In an influential, social media-led world of misinformation, it is important to remember the core of journalism–the news–and how to revive journalistic writing once again through ethical practices and passionate language. Journalistic writing is a writing style that reports and documents news stories in newspapers, television, the Internet, on podcasts, and on the radio. With the neverending advancements of technology and the accessibility of the latest forms of news outlets, it really has become difficult to write, with integrity, like a journalist, only to be lost in the shuffle of viral news stories that are more likely to be inaccurate or have a bias. Considering this, there needs to be a mixture of old and new guidelines that up-and-coming journalists can refer to during these times. Here are 10 tips and tricks to write like a journalist.
1. Asking the 5 Journalistic “W”s and The New Yorker’s Three “H”s, Two “A”s, One “S”, and One “I”
While the traditional and fundamental 5 journalistic W’s (who, what, where, when, and why) always help journalists thoroughly gather information, it is also important to note that other questions are just as qualified to ask in today’s climate. The 5 “W”s are essential in investigative journalism as it uncovers the reality of issues and ties up loose ends for readers, viewers, and listeners. An article written by Luke Burns titled “Additions To The Five Journalistic “W”s” also highlights, however, that there is a new need to ask more questions that address the specific issues we’re seeing in contemporary times. The questions are as follows:
- Three “H’s
- “How did this happen?”
- “Have you no shame?”
- “Holy Shit!” (not a question, but “an important perspective for journalists”)
- Two A’s
- “Are you fucking kidding me?”
- “Am I dreaming?”
- The One S
- The One I
- “Is there no respite from the madness?”
The article goes into detail as to why you should be asking these questions in addition to the 5 “W”s. In order to grapple with what is happening today, these inquiries come in handy and help develop hard-hitting questions and answers for your audience. Also, make sure to respond to these questions the way you would like them to be explained, conduct many interviews to answer these questions, and even go to the location of places to find answers.
2. Fact Check Everything!
It is not lost on any journalist to verify sources, get permission, and make sure you are putting out accurate information in your work. However, desperate times call for extra measures. To make sure you aren’t reporting “fake news”, try taking these steps:
- Read and/or further evaluate your sources in its entirety. You always have to read, listen, and watch a source to get the full context of what is being said. If not, that is a dead giveaway of promoting fake news.
- Check the time of the publication. While old sources can be used to help solidify, compare, or further your journalistic writing, it is also important to get information that is current for news that we are experiencing at the very moment.
- Vet the authorship of your sources. What is this author’s background? Do they hold bias due to their background? Are they an expert? These are just a few questions you can ask yourself when evaluating an author(s) and their work. This is also pertinent to your writing.
- Be aware of confirmation bias. You as a reader, listener, or viewer can interpret information and hold a certain bias, so it is important to make sure you simply translate facts and subtly answer highly asked questions by not including personal beliefs. This is where things can get tricky for some people so bear this in mind.
- Look at other news sources reporting on the same subject. Check out what others are saying and get an idea of what is being said. This will motivate you to triple check facts and information before putting anything out there with no insight at all.
- Do more investigation if you feel like a source is off with its content. Sometimes you might see a sketchy photo or see a .org and have second guesses. Try checking known credible sources and trust your instincts if something is off.
3. Familiarize Yourself with AP Style
Associated Press (AP) Style is the accepted standard in journalism that provides rules and guideless for news writing based on the annually updated AP Stylebook. Many news organizations and magazines across the country utilize AP Style as it is the preferred manner of writing in journalism. This style of writing helps with how to use the Oxford comma, abbreviations, dates, etc. To familiarize yourself with AP Style, purchase and use The Associated Press Stylebook, 55th edition, take notes on articles published by major American news sources (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, etc.), and make an account and take advantage of the many resources on the AP Stylebook site.
4. Be Concise
One thing you should know in journalism is that it is all about the facts. Being redundant and not getting to the point in news writing will leave anyone disinterested and looking to another source that will give them just that. Mastering the art of concision is a must in journalistic writing. Get rid of the fluff, don’t spend too much time on the background, make sure your writing is understandable, and think outside the box, considering you are limited in words and you need to find a different and short way of telling a story. This will help with being concise and will also make you realize what is deemed important in the information you are attempting to put out there.
5. Develop a Good Angle and Lede
You will almost always know the angle or theme of your story; just know that depending on the type of article you’re writing, that angle/theme will differ. The opening of your article is your lede. In journalism, you want to grab the readers’, watchers’, or listeners’ attention with a fact, quote, or description that will have them hooked right away. Your strong lede is your chance to continue your news story and have your angle acknowledged by the audience.
6. How to Use Quotes
Using quotes in your writing is crucial, considering it might be the yang to your yin of a story. Conducting interviews and getting statements on the record from key figures in your story gives not only credibility, but life, voice, emotions, and opinions in your piece. Direct quotations truly decorate your writing, so make sure to use them effectively. Use them to start paragraphs, use long quotes as a clincher sentence, and play go back and forth between quotes and your won factual comments in your piece–that way you are using facts and someone’s opinion to strengthen a singular point.
7. Learn from an Editor
Before publishing your work, you have to check your writing for comma splices, cohesion, and spelling errors. Editing sometimes can go beyond this, considering it is an important skill to have as a writer. Knowing if you are correctly using AP style, quotes, etc. can be beneficial, and talking to your/an editor can advance your journalistic writing career. Discussing what you can work on and further using their advice for your next work can refine your editing skills.
8. Remember, Photos Are Your Story’s Thumbnail
Just like your writing, the photo you use in your piece is also telling a story. It is your thumbnail or a visual representation of your writing. Make sure to choose photos that capture the controversy, message, person, or event your article will cover in an intriguing and artistic way. Additionally, it is important to have crisp and high-resolution photography with no social media filters. Check out viral stories and the photos they have used, research photography angles and their meanings, and practice taking pictures yourself because a journalism job may require you to do so. Upping your skills and knowledge in photography will benefit you and your journalistic writing.
9. Listen, Watch, Study, and Read Journalism
A good tip and trick to writing like a journalist is falling in love with the craft by listening, watching, studying, and reading journalism. Classic programs like ’60 minutes’ and NPR employ terrific journalism techniques that were groundbreaking and still continue to be influential. It is important to note that journalistic writing is seen throughout all types of mediums and to be a journalist you have to really understand the world you want to be a part of. Studying to make your writing better can mean a multitude of things, so don’t ever stop learning.
10. Write with Passion and Stay Inspired
While you might have to write pieces you aren’t knowledgable on or don’t find interesting, stay inspired by doing research on questions you would like answered and never stop writing and pitching topic pieces that you are passionate about. More often than not, we find ourselves at some point in our lives writing things we hate or even falling out of love with our writing. Envisioning our goals, reevaluating our passions, and always reading will help us be better writers, more specifically better journalists. Submit pieces to news networks, write for the local newspaper, and never stop writing and learning.