||Chapter 10 - Writing News and Features
Writing for the mass media begins with learning how to write news. This chapter gives students a basic introduction to the forms and conventions of writing news and feature stories for print and the web.
Journalistic writing is formal, structured and demanding. The presentation of information -- accurate information in an accurate context -- is the main goal of writing, rather than the presentation and development of an individual writer's style.
All media writing attempts to present information accurately, precisely, clearly and efficiently. Meeting those goals are the main things involved in learning to write for the media.
A number of important conventions must be learned about media writing. One is modesty -- a writer attempts to stay in the background. Another is attribution -- telling the reader the source of the information.
Feature writing, also included in this chapter, generally emphasizes the people involved in news and of interest to the general public.
- The book describes four characteristics that should be in all media writing -- accuracy, precision, clarity and efficiency. What is meant by each?
- What is attribution and why is it important in journalistic writing?
- Are there good substitutes for "said" as a verb of attribution? When should they be used?
- What is the inverted pyramid? What are its characteristics?
- What are the requirements for a lead paragraph in a news story?
- An inverted pyramid news story is not a chronological account of an event. Why not?
- How does feature writing differ from news writing? How is it similar?
- The book says one of the best ways to learn news writing is to "read, analyze and emulate." What is mean by that?
The verb "said." In journalistic writing, there is no good substitute for the verb "said." Still, beginning students are sometimes self-conscious about using "said" so much in their writing, and they try to find substitutes. The problem with a substitute is that they are laden with added meanings that the writer may not want to include. For instance, a writer might try to use "claimed" instead of "said." Claimed implies doubt -- as if to say, he "claimed" he did it, but we're not sure. Be care about using verbs of attribution; they may say more than you want to say. Stick with the verb "said." It's simple and straightforward, and you won't have to carry any extra baggage by adding to its meaning. (There's more on this site about verbs of attribution.)
Writing for the Mass Media. The author of Journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How is also the author of a writing textbook titled Writing for the Mass Media. The book introduces students to all of the major forms of writing for the mass media: the inverted pyramid news story, the dramatic unity broadcasting story, summaries for the web, advertising copywriting, and public relations forms such as the news release and the speech and statement. The book is in its fifth edition; a sixth edition should be out in 2006. More information about this book can be found at Allyn and Bacon, which also maintains a web site for the book itself. The web site contains many additional resources and materials for both students and teachers.
Clichés. One of the most dangerous traps a writer can fall into -- especially a beginning writer -- is the use of clichés. Clichés are overused expressions that have lost their freshness and vitality. Chances are, if you hear a new expression more than once among your friends, it has already reached the status of a cliché -- and it should be avoided like the plague (!! CLICHE ALERT!!). We've included a list of clichés on this web site that should be avoided, but the list is not complete. You can probably add to it yourself.
Simple words. A lot of people don't believe this: Simple words are the most powerful and most effective words you can use. If you want to get your message across to a reader (or a listener), express yourself in the simplest way possible. Many people believe the opposite. They think the more elaborate and complex the words, the more effective the message. Here's a short essay on the topic.
Mark Twain on writing. Mark Twain knew a lot about the writing. That's obvious from the great works that he produced. He also wrote a good deal about writing. Here are two of his quotations that good writers should heed:
With a hundred words to do it with, the literary artisan could catch that airy thought and tie it down and reduce it to a . . . cabbage, but the artist does it with twenty, and the result is a flower.
Substitute damn every time you're inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Key terms and concepts
• The ability to use the language efficiently, effectively and with confidence is the mark of a good journalist.
• The journalist must learn certain writing techniques and structures to be successful, but those requirements do not lessen the creativity of the writing process.
• All journalistic writing should share four characteristics: accuracy, clarity, precision and efficiency.
• Precision the ability to use the language correctly, following commonly accepted rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling and using words for precisely what they mean.
• Good journalistic writing uses the simplest words possible, and a variety of sentence structures.
• Attribution giving credit to sources for their information; this is one of the most important journalistic writing conventions.
• Inverted pyramid the major structure of news stories; the most important information (often the latest information) is at the beginning of the story, not at the end; information is presented in order of its importance.
• Lead the first paragraph in a news story; pronounced LEED.
• Feature writing often centers around people and their interests rather than events, but many of the same writing conventions of news writing (particularly a concern for accuracy) are also required for feature writing.
• One of the most effective ways of learning to write is to read good writing and to try to model your writing on what you have read.