Acknowledgement: This manual has been adapted from The Yale Daily News Handbook for Reporters (2003) by the editorial staff of the Yale Daily News.
The most important aspect of reporting is veracity. Veracity means a sustained focus on accuracy, fairness and objectivity. All people naturally harbor biases. Therefore, reporters must examine all of their choices very closely to ensure their work’s veracity. For everything sentence you write, make a habit of asking yourself these questions:
- Is this the opinion of my sources, not just my own opinion? Do not comment on what you write, simply tell the story. When a particular opinion is necessary for telling your story, quote directly from your sources–do not editorialize. The most common and subtle way that this happens is in your choice of adverbs and adjectives: “luckily, the team won” is no good. But “luckily for the players” is fine.
- Is this an accurate portrayal of my sources?
Always be accurate. Double-check everything, triple-check everything. You should be completely confident in your facts, numbers and spellings. Use the yearbook for correct grade and spelling of names, don’t ask a friend. If you’re not sure about something, call back. Be nice when you call back and explain that you want to make sure that you don’t get anything wrong – most sources will appreciate your thoroughness.
Quote accurately. Anything within quotation marks must be exactly what the person you attribute the quotation to said. If a source says, “Curling and street luge are two of my favorite sports,” you cannot quote the person as saying that “Street luge and curling are two of my favorite sports” or “I like curling and street luge.” The only exception is that you may repair obvious minor grammatical mistakes.
Quote in context. Be careful not to twist people’s words. It can be easy to take one statement or part of a statement and make it seem to say something very different from what the source intended. This rule does not mean that you cannot print something controversial or stupid that a source says (someone once said that the meanest dirty trick a reporter ever can play on a source is to quote him accurately).
Never go into an interview blind. The first thing you should do is research and see if anything has already been written on your topic. This provides you with helpful background information that will help you as you start to create interview questions and write a finished draft. You want to make sure that an interview provides you with valuable info to write your story, and without good questions this is not possible.
A good place to check is the archives of our own paper, the JagWire. The archives are a valuable source of background information. Try doing a search on the Web for the News and Observer, the NY Times or the Chapel Hill Herald, or the Daily Tar Heel, making sure to be creative in looking up the topic. Just looking up “Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt” if you’re writing a story about the mayor will give you hundreds of articles, whereas refining the search to include a word relating to the specific topic likely will save you a great deal of time.
The Internet is also quite useful in finding phone numbers, addresses and a ton of other interesting information and data. It’s also a good idea to look up experts or important people to interview for your article and contact them.
III. The Interview
Researching and interviewing are the foundations of a strong, balanced and informative story. For every article, it’s best to have at least three sources. Those three people should not all be teachers or students with the same type of response; they should also include a variety of perspectives.
Regardless of the situation, there are several things a reporter should always remember before interviewing anyone.
- Do research beforehand. If you are asking a student about how she feels about an increase to her financial aid package, she should not have to explain how financial aid works.
- Prepare with questions in advance. Write open ended questions. Be flexible with the questions if the conversation leads in an unexpected direction. Do not ask a basic question the subject would expect you to have researched already.
- Identify yourself to the interviewee. Introduce yourself as a JagWire reporter. Say, “Hi, I’m Ian Foster, a reporter for the JagWire, the CHS student newspaper. I’d like to ask you some questions about … When would be a good time to meet with you?”
- Always carry a notebook. Or at least paper and pen. OR a google document–jot down everything you can! If they speak too fast, politely ask them to speak slower, and don’t be afraid to take pauses to get all the words down. Ask to record the conversation so you can reference it later when you’re writing the article.
- Check names. After you are through with your questions, ask the person to spell his name and any other relevant information.
- Keep your notes. It’s important to have a record of your interviews in case a source complains about being misquoted.
