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Newswriting Style Chapter 4. “Just the facts, mam.” --Joe Friday, “Dragnet”. One of the basic principles of journalism is the separation of fact and opinion. Reporters and editors strive to keep their own opinions out of news stories.

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just the facts mam joe friday dragnet
“Just the facts, mam.”--Joe Friday, “Dragnet”
  • One of the basic principles of journalism is the separation of fact and opinion. Reporters and editors strive to keep their own opinions out of news stories.
  • Because readers and viewers have different educational levels, interests, etc., news writers– to communicate effectively with a mass audience– must learn to present information in a way that will allow almost everyone to read and understand it.
  • Beginners may find the newswriting style awkward at first; however, once it is mastered, students will find it can help them be more clear and concise in all writing.
planning and prep
Planning and Prep
  • The first step to a well-written story is planning and preparation
    • Identify the story’s central point—do this by writing a one-or-two-sentence summary of what the story is about and why it is newsworthy.
    • By including the central point, writers clearly tell readers (and listeners/viewers) what they will learn by reading the entire story.
planning and prep1
Planning and Prep
  • Story outlines—Reporters review their notes and other materials they have gathered before they start writing.
  • Candidate for mayor outline example (p. 66)
  • This helps identify the central point and the information needed to develop it.
  • It also helps them decide what the major sections of their stories will be.
  • The central point and a brief outline of the major sections form the skeleton of the story. The reporter needs only to develop each section.
  • Failure to identify the central point or lose sight of that central point risk writing stories that are incoherent and incomplete.
kiss keep it simple stupid
“KISS”--Keep it Simple, Stupid!
  • Simplify Words, Sentences and Paragraphs
    • To simplify stories, avoid long, unfamiliar words
    • Also use short sentences and short paragraphs—research has consistently found a strong correlation between readability and sentence length: The longer a sentence is, the more difficult it is to understand.
    • One survey found that 75 percent of readers were able to understand sentences containing an average of 20 words, but understanding dropped rapidly as the sentences became longer
more kiss ing
More “KISS”ing…
  • But this doesn’t mean all sentences should be short. This would make the writing seem choppy. Have a mix of shorter and longer sentences.
  • Newswriters should write for the ear, listening to the natural rhythm, or flow, of the words and sentences they put on paper. Test your stories by reading them aloud to yourself or to a friend, or in a tape recorder then play them back.
  • Paragraphs should demonstrate relationships between ideas. It is a means of making complicated material clear. Like the words that form sentences, the sentences that form paragraphs should flow together, logically combining similar thoughts or ideas.
eliminate unnecessary words
Eliminate Unnecessary Words
  • Newswriters must learn to eliminate unnecessary words yet retain enough detail to make their stories informative. (see word elimination exercise on page 71)
  • Brevity makes it easier for readers to grasp the main idea of each story.
objectivity a cornerstone of journalism
Objectivity—a Cornerstone of Journalism
  • Remain Objective—
    • Journalists must strive to be as impartial or “objective” as possible.
    • Reporters are neutral observers, not advocates or participants
    • They provide the facts and details of the stories they report, not their own interpretations or opinions of the facts and events.
    • Journalists express their opinions only in editorials and commentaries (and TV/cable “talking head” shows)
    • When reporters inject their own opinions into a story, they risk offending readers and viewers who may not want reporters telling them how to think (see example, page 73)
objectivity a core value ideal
Objectivity—a core value/ideal
  • Newswriters can report the opinions expressed by other people—the sources for their stories—but must clearly attribute those opinions to the source.
  • If reporters fail to provide the proper attribution, readers may think the reporters are expressing their own opinions or agreeing with the source.
  • A single word expressing an opinion can infuriate readers (see example on page 73)
avoid stereotypical ism racism sexism agism
Avoid Stereotypical “Ism”—Racism, Sexism, Agism
  • Reporters mention a person’s race, religion or ethnic background only when the fact is clearly relevant to the story.
  • Be sensitive to sexist stereotypes—in the past, news stories mentioning women often emphasized their roles as wives, mothers, cooks, housekeepers and sex objects. Times have changed.
  • Never assume everyone involved in a story is male (firemen, mailmen, etc) or that all people holding prestigious jobs are male or that most women are full-time homemakers.
avoid isms and gender references
Avoid “isms” and gender references
  • Avoid stereotypes that suggest older Americans are all lonely, inactive, unproductive, poor, passive, weak and sick.
  • Avoid the cumbersome and repetitive “he/she” references by working/writing around them. Example: “A postal carrier has his regular mail route.” Better: “A postal carrier has a regular mail route.” Or make plural: “Postal carriers have regular mail routes.”
more on avoiding stereotypes
More on Avoiding Stereotypes
  • Be careful to avoid other stereotypes:
    • Individuals with physical and mental disabilities as helpless, deficient or unable to contribute to society
    • Some Vietnam War veterans feel they’ve been stereotyped by the media as violent and unstable
    • Religious groups- Muslims, for example, as terrorists or inherently violent, or some Christian denominations as strange, different or extremist in their beliefs.
    • Reporters must be careful when covering members or different faiths. Be careful that you do not stereotype all members of a particular faith because of the actions of a branch of that faith—Islam, for example.