Typically writing good news articles used to involve spending many years as a junior reporter and slowly gaining experience through trial and error, with articles being thrown back by the editor until they achieved the standard that was required. However there are certain tips that can be used if you are planning to write news articles, be it for a website or for a more traditional paper based publication. Unfortunately many journalists nowadays are becoming experts at searching Google to copy and paste articles together which have little or no original content, however with a bit of planning and a small amount of time it is possible to create something that is informative and new i.e. a news report.
Do some research.
So you have found out something has happened. Do some research on it. Has the event happened before? What was the outcome? Who are the people involved? Is there any information on what they have done in the past? Who are the experts in the subject? Who might be concerned or have an opinion? What is the context in which the event has happened? After this stage you will have the skeleton of your news report and possibly a lot of the article itself.
Think of angles.
There isn’t really a news story that can’t be viewed from different viewpoints. Someone’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. Was it an invasion or liberation? Be aware of this at the outset and try to be as factual as possible when gathering the facts for the article. A neutral viewpoint at this stage will help gather information. When you are writing the article think of the wording you are using and the target audience and what they would like to read.
Think of questions to ask.
The stock questions of who, what, where, when and why should become second nature. However think of some questions to get further information for your news story. How long did it take for the emergency services to arrive? Why do you think it happened? Also think of questions where the person will have to give an answer other than yes or no. These never make good quotes for a story, which leads us onto the next section.
Quotes give credibility to the news article and also the publication in which it appears. ‘X told our reporter that: …’ is really an essential part of any news story. It’s content that the reader will realise they can’t be read elsewhere. Also try to get quotes from people with differing viewpoints. If you can engage the reader and get them thinking about who might be right you have written a good article.
Make sure you document everything. In today’s litigious society writing something that is defamatory can lead to horrendous legal battles. Make sure that you have used credible sources and can prove where facts came from. If you are unsure on using something for your news article then seek specialist legal advice.
As you ask questions on the news story then you may find other avenues opening up. Be prepared for the news article to change, or perhaps to start noting down information and contacts for another news story.
Be friendly and leave a good impression. Perhaps even get back to them with information you have found before it is published (be careful on this one). Contacts are good for further news stories or even to bounce ideas off. There is a phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. However this can easily be expanded to “it’s not who you know; it’s who, who you knows”.
Be time sensitive.
You have deadlines to keep to. If your article is published after everyone else’s then it is going to lose its impact even though it might have more original content. You need to find the balance between the amount of detail you can research and put in and the time it takes.