How to Develop Basic Journalism Skills

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This article was co-written by Diane Stubbs. Diane Stubbs is a high school English teacher with over 22 years of experience teaching all grades of high school and AP courses. She is specialized in secondary education, classroom management and educational technology. Diane received her BA in English from the University of Delaware and her MA from Wesley College. This article has been viewed 26,966 times.

This is a brief overview of some of the important skills required of journalists. These are skills that are taught in many introductory journalism courses. A good understanding of these basic concepts will help any writer decide if he wants to pursue this type of writing.

  1. Learn to write with the “5 W’s”: who, what, where, when, why and how. They are an integral part of all news.

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    Organize the story: Organize the article carefully and logically after writing the introduction. (See below.) This often involves the use of interview quotes.

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    Write the main body of your story in an “inverted pyramid” style. This means that the most important information appears first in the story, with additional points following in descending order of importance. This is the format used in most news articles, as the least important part of the story appears last and can easily be removed if necessary. This can happen if a new story suddenly appears or a new ad is sold, taking up some of the page space your article would have taken up if it had been printed in its entirety.

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    Add “protagonist” to the beginning of your story. The introduction should summarize or suggest the main points of the article, so that the reader can decide if they want to read the entire article. Clues are usually one or two sentences long and between 30 and 50 words.

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    Make a great impression on your readers by being timely. Immediacy has an impact, measured by the effect the story has on the lives of readers. The bigger the impact, the bigger the story. News evaluation is the ability to determine which stories are most interesting and important to a publication’s readers.

  6. Use quotes: Give someone’s exact words. Get word-for-word information from a trusted source. Then put those words in quotes. A partial quote is also helpful. There only a part of the direct statement is used.

    • Sometimes a direct quote is too long or complicated to be useful. In this case, you are paraphrasing. A paraphrase is a reporter’s summary of the source’s actual words. Quotation marks are not necessary in a paraphrase.
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    • Problems to avoid when using quotes include boring and obvious comments; comments that repeat the previous statement; quotes used as clues; a series of quotation marks that line up sentence after sentence; profanity; and quotes taken out of context (where the words quoted can lead to a distortion of what the speaker actually meant).
  7. Understand the meaning of “on the record”: Determine if your source will be okay with you quoting them by name. This would be “on record”. “Unofficial” means the source has relevant information but asks that you not use their name in the story.

    • A famous example of whistleblowing occurred during the Watergate scandal in 1974. A high-ranking US government official (known to readers as “Deep Throat”) spoke to reporters under the cloak of anonymity and offered information that led to the downfall of the president.
    • The use of unofficial sources may be unacceptable in some newsrooms. If you are faced with this dilemma, try to get confirmation of your information from another source who is familiar with the story and allows you to cite it by name.
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    Understanding open and closed questions: Learn to use open questions. They are often the best. They are designed to provide a font that speaks freely and reveals thoughts and feelings. Examples include: What is your sports philosophy? What thoughts went through your head the first time you rescued a drowning swimmer?

    • Closed questions can be answered with “yes” or “no” without further explanation. Although they are useful for confirming information, they are not very effective for extracting new information.
    • Softball questions also have their place. These are simple, non-controversial inquiries meant to develop a relationship with the source and help them relax.
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    Understanding the active and passive voice: The active voice is the way most people speak. The active and passive voices refer to the relationship between the subject and the verb in a sentence. In an active sentence, the subject is doing something.

    • In a passive sentence, the subject does nothing. Instead, he is treated. The active voice makes his writing more powerful and lively. This is the style used in most newspaper articles. For example, “the girls were eating pizza” is an active sentence. “The girls ate the pizza” is passive.
  10. Distinguish yourself as a writer by using “third person” narration in most of your articles. Example of third-person writing: “the reporter did the investigation.” The first person equivalent would be: “I did the research.” Stay away from the story by using third person narration as much as possible.

    • The idea is that once a reporter becomes part of the story, it’s harder to see them as a reliable and unbiased source of information.
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    Avoid plagiarism! This happens when someone tries to present the words or ideas of others as their own (without attribution). A great danger for many journalists is direct copying from the Internet. Even if he cites an Internet source, the reporter must rewrite the information in his own words (thus avoiding the need for quotation marks).

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    Avoid “journalists’ opinion”. Don’t pick favourites. Don’t complain about something without explaining the good points. Report the story fairly and accurately, and let the readers decide what’s right and what’s wrong. Bias can include the failure to fairly represent both sides of an issue or the manipulation of facts to influence the reader’s opinion. Avoid this, especially if you and your employer are interested in achieving and maintaining a reputation for fair reporting.

  • Learning to be an effective journalist takes practice. News writing is different from the “seminar” writing style taught in many high school and college courses. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Above all, protect the anonymity of your sources if they ask you to. This will help you (and the entire journalistic profession) when trying to collect sensitive news in the future. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
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Categories: How to
Source: HIS Education

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