NEWS WRITING
No matter what news value or interest a story may
have, it must conform to a particular format or style.
In literary writing, style is generally determined by the
author. It is obvious, however, that a literary writer is
not concerned with news style or the fundamentals of
news writing. Take the following quotation for
example:
"It is a thing well known to both American and
English whale ships, and as well a thing placed upon
authoratative record years ago by Scoresby, that some
whales have been captured far north in the Pacific, in
whose bodies have been found the barbs of harpoons
darted in the Greenland Seas. Nor is it too be
gainsaid that in some of these instances two assaults
could not have exceeded very many days. Hence, by
inference, it has been believed by some whalemen,
that the North West Passage, so long a problem to
men, was not a problem to the whale."
Perhaps this
quotation is familiar to you. It is from Moby Dick.
Its author, Herman Melville, was known for his
moving literary style. If a modem-day journalist were
writing this same piece for a newspaper, it would
probably read like this:
"The North West passage, long sought by man,
may be known and used by whales.
American and British Sailors have reported
finding the barbs of harpoons from Greenland in the
bodies of whales killed in the North Pacific. In some
cases the wounds were only a few days old. This has
led some whalers to believe that whales must use
some shortcut from the North Atlantic to the North
Pacific."
As you can see from the above example, in news
writing all the frills are stripped away. The story is
written so it can be understood by all readers. The
purpose of the news story is to inform--not to impress.
Short stories or novels and other forms of
literature are usually written in chronological order.
This means the author starts at the beginning, sets the
time and place, describes the scene, introduces the
characters, then slowly weaves and threads the plot
until a climax is reached. The climax is deliberately
held back to build suspense and to dramatize the
events that hold the reader's interest to the end. In
fast-moving society, few people have the time or
desire to read every word of every story. Therefore,
in modem news writing, the story is constructed so
the climax is presented first. With this method of
writing, the most important facts are placed in the first
paragraph of the story. It then moves into the detailed
portion of the story by covering the facts in
diminishing order of importance. Before attempting
to put words on paper, a good writer must be
particularly conscious of the elements of journalism:
accuracy, application, brevity, clarity, coherence,
emphasis, objectivity, and unity. These are the
characteristics of a story that provide the credibility
that is so highly valued by professional newspeople.
WRITTEN LANGUAGE
The written language consists of three basic
elements: words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Words
Words are your basic writing tools. Like any
skilled technician, you must be able to select the best
tools for the job. This means you should use words
that say exactly what you mean; otherwise, people
may take statements out of context. Use common
words that are easy to understand. Multisyllable
words add confusion Strong, active verbs inject life,
action, and movement into stories. Strong verbs help
to eliminate the need for adverbs. In news and feature
stories, adverbs often clutter the writing.
Sentences
The simple declarative sentence consists of a
subject and verb, or subject, verb, and object. It is the
most common sentence in informal conversation and
thus should be used for writing news items. Ideally,
sentences should consist of 30 words or less and
average about 15 to 18 words. Sentences should vary
in length; for example, use an 8-word sentence, then
a 12-word sentence, followed by a 25-word sentence,
and back to a short sentence. Do not crowd too many
details into one sentence. Although a compound or
complex sentence may contain more than one thought,
you should attempt to construct simple sentences that
express a single thought clearly and concisely.
Paragraphs
Paragraphs should be reasonably short. People can
grasp a small amount of information more easily than
complex amounts of information. When possible, a
paragraph in a news or feature story should be 60
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