- You are “on the record.” Once you identify yourself as reporter for the JagWire, everything the person you are talking to says is on the record unless otherwise specified. Besides “on the record,”
- Off the record: When you speak to a source off the record, nothing is printable from the conversation.
- Not for attribution: Sometimes a person may want to tell you information for your article but not want his name attached to it. A teacher may tell you, not for attribution, that she thinks the local school board is being stubborn with approving a new request. You could then print something like, “A teacher said school board members are…” When you will use a source, discuss how you will refer to the speaker. Also, be careful with this information. Allowing people to take potshots anonymously is not generally good policy, and we only use quotations without names when there’s a really good reason.
- Be organized. Arrive on time. Remind your interviewee in advance of the meeting. Introduce yourself politely. Thank your person at the interview’s end. If you wish to record the interview, ask at the beginning for permission.
As a JagWire staffer, you will have the chance to write many different types of stories. The following are examples of frequent article types and guidelines for how to approach reporting and writing on various topics.
i. Hard News
These stories cover something new that has happened. Both hard news and soft news (feature) are informational, but hard news covers a specific, relevant event while soft news is more broad. Hard news stories can report on an event that just occurred, or they can preview an event that will take place in the near-future.
Example 1: “CTE students wow with presentations” from the May 2017 issue
This article details CTE presentations that took place that same day. Here is the first part of this article:
On Tuesday, May 16, seven upperclassmen from the Honors Advanced Studies class presented a year’s worth of research on a topic of their choice to friends, family, students and staff.
The author does a good job here of showcasing the timeliness of the story as well as the direct relevance to Carrboro High School (the subjects of the article are CHS students in a particular class period.)
Example 2: “CHS students strive for consensuality” from the April 2017 issue
This article previews an event, the CHS Women’s Rights Advocacy Club’s presentations on consensuality. Here is the first paragraph of this article:
This April, the CHS Women’s Rights Advocacy Club (WRA) will present the second annual presentations on rape culture and consent. The club intends to raise awareness about consent, especially for teenagers who may regard the topic with less severity and less information.
Here, the author presents the relevance of the WRA Club presentations by explaining the role they will play in the immediate community. This news article is also timely as it previews an event that will take place in the near-future.
Example 3: “Carolina Ale House shuts down in Chapel Hill” from the Daily Tar Heel (05/24/2017)
This author wrote this in response to the closing of a restaurant in downtown Chapel Hill. Here is the first sentence of this article:
Carolina Ale House’s Chapel Hill location closed May 22 after a year and a half of business on Franklin Street.
The author clearly presents both the timeliness and the relevance of this story within just the first paragraph; the restaurant closed that very week, and the restaurant was on Franklin Street.
These stories are detail-oriented and delve further into how a topic affects readers or why it is important.
What makes a feature piece different:
● Can be (but isn’t always) longer than a typical news article
● Delves deeper into a specific topic instead of just reporting the most important facts
● May take a new angle on an already well-discussed topic
● Can be less timely than traditional new articles, as long as what is discussed is still relevant
● Includes profiles and repeating pieces
Example 1: Jagwire Judy
Why it’s a feature piece:
Essentially, the structure of a sports story is no different from that of a news story. Sports stories should have a lead, a nutgraph and quotations from both sides, and should begin with the most important information (see above for explanations of all these concepts). In addition to these basic journalistic principles, there are a few extra things to keep in mind when writing a sports story:
The lead and nutgraph: In some ways, writing leads and nulgraphs for sports stories is much easier than writing them for other stories — after all, things like the score of the game, the records of the teams and the effect of the game on the standings should obviously be in every lead or nutgraph. The tricky part is finding a way to incorporate these pieces of information in an interesting and succinct way. It can be tempting to write long, convoluted sentences full of different numbers, but instead try to craft a few medium-length, punchy sentences that bring out the most important parts of the game without trying to explain everything that happened.
