You’ve probably read tons of news reports or articles throughout your lifetime, so you should at least have a frame of reference for writing one. Writing the news isn’t as easy as it looks, however. Engage your readership and showcase your journalism skills by focusing on the facts and the impact you want your story to have.
Start With a Good Lead
The lead (also called the “lede”), or the first few sentences, needs to be strong enough to grab the reader's attention and make them want to read more.
Tell the reader what the story is about and why it's important.
If it's a hard news story, which is breaking or up-to-the-minute news, then include as many facts as you can in the lead.
Focus on one main idea in your lead.
Avoid jargon if you can. This will ensure the report is suitable for all readers, not just those with prior knowledge of the topic.
Avoid burying the lead (also written as "bury the lede"). This refers to starting out with secondary information first. If a reader loses interest after the first paragraph because you buried the lead in the second or third paragraph, they may not ever get to why this story should matter to them.
Examples of Good Leads
When you read a good lead, it tells you the gist of the story and pulls you in.
"The million‑to‑one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-hit, no‑run, no‑man‑reach‑first game in a World Series." - Shirley Povich, Washington Post
“The inauguration of a president is usually marked by lavish balls, colorful parades and hundreds of thousands of spectators. But well before the January 20, 2021 swearing-in of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, it was apparent that this year's event would look quite different. The January 6 assault on the Capitol and a raging coronavirus pandemic meant changes that were hard to miss, everything from masked inspectors to law enforcement in full tactical gear.” - Leslie Gornstein, CBS News
“New Yorkers have a surprise gift to look forward to for this Independence Day: a second Statue of Liberty sent by France. This new bronze statue, nicknamed the "little sister," is one-sixteenth the size of the world-famous one that stands on Liberty Island.” - Xiaoufei Xu, CNN
“ Four astronauts strapped into their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, undocked from the International Space Station and plunged to a fiery pre-dawn splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, closing out the first operational flight of SpaceX's futuristic touch-screen ferry ship.” - William Harwood, CBS News
Focus on the Four Elements of a Great News Story
Staying focused is key when writing a great news report. Remember that the core objective of a great news report is to convey the facts in a compelling and easy-to-understand manner.
Find The Facts
You can hardly call it a news story without the facts. Without them, your piece will quickly become an opinion piece or a lifestyle article. The public expects facts over opinions, and they also expect the journalist to follow sound fact-checking procedures.
The facts of your report should answer the 5 Ws (and an H): who, what, where, when, why, and how. A journalist is responsible for making sure the facts are accurate and reasonably complete. If you have to write a report before you get all the facts, then say so in the report.
In news writing, context answers the question, "Why should I read this?" From the perspective of the writer, context helps you decide what the audience needs to know. The American Press Institute cites context as a good way to gain new readers through an entry point they can relate to. Context provides the circumstances surrounding the facts of the news story.
Make an Impact
Impact touches on the "why we should care" theme, as well. News writing is an art form. You have to weave your story into something people will connect with. Impact keeps readers engaged beyond the headline and the lead. What are the ramifications or potential consequences of this news story? How will this series of events affect the reader and their community?
The American Press Institute says “emotion commands attention” and fosters a communal feeling. Evoking emotion is the magic of news reporting. Writers must walk a fine line between cold, hard facts and a tug on emotional heartstrings.
You want to let the readers decide for themselves what emotions they feel while reading. So you shouldn’t spell it out by telling the reader what to feel ("In a shocking new development …").
Use Good Grammar to Share the News
Typos and grammatical mistakes can take away from your report and leave readers confused. Follow a few standard guidelines for news reports to get the best story out there.
In news writing, always follow the inverted pyramid. Place the most pressing facts at the start of the article and close with the least compelling elements.
Avoid long or complicated words. A news story isn't the place to impress people with your intelligence or command of the English language.
Choose short sentences over lengthy sentences that require many forms of punctuation.
Follow a simple subject-verb-object sentence format.
Use the active voice; it’s more understandable and has more impact.
Don't use too many commas. Try to adhere to these eight comma rules.
Introduce a new idea in each paragraph, and, as with sentences, be short and to the point. Consider dropping in a few transition words where appropriate.
Never use more than two prepositional phrases close together. These are phrases like, "According to the national weather forecast …"
Try to anticipate any questions the reader might have, and answer them in your report.
If you want to become a journalist, you’ll need to learn a lot more about writing for the news.