the inverted pyramid style. a. True b. False
  • Stories which are written in the narrative style tend to be longer and, therefore, more difficult to read than shorter, straight news stories. a. True b. False
  • The success of a narrative story depends on the depth of the reporting. a. True b. False
  • Reporters should avoid words that are not used in everyday conversation. a. True b. False
  • When a sentence must describe several items in a list, the explanation should come after the list, not before it. a. True b. False
  • Journalists should not use numbers in stories about abstract issues because they will likely confuse the reader further. a. True b. False
  • Nouns and verbs are more effective when writing descriptions than adverbs and adjectives. a. True b. False
  • If a story contains information critical of an individual, that person must have an opportunity to respond. a. True b. False



How to Write a News Article: Naming Sources

  • What Is News?
  • How to Interview
  • The Intro or Lede
  • Article Format/Narrative
  • How To Write A Review
  • Writing News Style
  • Naming Sources
  • Revising/Proofreading
  • Photos/Graphics
  • The Future of News?

About Sources

A good reporter makes it clear where he or she got their information. Everything but the most obvious and commonly known facts should be attributed. When in doubt, don’t assume your reader knows. State where you got your information. The reader can then decide how reliable a story is.

As in an essay, the source needs to be named in the story:

  • The mayor expressed his support of a designated zone for protesters.
  • According to police records, the suspect had been arrested for fraud before.
  • The jury will announce its decision tomorrow, the court bailiff stated.

Unlike an essay, the source does not need a text citation in the story after each attribution or to be listed in a reference or works cited list.

All quotes must be attributed . Include the name of the person speaking in the sentence and surround their exact words in quotations marks. 

  • For example – Former President George Bush said, “Read my lips. No new taxes!”
  • Never change what someone said – Doublecheck if you’re not sure of the exact wording.
  • If a grammatical error in the exact quotation might make the person look bad, then the reporter needs to decide if it would be unfair to leave the mistake. Check with your editor.

Use multiple sources. Stories are more balanced when multiple points of view are presented. Make sure you don’t use just the official source for information. Try to talk with all parties involved.

  • For example – A story on panhandling needs to include information from people who ask for money, people who’ve been asked for money, people who’ve given money, and people who refused – not just city officials.

Because sources have different perspectives, their information may contradict. The reporter has a responsibility to doublecheck information for accuracy.

  • In the example above, any claim of increased panhandling should be checked with public records. Is there an increase in complaints or police action? Can you observe for yourself or ask people who regularly drive those streets for their observation?

It's a challenge for any organization.

  • Only 1% of all the stories The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism examined during the Clinton-Lewinsky saga used two or more named sources.

In particular, any opinion must be attributed. Adding the opinion of persons involved in the story can add personal perspective to a story. However, the reporter should never include or shape the story to show his or her opinion. The reporter's job is to build a complete picture that the reader can base a decision on.

More About Sources

  • 4 Best Plagiarism Checker Tools
  • Advice on attribution for journalists
  • Anonymous Sources
  • Editor’s guide to identifying plagiarism
  • Fairness and Accuracy in Media
  • Quotes and Attribution
  • Sources and confidentiality
  • Sources of information
  • Talk to the Newsroom: The Use of Anonymous Sources
  • What is plagiarism?
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  • Last Updated: Oct 23, 2023 11:28 AM
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Module 9: Beyond the Research Paper

Journalism and investigative reporting, learning objectives.

Identify characteristics of effective journalism and investigative reporting

News messages are often broken into three categories: “hard” news, “soft” news or features, and opinion. “Hard” news comprises reports of important issues, current events, and other topics that inform citizens about what is going on in the world and their communities while “soft” news covers those things that are not necessarily important and are handled with a lighter approach. Opinion pieces, unlike the other two which value “objectivity,” are subjective and will have a specific point of view.

