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The Basics: Format, Copy Editing and AP Style Chapter 1 Reporting for the Media True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learned to dance. ( Alexander Pope )

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The Basics:

Format, Copy Editing and AP Style

Chapter 1

Reporting for the Media

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,

As those move easiest who have learned to dance.

(Alexander Pope)


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I think writing is like dancing, or playing the piano, the more you do it, the more you keep up with it, the better you get. Also, writing is one of those things where if you stay practiced you'll be ready when those great ideas come along.

(Carolyn Dawn Johnson)


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Dancing with Style

  • When we write, we dance with style. In this class, we dance with Associated Press Style.

  • We may write a complicated feature. It may feel like a tango. Or, we may write a simple, breaking news story. It could be a two-step or a waltz. But, each has a basic style.

  • In news writing, AP Style gives us charts of the basic steps.

  • Journalists around the world recognize AP Style and use the charts adapted by it.


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One is these charts is a list of editing symbols and you will find them inside the front cover of your textbook.

You can also access this list at www.dibbs.net

There is a list of copy-editing symbols in your AP Stylebook

Although there are some variations between the lists, the marks you will most often use are standard.

These comprise a language we will use to communicate what changes need to be made.


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The INTRANET provides an excellent place for most organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

The first edition of the Press-Register stylebook was more than 10 years in the making and was published as a booklet only once.


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Style Helps with Accuracy organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • If it isn’t accurate, it isn’t news. It’s fiction.

  • Stylebooks are invaluable as guides for accuracy.

  • Nothing is more embarrassing than a new reporter writing about “Dolphin Island,” instead of “Dauphin Island.”

  • Or, one wrote about “Meyer Mitchell” and used “Mayor Mitchell”, as if he were the mayor.


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Let’s Dance organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • Print has a style: Basically, it’s writing for the reader

    • Newspaper

    • Magazine

  • Broadcast has a style: Writing for a reader

  • Internet has a style: Writing for the browser and surfer


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Suggested Web Site organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • http://writing.umn.edu/docs/publications/irving%20fang.pdf

  • “Writing Style Differences in Newspaper, Radio, and Television News,” a monograph by Irving Fang of the University of Minnesota. A clear discussion, along with examples of stories demonstrating the differences in style.


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Writing for organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.The Reader

  • Learn to write a GREAT Lead. All pieces of writing should have a unifying theme or central idea expressed in the lead.

  • After your reader is “in,” keep him there with good transition. Make your copy “flow.” Transition ties information together and tips the reader off to what may come next. This is narrative. This is story-telling.


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Types of Transitions organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • Connectorsare simple words that help flow, in a structural way. They help unify your writing.

  • Some examples are But, Or, Thus, However, Therefore, Meanwhile, On The Other Hand. Don’t overuse these.

  • Hooksare words, or phrases, repeated to give the reader a continual sense of unity in the story.

  • In an armed robbery story, you can use “robbery,” “robber,” “robbed,” “thief” and “theft” several times throughout a story.


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Types of Transitions organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • Use pronouns naturally to avoid repeating the names of people or things too often.

  • Use similar ideas: “This was like…” “It reminded victims of …” within an article.

  • Use words or phrases that refer to a time: Then, Next, Later that day, When he came back, etc.

  • Numbering items within your writing will help tie your information together. His first priority was, secondly, thirdly, etc.


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Characteristics of Print News organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • Attribution: telling readers where you got the information for your story.

    • Attribution leads to credibility

    • Information that is common knowledge does not have to be attributed

  • The best of all attribution terms is “said.” “He said, she said, the mayor said, the captain said, etc.

  • ATTRIBUTION IS A MUST


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  • Short sentences, short paragraphs organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.: paragraph length should be kept to three sentences, or fewer, and fewer than 100 words.

  • Third Person: news stories are usually written in the third person.

  • Here, you use the he-she form.  As in:he walked down the alley, she picked up the phone, and Jason told Tony he was going down, if he didn't cough up the money.  

  • An Attitude for Accuracy and Attribution: accuracy should be a state of mind for the news writer, because if it isn’t accurate, it isn’t news, it’s fiction.


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The Inverted Pyramid organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • The Inverted Pyramid concentrates important information at the top of the story.

  • The LEAD is the focal point of a basic news story.

  • The Second Paragraph expands on some of the information presented in the lead.

  • The Body adds detail.

  • But, the LEAD is the focal point of a basic news story.


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Quotes organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • Use direct quotes sparingly.

  • Direct quotes should supplement and clarify information in your indirect quotes.

  • The correct sequence for a direct quote and its attribution is Direct Quote, Speaker, Verb.

  • Example: “I do not choose to run,” the nominee said.

