Journalism 101

Featured School Papers:

Know Your J-Jargon

designer: A journalist who creates visually appealing and clear news pages using stories, photos and art.

Learn more J-Jargon »

15 tips on news writing for young journalists

By Steve Row

  1. Decide what the story is really about and put that at the top. If you are doing a profile story on another student, you don’t begin with “Susan Smith was born on …”
  2. Unless the story is about something historical, you do not begin any story with “On Monday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. in the school auditorium…”
  3. As a reporter, you have the opportunity to not write about events in chronological order. If the most important part of the event happened near the end, that belongs at the beginning of the story, not near the end. If the most important part of the interview came in the middle, that belongs at the top of the story, not the middle.
  4. Any time you can find more the one word to say something, use the simplest, clearest, most precise word. Example: use “said,” not “commented” or “stated.”
  5. Write to be understood, not to be admired. Write for the reader, not for yourself, If you do this, the reader will admire your writing.
  6. Avoid using too many adverbs and adjectives, Avoid “very” and “really.” Avoid starting sentences with “They are,” There is,” “It is.”
  7. “News story,” “feature story,” and “sports story,” do not have “I” in them. Instead, they have an “eye” in them, because the reporter must be able to see what has happened and who said what and who did what to be able to report that in the story.
  8. Because of that, all news writing must be absolutely true, absolutely accurate.
  9. Generally, news stories, feature stories and sports stories are written in the past tense and in the active voice.
  10. Generally, news stories, feature stories and sports stories are written in one- or two-sentence paragraphs.
  11. Quotes always start in their own paragraphs.
  12. While you should not start a story with a quote, you can end a story with a quote. In fact, a quote is the best way to end a story. Stories do not end with a reporter’s summary or conclusion or subjective comment.
  13. Because news, feature and sports stories are forms of information, they don’t need underlining, bold face, italics, all capital letters or exclamation points for emphasis.
  14. Finish the story before you begin to think of the headline. If you try to write the headline before you write the story, your headline might cause your story to go in the wrong direction.
  15. You should be able to write a headline that generally describes the whole story from just the first four paragraphs. Those paragraphs are the lead of the story, and if they do not tell the reader what the whole story is about, they should be rewritten.

Steve Row was a newspaper reporter and editor for 24 years in Richmond, Va., before moving into journalism education outreach to area high schools on behalf of Richmond Newspapers for 11 years. He now lives in Greenville, N.C., where he writes, edits and teaches.