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Writing a Good News Article - The Essentials

Aug 17, 2007
News writing is a great way for new writers to break into the publishing world, and gain valuable experience. Straightforward to write, the goal of a newspaper article is to educate the reader by answering the important who, what, where, when, why and how questions of the story.

Written like an inverted pyramid, with the most important information presented first, and least vital facts following in successive order down the pyramid, or article body. Start with a strong opening paragraph (otherwise known as the lead), that grabs the reader's attention, and sets the tone for the rest of the piece.

Answer the most important questions first, followed by more generic filler material, and ending with the least vital information. It is not uncommon for an editor to cut the last few paragraphs from a story when space is tight, so make sure no essential information or quotes appear near the end of the story.

The Essentials of Good New Writing:
Successful new writers are good at three things: writing clear, concise and accurate text quickly. Editors demand it. Deadlines are the tightest at daily publications, but weeklies too run at breakneck speed. Reporters are often required to cover a municipal meeting at 7 pm , and then go back to the office afterward to meet an eleven or twelve o'clock deadline. The ability to discern what's important, and gather enough facts and quotes to write an interesting and informative article in just a few hours is an absolute requirement for the job. Accuracy is even more vital. Accidentally misquoting someone during a heated argument, or writing down the wrong tax numbers will mark you as an amateur who can't be trusted and may likely get you fired!

The last thing most editors demand is brevity. Space is a luxury at most newspapers, so having the ability to give the reader an interesting and complete story in as few words as possible is a necessity. Don't be flowery with your prose, and never wander or stumble in your writing. Keep it short and to the point. Use adjectives lightly. Learn to write quickly, concisely and accurately, and you just might find you have a budding career in news writing.

Features, on the other hand, give the writer the opportunity to take the time and space to really dig into a subject and develop the story in a way straight news writing doesn't allow. Often much longer, ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 words, compared to the shorter 500 to 1,500 word news account, the feature is an excellent way to spread your wings as a writer and try a new style. Most news writers get the opportunity to work on features once in awhile, so be prepared to expand your horizons when the right story comes along that deserves more thought, research and overall coverage.

Finding Work As A Newspaper Reporter:
Finding work as a news writer isn't difficult, if you're willing to start small and built your credentials on the local level. Most communities, no matter how small, usually have at least one weekly and one daily newspaper covering the area's news. Weeklies are often short-staffed, and are eager to give new writers a chance to try their hand at "stringing," or covering local meetings/events on a story-by-story basis. Pay is rather low for these publication's, (often less than $35 per story), but they are a great place to learn the ropes and gather clips.

Once you've mastered the news writing pace and style, you may want to try your hand at a larger, daily publication. The pay here is much better -- (often ranging from $25 to $100 per article for stringers, depending on the article's page placement and length. Quality is the key at these publication's though, so be sure you're ready before making the plunge into daily news writing.

Both daily and weekly newspapers also offer some fulltime staff positions, but as circulations and profits continue to decrease in the print media nationwide, it's becoming more and more difficult for writers with little or no on-the-job experience to land one of these prized positions. However, news writing remains a viable way to increase the freelancer's income and offers the struggling writer a good opportunity to find regular assignments, and build their experience by being able to work on a lot of different kinds of projects and stories.
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