  • It should be MEMORABLE!


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Editing and Rewriting organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • ALL WRITERS NEED AN EDITOR!

  • The first editing responsibility belongs to the writer.

  • Copy editing involves various techniques and operations that change and improve copy, without altering basic structure and approach.

  • Rewriting means rewording large portions of the copy and re-examining its structure.


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Editing and Rewriting: organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • Style: Check spelling, grammar, and AP style for conformity.

  • Verbs: Make sure verbs are active and descriptive; make sure they agree with subjects.

  • Wordiness: Avoid using too many words.

  • Answer all the questions: Did you answer all the Ws and the H of the story?

  • Internal consistency: Make sure figures add up properly, and times and dates are logical and in AP style.


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Feature Writing organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • The main thing that sets feature stories apart from news stories is the greater amount of detail and description features contain.

  • Three major kinds of descriptions should be contained in a feature story:

    • Describe actions

    • Describe people

    • Describe places

  • Feature stories contain more quotations and dialogue than breaking news stories.


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Features organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • Profilepeople who make the news

  • Explainevents that move or shape the news

  • Analyze what is happening in the world, nation or community

  • Teach an audience how to do something

  • Suggest better ways to live

  • Examine trends

  • Entertain


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Types of Features organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • Personality Profiles—written to bring an audience closer to a person in or out of the news

  • Human Interest Stories—written to show a subjects oddity or its practical, emotional, or entertainment value

  • Trend Stories—examines people, things or organizations that are having an impact on society

  • In-depth stories—stories that require extensive research and interviews

  • Backgrounders—adds meaning to current issues in the news by explaining them further; explain how countries, organizations, people etc. got to where they are now.


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Writing for Broadcast organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

When you write broadcast copy, you write for A reader. You write for an anchor, or an announcer.


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Selection of News for Broadcast organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • The following are some factors that broadcasters use to select news:

    • Timeliness—the most important news value in broadcast news

    • Inform, not explain—broadcasters generally choose stories that do not need a lot of explanation to be understood by listeners

    • Audio or Visual Impact—broadcasters want stories that their audience can hear and see; stories are often chosen because of sound and/or picture availability.


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Characteristics of Writing organizations to post their supplemental stylebooks.

  • There are four Cs to broadcast journalism:

    • Correctness—or accuracy

    • Clarity—clear, precise language that contains no ambiguity; viewers cannot re-hear broadcast news—they must understand it the first time

    • Conversational—broadcast news must sound more conversational b/c people will be reading it aloud

    • Color—writing that allows the listener to paint a picture of the story or event being reported


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  • News that is more than an hour or two old may be considered stale.

  • The maximum length for almost any story is two minutes; the normal length is thirty seconds.

  • Slang and colorful phrasing is generally not permitted in broadcast news.

  • Should be written in present tense as much as possible.

  • Omit the time element in most news stories.

  • Broadcast writers have to learn to produce in a highly pressurized atmosphere: deadlines are imminent.


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Story Structure stale.

  • Dramatic Structure—most common structure for broadcast news; it has three parts:

    • Climax—gives the listener the point of the story in about the same way the lead of a print news story does; it tells the listener what happened.

    • Cause—tells why the story happened—the circumstance surrounding the event.

    • Effect—gives the listener the context of the story and possibly some insight about what the story means.


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  • Broadcast journalists think of their stories as stale.completed circles rather than inverted pyramids.

  • Stories must be written to fit into an amount of time designated by the editor or news director.

  • Getting the attention of the listener is of top importance in broadcast news! The first sentence of a broadcast news story should be an attention getter!

  • Broadcast news stories cannot go into the detail and explanation that print or web stories can.


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Broadcast Writing Style stale.

  • Conventions of Broadcast Writing:

    • Titles usually come before names.

    • Avoid abbreviations, even on the second reference—except familiar ones: FBI and UN.

    • Avoid direct quotes if possible.

    • Attribution should come before a quotation, not after it.

    • Use as little punctuation as possible, but enough to help the newscaster through the copy.


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  • Numbers and statistics should be rounded off: stale.

    • Numbers one through nine should be spelled out; numbers 10 through 999 should be written as numerals; write out hundred, thousand, million, billion, and use a combination of numerals with these numbers where appropriate (i.e. 15-hundred)

    • Don’t write a million, or a billion, but one million, one billion


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  • COPY IS PREPARED FOR THE ANNOUNCER stale.! Thus, there are certain rules most news stations will employ when preparing broadcast copy:

    • Type only one story on a page and provide an ending mark such as “—30—,” at the end of the page.

    • Use caps and lower case

    • Don’t carry over a paragraph to another page—begin the next page with a new paragraph

    • Don’t hyphenate at the end of a line

    • Indicate when tapes are coming into a story.


