Writing and Editing a News Story
A news story starts with a lead. This first paragraph must grab people’s attention, encourage them to keep reading and either convey or foreshadow the main point or points of the story. This form differs from an essay or research paper, which presumes a reader will finish the entire piece. As a result, essays or papers may build to a finish.
With a news story, the audience can stop at any time and often will. In most cases, you are communicating with people who are not from your discipline and are not a captive audience, so your story needs to captivate them.
In a feature story, or news feature, the lead can be longer and the news hook can be less time-driven.
With both types of stories, you can use examples and anecdotes that help the reader or viewer understand the concepts that are part of your news. Here are examples of three different leads. The first two take a more feature-oriented approach, and the third takes a hard news approach.
- In less than one hour, the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses absorb the same amount of solar energy as the total amount of energy humans use in one year. UNC Charlotte researcher Marcus Jones’ lab, the Nanoscale Science Dynamics Group, is finding ways to efficiently harness this vast source of energy through nanoscience.
- Care for the 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States can prove fragmented, as agencies often work in isolation. A new book by researcher, educator and advocate Teresa L. Scheid serves as a roadmap for communities seeking a more unified approach.
- Physics major Jennifer Kassel and computer science and mathematics major Jonathan Knighten have received two of the three National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships awarded to UNC Charlotte students for 2015.
Keep your paragraphs short. Readers grow weary of long paragraphs, or “walls of copy,” especially if the subject is one they find difficult or unfamiliar.
Make sure you are accurate on all counts – check your spelling, your statistics, your facts and the names and titles of organizations, institutions or people you may include. If you are writing a story with a specific publication in mind, pay attention to the type, tone and length of the stories that interest the editors and reporters. If they have already published a story on your subject, they may want more — or they may have done all they plan to do. This is much like a journal in that regard.
While the College Communications and Marketing Director and University Public Relations team will be responsible for communicating with the media about your story, it helps greatly if you have given thought to these factors as you pull together a draft for us to review.
After you pull together a draft, take time to edit. Seek editing input from others, as they will see things you miss and can provide valuable feedback.
News media follow up from news releases for interviews to add lively quotes or to obtain clarification. They also check facts and explore implications they see in the story. Media also seek quotes on topical news, and they look for story ideas proactively. In all these cases, interview subjects can take a few basic steps to prepare.
- If you are approached by a reporter, ask the reporter’s deadline for the story. Determine if you can be available within the time frame and understand that they also may email or call you later with follow-up questions.
- It’s fine to ask the topic the reporter wants to cover with you and what type of questions they want to ask. If the topic is not in your field of expertise and you do not feel comfortable talking on that subject, you certainly can decline. In that case, please let us know, so we can help the reporter find another expert.
- It’s also appropriate to ask the reporter for a few minutes to prepare. This allows you time to think through points that may be important to make, to make notes and to check facts. You also can consult with the College Communications and Marketing Director or University Public Relations as needed.
- However, keep in mind that reporters are usually working within the span of hours, and sometimes minutes.
- You will have a few minutes — and perhaps just seconds — to make your points. Therefore, make the most important points first, then fill in brief explanations or details as needed.
- Long-winded and complicated comments can cause confusion or lead to the reporter summarizing your points rather than using your own words, which can lead to inaccuracies because the reporter most likely is not an expert in your field.
- Be ready with brief analogies or examples to help explain complex or abstract concepts. Give the example first, then hook it to the idea or concept. This helps the reporter and the audience by giving them a familiar framework by which to understand the possibly unfamiliar or complex concept.
- If you do not know the answer to a question, simply say that is not your area of expertise. If you are asked a question that makes you uncomfortable or if you are unsure of the answer, it’s best not to say “no comment.” Instead, you can say something like “That is not an area I can address, but I can talk about….”
- Remember to avoid giving the impression you speak for the University, the College or other official UNC Charlotte entities.