  • Breaking news  – Sometimes referred to as “the first take on history” breaking news stories provide as clear and accurate an accounting of some kind of event as possible while it is happening. In reporting about wildfires raging in the west, the breaking news story requires a timely accounting of what’s happening, with a tight focus on the “who, what, when, where, why” and it requires well-honed observation and interviewing skills. For the breaking news story, the information tasks for the reporters are to show up, assess the situation, use their senses to cover the event and learn more information through first-person interviews. Breaking news provides the “need to know” information as an event unfolds.
  • Depth report  – The depth report is the story after the breaking news report. The goals for journalists preparing a depth report are to try to help people understand how the event happened, who was affected, what is being done about it, how people are reacting. For instance, in the aftermath of a story about wildfires in the West, the reporter’s information tasks would include gathering background information about the firefighting efforts, the economic impact of the fires, the reactions of home and business owners, the potential impact that the weather might have on future similar events. As with the breaking news story, the journalist is transmitting information, not opinion and they must be able to identify the most knowledgeable sources.
  • Analysis or interpretive report  – The focus here is on an issue, problem or controversy. The substance of the report is still a verifiable fact, not opinion. But instead of presenting facts as with breaking news or a depth report and hoping the facts speak for themselves, the reporter writing an interpretive piece clarifies, explains, analyzes. The report usually focuses on WHY something has (or has not) happened. The information tasks are greater for this type of report, due to the need to clarify and explain rather than simply narrate. An analysis of the wildfires might look into how environmental policy or urban sprawl factored into the event. Analyses generally require learning about different perspectives or ranges of opinion from a variety of experts and more “digging” into causes.
  • Investigative report  – Unlike the analysis which follows up on a news event, the information tasks for an investigative report require journalists to uncover information that will not be handed to them, these stories are reported by opening closed doors and closed mouths. These are the stories that expose problems or controversies authorities may not want to see covered. This requires unearthing hidden or previously unorganized information in order to clarify, explain and analyze something. A key technique used in investigative reports is data analysis. In the aftermath of the wildfires, a news organization might investigate the insurance claims process or how a charitable organization that received relief funds for fire victims actually allocated the money. The investigative report requires the communicator to have a high level of information sophistication, and the ability to convey complex information in a straightforward way for the audience.
  • News  – A story about a man who used cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to revive a pet dog rescued from the bottom of a pool might be reported as a news feature. It is based on an event, but covered as a feature, but the information tasks require gathering material to put more emphasis on the drama of the event than on the information about how to do CPR on a dog.
  • Personality sketch or profile  – A story about the accomplishments, attitudes and characteristics of an individual seeks to capture the essence of a person. This requires both thorough backgrounding of the subject and skills in interviewing as information tasks. The communicator has to have a well-honed ability for noticing details that bring to life what is interesting or unique about the person.
  • Informative  – A sidebar to accompany a main news story might be written as an informative feature. For example, an informative feature that describes the various methods firefighters use to combat wildfires might accompany a breaking news story. The information tasks for the reporter include a good command of sometimes-technical information to convey the story to the audience.
  • Historical  – Holidays are often the inspiration for this type of piece, with focus on the history of the Christmas tree, the first Thanksgiving dinner, etc. The curious communicator could also create features about the anniversary of the founding of an important local business or the celebration of statehood using background archival documents. The information tasks for these types of reports obviously require locating and interpreting extensive historical information.
  • Descriptive  – Many features are about places people can visit, or events they can attend. Tourist spots, historical sites, recreational areas, and festivals all generate reams of feature story copy, pictures and video. Public relations specialists often have a significant hand in generating much of the background information in these types of features and promoting these events or places to the news media. The information tasks include finding a fresh and engaging angle for the content.
  • How-to  – Some features are created to provide information about how to improve your golf game, become a power-shopper, install your own shower tile. The communicator has to have a solid grasp of the subject matter to do a respectable job with this type of piece. The information tasks for how-to features include the need for material that is descriptive, specific, and very clearly communicated.
  • Editorials – The editorial is a reflection of management’s attitude rather than a reporter’s or editor’s personal view. Most are unsigned and run on a specific page of the newspaper or website or during a particular time of the broadcast. Editorials usually seek to do one of three things: commend or condemn some action; persuade the audience to some point of view; or entertain and amuse the audience. The information tasks for an editorial include locating and using credible information as evidence for whatever position is being taken.
  • Columns – A column includes the personal opinions of the writer on the state of the community and the world. Many columns are written by syndicated, national writers, but local commentators and columnists also have a following in their communities. Columnists use information selectively, based on their point of view and the argument they are making. Columnists’ information tasks include maintaining a consistent “voice” and approach to each topic.
  • Reviews – Reviewers make informed judgments about the content and quality of something presented to the public–books, films, theater, television programs, concerts, recorded music, art exhibits, restaurants. The responsibility of reviewers is to report and evaluate on behalf of the audience. The information must be descriptive as well as evaluative. The reviewer describes the concert and then makes an evaluation of the quality of the performance. Reviewers’ information tasks require them to be deeply knowledgeable about the type of content or activity they are reviewing, as well as having an opinion about it.