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Characteristics/Qualities stale.of the Web

  • Immediacy: once information is available in some form, it can be loaded onto a Web site within a few seconds

    • The Web does not require personnel or equipment & does not have any distribution problems

  • The Drudge Report:Drudge taught newspapers and magazines the importance of immediacy. A story, which may have been an exclusive not only became public, but became a question of good journalism.


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  • The actions of Newsweek: stale. Newsweek editors and Matt Drudge on January 17, 1998, have been the subject of many debates on journalism ethics and practices … they demonstrated the power of the World Wide Web.

  • Permanency: material on the web can remain in place and accessible as long as the Web server and electronic storage space exist.

    • Printed materials are certainly more lasting than broadcasting, but their life and usefulness is limited. With the Web, material can stay in place as long as the host Web server and storage space exists.


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  • Capacity: stale. The Web can keep and show huge amounts of text and image material—there are no limits like there are in broadcasting and print.

    • Thanks to the Web (and other technological advances) we can store more in smaller spaces and centralize information.

    • Not only can a news Web site load a story about an event, but it can also offer pictures, video, audio, graphics, and more detailed text, like sidebars.


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  • Interactivity: stale. The Web offers a level of interactivity between producers and consumers that goes far beyond print.

    • People have no control over what radio and television stations broadcast, or what newspapers print.

    • The technology of the Web offers a level of interactivity between producers and consumers that goes far beyond that.

    • Visitors can communicate directly through e-mail or other means set up by the producers.

    • The Web remains a medium of Words, Images and Sounds, especially WORDS. The Web needs people who produce good, understandable text.


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The Web Audience stale.

  • The Most Important Characteristicspeople of all demographics expect and want from Web sites are accuracy, accessibility.


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Expectations for Web Sites stale.

  • Speed: they should load quickly and their links should respond instantly

  • Visual logic: a web page should be easy to figure out; it should be clear what the web site is about, what it contains, who produced it

  • Simple organization and navigation

  • Depth: they must contain enough information

  • News: they need to present new and updated information


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Creating Web Content stale.

  • Web writing follows the inverted pyramid style of writing.

  • Web content should be accurate, complete, precise and efficient. If it isn’t accurate, it isn’t news.

  • Writers for the Web should use simple, clear language unadorned with personal opinions or personal writing style. Some of today’s worst writing is on the Web.


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Concision stale.

  • A term that explains the need for precision and concise Web text.

  • Elements of Concision:

    • Keywords: bold face words that indicate the information being presented; often provide links and/or are in bold print

    • Short Paragraphs: 3 to 4 sentences at most

    • Indentations: help provide visual cues for readers

    • Bulleted and numbered lists


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Other Web Page Characteristics stale.

  • Background, details and lists

  • Pictures

  • Graphics

  • Maps

  • Documents—such as court opinions, laws, policy statements

  • Previous stories

  • Audio and Video Clips

  • Links to other web sites

  • E-polls

  • Discussion forums


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E-mail stale.

  • E-mail is now a tool of mass communication.

  • E-mail newsletters are an increasingly popular form of keeping people informed.



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Writing to be Understood stale.An altered version of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “The Poet”

  • Constantly risking absurdity and death, if he performs above the heads of his audience, the writer, like an acrobat, climbs on style to a high-wire of his own making.

  • Then, balancing above a sea of faces, paces his way to the other side of day, performing jumps, style tricks, and other high theatrics, but never mistaking anything for what it may not be.

  • For he is the super-realist, who must, perforce, perceive taut truth, before each step or stance in his advance toward a higher perch, where beauty waits with gravity – to start her death-defying leap.

  • And, he is the little Charlie Chaplin man, who may, or may not, catch her fair, spread-eagle form in the empty air of existence.


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I went to a dance class. stale.

Why a dance class?

A man bought me a ticket.

  • When you and style find each other, it will be a new beginning – a fresh start.

  • Memories are hard, because they involve habits. Habits are hard to break.

  • You’ve come to writing (dance) class as a favor. Someone, maybe you, bought a ticket.

  • You’re looking to deliver a message.

  • On the way, you may find something else. You may find the beauty of narrative.

  • But, what if that beauty is not there at the end of your journey?

  • Oh, don’t worry. She’ll be there.


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1, 2, 3 – Repeat stale.

– You’re Waltzing

  • You are human

  • Use AP Style

  • Get names right

  • Check facts

  • Learn grammar

  • Write simply

  • Use the right word

  • Keep sentences short

  • Listen, listen, listen

  • Use unforgettable quotes

  • Think – write

  • Write - rewrite

  • Be original, not trite - rewrite

  • Write about people


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