Moving beyond the first two graphs: This can be the most difficult part of the story. You’ve summarized the most important part in the lead and nutgraph, but where do you go from here? The temptation is to retell the game from the first whistle on, but that’s not a good idea. If readers want a chronological recap of the game, they’ll just look at the box score. Instead, talk about a turning point or particularly important play. It can be hard to piece together things that happened at different points in the game, but it’s certainly possible. While you shouldn’t jump around wildly, if you’re careful to give times for everything you’re talking about then the reader should be able follow what you’re saying.
Using quotations: Sports quotations should conform to all the same principles as quotations for other stories (see above), but it might take a little more effort on your part to get good ones. Athletes and coaches tend to regress into “sports speak” when they’re discussing games. Try at all costs to avoid putting sports cliches into quotations – we all know every game was a “team effort,” everyone takes the season “one game at a time,” and “it’s great to play in front of a home crowd.” Try to get beyond these inane remarks by asking specific questions, or by asking follow-up questions after the athlete or coach spits out the “sports speak”. For instance, if the players says, “it was a real team effort,” you could ask what made tonight’s team effort different from last week’s. Who played well tonight? How did the team change its game plan? Was there more of a focus on team passing during practice? You get the point. Also, try to get a quotation from an opposing player or coach.
A few final tips: Strive to avoid cliches in your writing, as well. This tip is similar to our plea to avoid “sports speak.” After all, almost everything is “a game of inches.” Try to avoid war metaphors as well, especially when the United States is actually at war. If the front page of the paper has a headline about a battle between America and the Taliban and the sports page has a headline about a “battle” between Yale and Princeton, it makes you look pretty clueless. Also, attend the games you’re covering whenever possible. It’s impossible to recreate the atmosphere of a game based on a box score.
Arts & Lifestyle
Writing for the Arts and Lifestyle section of the JagWire can take several forms. You can write a review of an album or a movie, you can report on a development or event that pertains to the arts department, etc. Here are some examples of how to write a good A&L article.
V. The Lead
In newspaper jargon, the beginning of any article is called the lead. A good lead grabs the attention of the reader and informs the reader. There are two main types of leads, direct and indirect. Be careful to choose a lead appropriate for the article content and tone.
❖ The hard news lead. AKA a direct lead or a straight news lead.
Use a hard news lead whenever you are covering breaking news. When you use this type of lead, give the reader the key information clearly and concisely. Here are some good examples:
North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms embezzled $10 million last year and now faces a prison term of up to 85 years, Police Chief James O ‘Hooligan said. University of North Carolina bought Duke University Tuesday and will merge the two institutions next year.
❖ The anecdotal lead. AKA an indirect lead.
An anecdotal lead takes a less timely story and attempts to tell an interesting anecdote in order to catch the reader’s attention. This example shows how a good anecdotal lead sometimes can extend for more than one sentence:
As of Saturday, the voice of Bennett L. Fisher still greeted callers on his family’s answering machine in Greenwich. Conn. “We have to get rid of that,” his wife, Susan Fisher, told a family member after being reminded of its existence. “It’s upsetting people.” Bennett Fisher’s family friends are coming to realize that the stockbroker who worked for Fiduciary Trust International on the 94th to 97th floors of the World Trade Center will never answer another call with the friendly “yo” he used as the greeting on his answering machine.
❖ Contrast lead
When an article’s content offers a contrast, using this element in a lead can prove interesting. When Van Cliburn, the pianist, returned from a musical triumph in Moscow, one reporter wrote:
Harvey Lavan (Van) Cilburn Jr. of Kilgore, Tex., came home from Russia today with 17 pieces of luggage. They bespoke his triumph as pianist in Moscow. He had three when he went over.
Richard Roe, who started 47 years ago as a $10-a-week janitor for Consolidated Corporation, today took office as the firm’s $2,63,000-a-year chairman and chief executive officer.
❖ Description/Scenic Lead.