Person sitting on brick staircase reading a newspaper

Why does this matter? If journalists don’t create stories that inform and engage their audience those people will find other outlets to satisfy their information needs. Journalism serves not only a public need, it is also a business and a business without customers won’t be in business for long.

News organizations conduct user surveys and track audience behavior just as other kinds of companies do.  The better journalists are able to understand their readership the better able they will be to anticipate and address their audiences needs. With the ability to track digital readership, journalists know what articles people read. At the start of the message analysis process journalists must ask a set of questions about their target audience that will help them identify the treatment of the topic about which they will be writing and make decisions about the kind of reporting they must do.

Understanding the audience that uses the publication or media outlet for which they are producing a news report will help clarify some of the following questions:

WHO:  Who reads / views the publication? Who would be interested in this topic? Who needs to know about this topic? Who is the media organization interested in attracting with its offerings?

WHAT : What would the potential audience member want to know about the topic? What kind of report would be most informative or helpful for the audience? What kind of information will be useful? What does the audience already know about this?

WHERE:  Where else do people interested in the topic find information? (For freelancers) Where should I pitch my story idea?

WHEN:  When does the audience need to get this information (is this fast-breaking news, or something that will be used as analysis after the event?)

WHY:  Why does the audience need to know this? Why does the audience care? Sometimes the audience member just wants to fill empty minutes with a news message (reading news briefs on a mobile device while standing in a line or eating alone at a restaurant). Sometimes the audience member needs to answer a specific question (who won the baseball game this afternoon? when does the movie start?). Each of these “why” questions suggests a different strategy for the communicator.

HOW:  How can we best communicate to the audience? How much background do they need to understand what we are writing about? How technical can we be? How might the audience react to this report?

  • News Messages / Audience. Authored by : Kathleen A. Hansen and Nora Paul. Located at : . Project : Information Strategies for Communicators . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Newspaper. Provided by : The Creative Exchange. Located at : . License : CC BY: Attribution

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News Writing Fundamentals

One of the most fundamental differences between journalism and other forms of writing is the way journalists obtain the information they write about. Journalists obtain information through a variety of reporting techniques, which can include interviewing sources, looking through government documents, researching old articles, and observing events firsthand.

Good news writing begins with good, accurate reporting. Journalists perform a public service for citizens by presenting truthful facts in honest, straight-forward articles.

News Values

Journalists commonly use six values to determine how newsworthy a story or elements of a story are. Knowing the news values can help a journalist make many decisions, including:

What information to give first in a news article, and in the lede

Which articles to display on a newspaper’s front page

What questions to ask in an interview

The six news values are:

Timeliness- Recent events have a higher news value than less recent ones.

Proximity- Stories taking place in one’s hometown or community are more newsworthy than those taking place far away.

Prominence- Famous people and those in the public eye have a higher news value than ordinary citizens.

Uniqueness/oddity- A story with a bizarre twist or strange occurrences. “Man bites dog” instead of “dog bites man.”

Impact- Stories that impact a large number of people may be more newsworthy than those impacting a smaller number of people.

Conflict- “If it bleeds, it leads.” Stories with strife, whether it’s actual violence or not, are more interesting.

The newsworthiness of a story is determined by a balance of these six values. There is no set formula to decide how newsworthy a story is, but in general, the more of these six values a story meets, the more newsworthy it is.

Libel is defined as the published defamation of a person’s character based on misleading or inaccurate facts. Newspaper reporters can often run into issues of libel because it is their job to write truthful articles about people that might not always be flattering.

Even though we live in a country with a free press, journalists cannot write anything they want. Reporters do not have the right to state something about a person that could damage their reputation and that is untruthful.

One of the easiest ways to protect oneself from libel is to make sure to always do accurate reporting and to attribute all information in an article. If you write something about someone that you’re unsure about, just ask yourself if it’s true, and how you know it’s true. Rumors, gossip, and information you received from an anonymous or unreliable source are all dangerous to report, and they could run you the risk of a libel case.

The lede (or lead) of a news article is the first sentence, usually written as one paragraph, that tells the most important information of the story. When writing a lede, it is helpful to use the “tell a friend” strategy. Imagine you had to sum up to a friend, in one sentence, what your story is about. How would you sum up quickly what happened? A story’s lede answers the “Five W’s” in a specific order: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

For example:

The Atlanta Police Department will hold a memorial service Wednesday at Holy Christ Church in Buckhead for fallen officer Lt. James Montgomery.