___This lead begins with a description of the scene surrounding an event. It is typically used for stories in which the setting is prominent, such as stories about festive events, performances and sports. It can also be used to strike a mood appropriate for the story.
The lights shine down and the music surrounds her as she spins across the stage into the arms of her partner. The audience roars its approval as the music slows and the curtains begin to close.
❖ Delayed lead (or suspended interest lead).
A situation can be exploited in an interesting way so that an ordinary item stands out. The reporter delves in several paragraphs to find out what happened. The reader must read to the end to fully understand the story.
Spencer Turner, 16, recently earned his first job and problems soon followed.
❖ The clever lead.
Sometimes a hard news lead would be boring and no anecdotal lead jumps out at you (plus, while anecdotal leads are great, not every story should begin with one). The clever lead allows tons of flexibility, but also presents a unique danger -you must be very careful that your lead has something to do with the rest of the story and that it does not degenerate into cliche. Here is a clever lead that works:
Thirteen-year-old Lane Boy is to spelling what Billy the Kid was to gunfighting: icy-nerved and unflinchingly accurate.
Though these three categories exist, please realize that they are not binding and you may experiment as much as you like. Here are some things you will want to avoid as you write your lead, though. None of these warnings are 100 percent binding, but they lay out some good advice.
❖ The hard news lead for a boring story.
The writing’s not bad in the next example, but the story is relatively boring. You need to sell your article to the reader, and no one will read a story that begins with a sentence like this:
Frederick R. Thompson, the deputy secretary of deputies in the Carter administration, spoke in front of 12 people at a forum sponsored by History Club.
❖ The clever or anecdotal lead for a significant and timely story.
Remember that many stories are very serious and we must answer the reader’s fundamental question: what happened? Here is a lead that takes far too long to answer that question:
Johnny B. Goode considers himself a resourceful person- An Eagle Scout, he once camped out in Alaska for 13 days – by himself. For the past two years, he has been trying to survive both as a UNC student and as a FOOT leader. Thursday, though, he encountered an entirely different type of survival exercise when he ran out of the first floor of Davis Library and watched the building burn down. All 10 million books were lost.
❖ The question lead.
Do not start an article with a question. This beginning is cheesy, overly cutesy and slows down the reader. (This is a lazy person’s lead.)
❖ The “Picture this” or “Imagine” lead.
A variation on the “Welcome to” lead mentioned above, but one that begins with “Picture this:” before listing various attributes. Sometimes (and dreadfully) even used in concert with the “Welcome to” lead.
❖ The quotation lead.
Do not start an article with a quotation. You must introduce every quotation.
❖ The irrelevant lead.
Sometimes stories begin with an anecdote that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story. Do not start your story by recounting a cute moment in an interview or talk or a slightly odd fact unless your opening vignette makes a relevant contribution to the story. A good anecdotal lead is a pleasure to read; a bad one is often extraordinarily painful.
WHO: President Bush will visit the Dominican Republic next week at
the request of Caricom nations.
WHAT: Lightning struck the upper deck at Wrigley Field last night
while the Cubs were playing in San Francisco.
WHEN: Midnight tonight is the deadline for tax returns, but the local
post office is ready to accommodate procrastinators.
WHERE: The Emerson and Towanda intersection is officially the most
dangerous crossing in Bloomington, according to the Illinois Bureau of
WHY: Because she could correctly spell “ostentatious,” Lisa Wheeler
will go to the state Spelling Bee finals,
HOW: By hitting his 50th home run last night for the fourth year,
Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa etched his name in the baseball
record books alongside Babe Ruth and Mark McGwire.
Common Types of News and News-Feature Leads (more ways to “lead” the reader into the story):
Straight Summary Lead: Twenty-eight passengers and a crew of four were
killed last night when a single-engine plane crashed four miles south of
Picture or Dramatic Lead: Mourners lined up for miles yesterday in the pouring
rain to take one last look and lay flowers near the coffin of Mother Teresa, who
lived among Calcutta’s sick and needy for 35 years.