WHO: The Atlanta Police Department WHAT: will hold a memorial service WHEN: Wednesday WHERE: Holy Christ Church in Buckhead WHY: for fallen officer Lt. James Montgomery

Other Examples:

Gwinnett County Public Schools was awarded $250,000 early Wednesday as a finalist for what’s considered the Nobel Prize of public education.

A man beat an Army reservist in front of a Morrow Cracker Barrel, yelling racial slurs at her as he kicked her in the head, Morrow police said.

Examples courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Inverted Pyramid

News articles are written in a structure known as the “inverted pyramid.” In the inverted pyramid format, the most newsworthy information goes at the beginning of the story and the least newsworthy information goes at the end.

Inverted Pyramid

After you have written your story’s lede, order the information that follows in terms of most important to least important. There is NO formal conclusion in a journalism article the way there is in an essay or analysis paper.

Attributing information

ALL information in a news article MUST be attributed to the source where the reporter got his/her information. The reporter must indicate in his/her article where material was obtained from – from an interview, court documents, the Census, a Web site, etc. Direct quotes and paraphrasing can be used to attribute information obtained in an interview with a source.

According to a police report, the suspect threatened the cashier with a gun before running away with the money.

In a 500-page government report, investigators reported evidence that the army had committed crimes against humanity.

Integrating quotes

The first time a source is introduced in an article, you should use that source’s full name and title. After this initial reference, use the last name only.

“The swine flu vaccine is an incredible advance in modern medicine,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

When attributing a direct quote, always use the verb “said” and never any other verbs such as “explained,” “whispered,” etc. It is also more common to use the format “XXX said” instead of “said XXX.”

“The housing crisis is growing out of control,” Bernanke said.

Even when information from a source is not used in a direct quote and is paraphrased instead, it still must be attributed to that source.

Bernanke said the recession is probably over. The recession will most likely begin to recede in six to eight months, Bernanke said.

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How to Write a News Story

Newspaper article outline, how to write a news story in 15 steps.

  • Fact Checking
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The Purdue Owl : Journalism and Journalistic Writing: Introduction

From Scholastic: Writing a newspaper article

Article outline

I. Lead sentence

Grab and hook your reader right away.

II. Introduction

Which facts and figures will ground your story? You have to tell your readers where and when this story is happening.

III. Opening quotation 

What will give the reader a sense of the people involved and what they are thinking?

IV. Main body

What is at the heart of your story?

V. Closing quotation

Find something that sums the article up in a few words.

VI. Conclusion  (optional—the closing quote may do the job)

The following is an excerpt from The Elements of News Writing by James W. Kershner (Pearson, 2009).  This book is available for checkout at Buley Library (Call number PN 4775 .K37 2009, on the 3rd floor)

1.       Select a newsworthy story. Your goal is to give a timely account of a recent, interesting, and significant event or development.

2.       Think about your goals and objectives in writing the story. What will the readers want and need to know about the subject? How can you best tell the story?

3.       Find out who can provide the most accurate information about the subject and how to contact that person. Find out what other sources you can use to obtain relevant information.

4.       Do your homework. Do research so that you have a basic understanding of the situation before interviewing anyone about it. Check clips of stories already written on the subject.

5.       Prepare a list of questions to ask about the story.

6.       Arrange to get the needed information. This may mean scheduling an interview or locating the appropriate people to interview.

7.       Interview the source and take notes. Ask your prepared questions, plus other questions that come up in the course of the conversation. Ask the source to suggest other sources. Ask if you may call the source back for further questions later.

8.       Interview second and third sources, ask follow-up questions, and do further research until you have a understanding of the story.

9.       Ask yourself, “What’s the story?” and “What’s the point?” Be sure you have a clear focus in your mind before you start writing. Rough out a lead in your head.

10.   Make a written outline or plan of your story.

11.   Write your first draft following your plan, but changing it as necessary.

12.   Read through your first draft looking for content problems, holes, or weak spots, and revise it as necessary. Delete extra words, sentences, and paragraphs. Make every word count.

13.   Read your second draft aloud, listening for problems in logic or syntax.

14.   Copyedit your story, checking carefully for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and style problems.

15.   Deliver your finished story to the editor before deadline.

Kershner, J.W. (2009). The Elements of News Writing. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

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