Background Lead: After two weeks of picketing, United Auto Workers put
down their signs yesterday following an agreement which would give members a
10 percent raise.
Quotation Lead: “I don’t want to sound anti-American,” poet Derek Walcott told
his audience at Illinois Wesleyan University, “but this country is the only nation
that taxes the Nobel Prize.”
Ironic or Contrast Lead: St. John’s Church survived the 1868 fire that destroyed
most of Bloomington, and it weathered firebombs thrown in anger during the
sixties. But it crumbled last night under the weight of snow from yesterday’s freak storm.
Punch Lead: Two muskrats have taken over Holiday Pool, evading would-be
capturers and forcing residents to look for other ways to survive the latest heat
Quotation Lead: “When a man bites another human being’s ear, he should be
banned from boxing for life,” Evander Holyfield said, pressing a handkerchief
against the side of his bloodied head.
The Hidden Lead. Does the lead zero in on the latest and most important news,
or is the real heart of the story (and therefore a better lead) hidden elsewhere in
The Overly Dense Lead. Does the lead have too many of the W’s and H? Does it
have too many proper nouns or too much data?
The Dull Lead. Given your lead, would you really read this article if you hadn’t
VI. The Nutgraph
The text immediately after your lead is called a nutgraph and acts much like a thesis statement. The nutgraph should be extremely clear and concise and answer the classic questions of journalism (Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?) that you have not answered in the lead. The paragraph also should indicate all of the main themes of the article. Here are some excellent examples:
LEAD: Yale, Oxford, Princeton and Stanford announced yesterday they will invest $12 million in an alliance to offer courses over the Internet and that they have appointed a Wall Street veteran as the alliance’s chief.
NUTGRAPH: The alliance, which has been in the making for several months, is the largest coordinated effort by major research universities to extend the market for their intellectual capital across the Internet
LEAD: Each morning, Tricia Ziotek NUR ’03 rides her bike several miles from her home in West Haven to the School of Nursing. Last Friday, as she stood next to her bike on the Green, she had just one thing to say about New Haven: “This is not a friendly city for riding at all. “
NUTGRAPH: Ziotek was one of 35 cyclists to brave slick streets to attend an afternoon bike rally. Organized by Ward 9 Alderman and Yale music professor John Halle, the event marked the kickoff of the Green Streets New Haven initiative.
VII. The Inverted Pyramid
After you finish writing your lead and nutgraph, you must organize the rest of your story. The inverted pyramid is the classic journalistic style and it really only has one rule: put the most important things first (at the top of the pyramid), and continue with gradually less important information. This style is common because it gives a reader who might not get through the whole article the important information first. Also, if newspapers need to cut something, they cut the end. The inverted pyramid ensures that we do not eliminate important information.
For stories that are not breaking or written on deadline, though, you may want to craft a dramatic ending. A way to create a good whole (and not simply an inverted pyramid, although you always should put the most important information at the top).
Flash. Here is where you catch your reader’s attention with that snazzy lead. Please also note that in long feature stories, everything typically is somewhat longer. You may have a three-sentence lead and a two-sentence nutgraph, for example (but still be as concise as possible)
Understanding. Next you should give the reader a sense of what the whole story is about – the nutgraph.
Clarification. Most of your story will be clarification. Here is where you flesh out your story by going into the details and where you have most of your background information and quotations.
Kicker. The final oomph to the story is the kicker. Send your reader home happy with a fascinating detail or quotation or tie together the story by bringing back in a person or theme from your lead. Not every kicker can be funny like the example below is, but every kicker should leave the reader satisfied. It can also be good to connect the last sentence of your article with the first sentence or something mentioned in the beginning to tie everything together, but this is not necessary. Here is one of the best kickers ever, the last sentence from a movie review that annihilated and mocked the film for the entire article:
Plus, it has its bad points